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After many years of scalding my hand on my little Italian espresso pot and generally being a bit disappointed at the results. I mean the coffee was disappointing - the burns were really quite impressive! I decided it was time to get a bit more technical with my coffee.
Originally I planned to get a pod machine - the cut-price deals at Argos being one of the main incentives and the fact that you can buy a wide variety of pods of coffee and other drinks almost anywhere - but after trying a couple of them at a friend's and in a meeting I was less than impressed by the results.
When my brother was raving about his new Nespresso machine I was initially dismissive. I'd heard that they were very expensive, seen the George Clooney oh-so-smooth ads and thought that if I was going to buy another machine for the kitchen then it would be better if it did more than just coffee. I was thinking of tea, hot chocolate but was hopeful that one day I'd find one that would do the ironing too.
Persuaded by my brother's enthusiasm though I decided to check out the Nespresso machines more or less to confirm my own prejudice that it would be too expensive and was pleasantly surprised into buying one.
There are several companies who make machines using the Nespresso system including Siemens, Krups and Magimix. There are also many variants of the machine, which increase in price along with functionality, manual or automatic, size and additional bits. I did find it a bit confusing to work out what was going on and visited the website at www.nespresso.com to work it out. The website is well laid out with lots of video clips and information but the style is rather pompous and self-consciously exclusive.
I chose the Magimix M100 as it was a good brand and had the best deal going. There is very little difference in the design of the Magimix or Krups as far as I could see. For £99 (from Amazon - now £127) I got the machine, a selection box of the 12 coffees and the Aeroccino - a sort of kettle for milk that heats and froths the milk. There was also a further incentive of £30 cashback from Nespresso on buying the machine so for £69 I felt I was getting a good deal.
The M100 is very compact and takes up less counter space than most machines. Mine is a steel grey with shiny chrome and black fittings but its available in colours from powder blue to a distinctive orange. It has a detachable water container at the bag and the drip tray and coffee collector slip out easily for cleaning. Essentially the system relies on a sealed mini-pot of coffee that you drop into the machine, which is punctured to release the hot water through it under 19 bar pressure to make your coffee. The pressure is important as that is what helps create the maximum flavour in the cup and the crema layer on the top. I'm fairly sure that Nespresso describe the process in much more loving terms but basically this is it.
Making the coffee is extremely simple. You fill the water container and switch the machine on - when the light stops flashing (about 30seconds) you press the cup button once to draw about half a cup of hot water through the machine and into the waiting cup to warm it up and press the button again to stop it. Then you pop in your coffee pod, throw the water out of the cup and press down a handle to puncture the pod, press the cup button till you get the desired amount of coffee and off again when you've finished. For best results its then best to open the handle to release the pot into the waiting drawer then draw through a little more water to clean the system through. It actually takes long to write this paragraph than it does to make the coffee.
As the name suggests this is a system for espresso or espresso-based drinks - there are 10 different types of espresso coffee and 2 created for a larger cup of coffee which they call a Lungo. You could try and make the other coffees into a bigger drink by making them with more water but this tends to be counterproductive as they weren't designed for that and you end up with a weak coffee. If you don't want espresso then this isn't the machine for you.
Included in the pack, you get a rather over-the-top folder that contains page upon page about how Nespresso create their unique blends and tasting notes for each pot in their range. They advise on how the espresso is best served either half-cup, full cup or as one of the 'recipes' for which read Caffe Latte, Cappucino etc. The selection box that comes with it allows you to sample each one but they only give you one of each blend so we had a bit of a bonding experience as each cup required both of us to try to see if we liked it.
The coffee is wonderful - aromatic, good crema (creamy layer on top), fresh smelling and delicious. I liked all the blends though preferred the stronger darker blends especially as I tend to like my espresso with either a dash of milk or as a Caffe Latte.
The coffee pods for this system are not available in the shops - except for Selfridges and a little chi-chi shop in Beauchamp Place, London. To order you can telephone, mail or go online as an exclusive member of the Nespresso club - which little conceit did little for me but impressed all the same by delivering my choice of pods within 24 hours of ordering. The membership is quickly achieved by putting in some basic details to the sytem which then generates a membership number and remembers you the next time you order. Also available to buy at the site are Nespresso coffee machines, cups, coffee sugar and biscuits.
The ordering process is remarkably quick and straightforward. Each flavour of pod must be ordered in 10s and there is a minimum order of 50 per order. The pods cost 23p each and delivery is £4.99 which goes down if you order over 200. Clearly this isn't a cheap option but it doesn't taste like cheap coffee so I guess you get what you pay for. For me 23p plus some milk from the fridge is a great saving against the £1.79 for a small latte on the high street.
The Aeroccino has been a great bonus. It apparently retails for over £45 on the Nespresso website so getting included in my package was very nice. Its a small chrome jug that sits on a base like a cordless kettle does. It comes with two tiny whisks to attach as it heats the milk; one for froth and one for just steamed milk, the other is attached conveniently to the lid so you don't lose it. So you choose the appropriate whisk, place it on the magnetic button in the jug, pour cold milk to the markings- lower for frothed milk and higher for steamed milk, put on the lid and switch on the magic button on the side. It takes about 50 seconds for a large cup full of steamed milk or a smaller amount of perfect cappuccino froth. My children love hot chocolate made with this machine, its safe as the outside doesn't get hot and requires no more than a splash of water and a cloth to clean.
Overall this has been a great purchase. I am extremely happy with the machine itself, the milk heater and delighted with the quality of my coffee at long last.
Update: my aeroccino stopped working recently. I couldn't find anything that I'd done wrong as its a very simple machine there really is little you can do wrong. I telephoned the helpline and was given an address to send it back to and advised that if I posted it registered post I could call them with the tracking number and they would send me back a replacement immediately. So I did and just five days later received a brand new aeroccino at no cost. Very impressive.
I was further impressed when a few weeks before Christmas I had a shopping trip to London and visited the Beauchamp Road store. My friend and I were offered coffee on entering which was lovely. I picked up a stash of coffee pods and when they checked my membership number they said I was entitled to a free gift which turned out to be two boxes of chocolate squares (around 200g each). A lovely surprise.
So after a year of owning this machine I can honestly say that I wouldn't be without it. The service from the company is exemplary and the coffee is still delicous.