Pass the tea bag: Why I'm over Nespresso

Is Nespresso still the Rolls-Royce of coffee machines?
Is Nespresso still the Rolls-Royce of coffee machines? Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Way back in the mists of time there was a TV program called Generation Gap in which teenagers and their parents faced off against each other to show off their knowledge of each others' generation.

Each group would be asked to identify songs, advertisements and objects from the other generation, and would often be hilariously clueless about it.

I recall a moment when the teenagers were asked to explain why a woman was drawing lines down the back of her leg. They had no idea. (Do you? In wartime, when there were no stockings to be bought, women gave the illusion of stockings by drawing fake seams.)

Stockings and seams are nothing to do with coffee, which is the theme of this column, except I hope when they revive Generation Gap in 2034, the younger contestants will have no clue what a Nespresso capsule is.

Unlike increasing numbers of people who are getting on the capsule coffee bandwagon, I don't care for coffee made this way. But in my travels it has become a selling point among many hotels that their rooms feature coffee capsule machines.

Nespresso was clever in creating a market for this with the deft appointment of a twinkle-eyed George Clooney as its mascot and by "premium-ising" the product by only selling it through clubs and upscale Nespresso boutiques. It became the Rolls-Royce of coffee machines and luxury hotels rushed to offer complimentary Nespresso in their suites.

The coffee pod sector has grown 1000 per cent in five years and Nespresso now has some stiff competition, from Lavazza, Illy and about 50 other brands (even Woolworths, Coles and Aldi are in on the act.) In hotel rooms, I'm noticing different kinds of machines and flavours of coffee.

I'm not in love with them. Firstly, they've replaced the French press and ground coffee they sometimes supplied in better hotels. While it takes longer to boil an electric kettle and brew a pot, there was a certain degree of control I could exert over the strength and length of my coffee and the milk I added.

I don't mind taking a few minutes to get it right.

There's also an assumption that everyone knows what kind of coffee can be found in the gold pod, or the dark brown, or the red. With different brands than Nespresso now on offer and not always a guide in the box with the pods, it's a guessing game that ends up with more capsules in the rubbish than in the cup. Let's not talk about trying to use the darn things when you're jetlagged. More than once I've put the capsule in the wrong way or junked it before brewing.

Now, I know many people adore their capsule coffee and business travellers find it convenient to grab a cup of espresso in their room (and considerably cheaper than room service.) I suppose if you were an espresso drinker you'd find a capsule flavour you liked, but I've experimented with the machines in hotels all over the world and the results are always bitter to my taste, whatever colour pod I use.

A bit more concerning than my personal predilections is the environmental impact of this method. Inherently it's wasteful, the capsules having to be discarded or recycled. Nespresso is aware of this and encourages Nespresso machine owners in Australia to drop off used capsules for recycling at one of the 12 Nespresso boutiques throughout the country.

But this negates the idea of the convenience of the machine. How many Nespresso drinkers are actually bothering to do this?

The hermetically sealed aluminium capsules are not suitable for recycling domestically. As for many of its competitors, the capsules are made of plastic, which Choice magazine points out are too small for machines at the recycling plant and end up in the general waste. (The Ethical Coffee Company makes vegetable-based, biodegradable capsules.) I wonder, too, how many hotels are recycling.

Have we reached Peak Nespresso? It's hard to imagine we have, given the machines seem to be multiplying like rabbits. These days, there's hardly a hotel room I check into that doesn't have one. I'd ignore them, but they sit there like strange mechanical ETs beckoning me to try again.

Pass the tea bag.

Have you experienced Nespresso in a hotel? Are you a fan? How do you get your coffee while travelling? Post your comments below.

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