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This is the first in a little series of posts looking at how and why Nespresso works the way that it does. There’s a few things I think when it comes to Nespresso:
1). We continue to underestimate their success, and their ability to leverage technology to overcome hurdles of quality.
2). Speciality coffee roasters share more customers with Nespresso than they’d like to believe.
3). There’s a lot of speculation about the technology they use. Lots of it is clearly proprietary, so I wanted to dive into it a little bit more to try and understand what is happening.
So this is the first of the experiments (there’s more to come) and it is a pretty simple one. I wanted to look at how tolerant the pods were to variance in how user’s want to brew their espresso. This is a pretty simple experiment to conduct. I’m grateful for the assistance of Sang Ho Park in helping with some of the work.
For testing I purchased the cheapest machine directly from Nespresso: A Magimix Inissia in black. They’re painfully easy to use. Fill the removable tank with water. Plug it in. It heats up in under 30 seconds. You put a capsule in and push espresso and in 12 seconds you have an espresso.
The first experiment
I chose one particular capsule (in this case I chose Livanto) and brewed it at a variety of brew ratios, and measured the extraction.
Different Nespresso capsules actually have a range of dry coffee weight in them (I think from about 5.5g up to about 6.3g – but I haven’t tested them all). These particular capsules had 5.7g of ground coffee in them. This means you’re pretty much instantly going to brew at a totally different brew ratio to traditional espresso. I might favour a 1:2 ratio (e.g. 19g ground coffee, 38g liquid espresso). A Nespresso capsule works on a totally different flow rate, and I was at a 1:2 ratio in under 9 seconds!
I tested a range of beverage weights, from 15g of espresso liquid up to nearly 75g. Here’s a chart showing the extractions:
Now, I think (based on a few different factors) that what Nespresso is aiming for here is extractions above 20%. The pre-programmed espresso button produced a 30-31g shot that hit 21%. This is pretty impressive work for 12 seconds of brewing. If you’ve played with things like the EK-43 then your target extraction range probably moves from 18-22% of the Gold Cup standards, up towards maybe 20-24%. If this is your window then a Nespresso capsule hits that window regardless of where you pull it, between about 25g of liquid and about 60g of liquid.
The next thing to do was to test this with a capsule designed for their Lungo setting to see how this varies. For this second experiment I used two different capsules, both with a heavier dose of coffee – 6.2g.
The preset button on the machine produces (quite repeatably) 95g of liquid in the cup. What surprised me was the difference in extraction between the two lungo capsules I used. The first clocked up at 25% extraction (The Vivalto capsule) while the Ethiopian lungo came in a little lower at around 21.49%. The second of these was much lighter roasted, and tasted distinctly like coffee from Ethiopia.
Absent-mindedly I decided to throw a lungo of the Ethiopian capsule (Bukeela ka Ethiopia) through a paper filter to see how it tasted without crema. This also seems like a good time to remind you what Nespresso have shared about crema. There’s a lot of speculation about how Nespresso achieves the crema it does. I have a few theories, but they’ll come later. For now, watch this video:
Back to my experiments: What surprised me was how quickly the coffee drained through the filter paper (if you’ve filtered a lot of espressos or lungos then you know this is weird). What surprised me even more was how few fines were present on the paper afterwards:
So – you’re probably going to think the first thing I thought when I saw this: they’ve gotten rid of fines! There’s a lot of speculation about the grind profile in Nespresso capsules, and suddenly it looked like there was evidence of something interesting going on.
I can’t do much in the way of grind analysis, but we do have a few sieves at the roastery. These, I thought, would give us a little bit of insight into what was happening.
We took 50g of coffee ground for a lungo, and we shook it through the sieves we had. There’s limited data here but still interesting:
Trapped in the 500 micron+ sieve: 39.3g
That’s clearly bimodal, and there are also clearly fines present. I then did what any sensible person would do: I put 12g of Nespresso coffee into a portafilter and pulled a lungo of a corresponding brew ratio. I then tested the extraction (it was higher – approximately 23%), I tasted it (worse than from the Nespresso machine) and then I poured the rest through a filter paper. The results were again interesting.
This is a filter paper after filtering a lungo using Nespresso grounds pulled through a portafilter:
This is a filter paper after filtering a lungo using Nespresso grounds brewed in a Nespresso machine:
So – a pretty notable difference. There are fines in the capsules, they just don’t end up in the cup when using a Nespresso machine. This leads us to two possible theories: the machine is filtering out the fines or the pod itself is filtering out the fines. This needs more exploration and this is going to happen in Part II of this blog post.
What I haven’t really talked about here is how it tasted. I didn’t really like how the shots tasted, but I have a very different preference for many aspects of coffee and espresso compared to the typical (Nespresso) consumer. I’ve repeatedly tried to make the point that thinking we are somehow safe from the dominance of Nespresso, because we can make coffee taste better, is not a smart way to think. Should Nespresso want to make their coffee taste better – perhaps selling more than 6 billion capsules a year doesn’t feel like enough – then they face a technical challenge. No company is better positioned than Nespresso take on such a technical challenge, and while I’m not a fully paid up member of the Clayton Christensen school of “Disruptive Innovation” this does look like a pretty classic case.
They have a business model where they can buy whatever coffee they want, because their selling it at high prices. They’re selling their Ethiopian coffee at £53.23 per kilo (delivered of course…).
Am I trying to scare monger? No.
I am trying to pay a little more attention to a serious competitor. Here we have an option where you can put a capsule in a machine that is switched off, and in under 50 seconds have a shot of espresso better than most coffee shops around the world (accepting that most coffee shops are not good coffee shops). Our counter proposal: Spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, dial in a grinder for a while once the machine has spent 30 minutes getting up to temperature, then eventually pull a good shot. Drink it, then start cleaning up. Nespresso might be shockingly expensive, but so is a morning espresso pulled at home if it took a couple of goes to dial it in just right. Pulling shots of espresso is huge fun, if you want it to be. It’s a massive inconvenience if you don’t.
Speciality coffee doesn’t offer anything to the consumer who wants to drink great espresso at home, but doesn’t want a new hobby.
Whether or not I consider them a true competitor, or even if I don’t think they’re a threat to my business, there’s plenty to learn from them. I look forward to picking it all apart a little more and sharing it here in the future. If you’ve got questions or suggestions then let me know on twitter.
There was a great little video about Re:co posted today, that really gets to the heart of why I think the event is an essential part of our industry. It isn’t just about the speakers and talks themselves, it is about being in the room with the people to talk about the talks.
Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood spoke wonderfully Symposium this year, and I’m sure it will be online on their youtube page soon. It was a great presentation, not only because of its content and delivery, because as soon as it was done I had three or four different conversations with other attendees about it. Here I was challenged, a little inspired and a little relieved to find people struggling with the same issues as me for and looking at different solutions. Watching the talk online later will have its own value – and I strongly recommend you do it – but to only think about a Symposium’s value in terms of the talks themselves would be to misunderstand the event.
This week is the return of the biggest coffee event in the UK, and surely one of the biggest in Europe. Last year had around 22,000 visitors across the four days and I’d expect at least that again this year. It’s an interesting event so me, in that it mixes it’s audience. The first two days are for trade – and this means it is free entry those days if you work in coffee – so all baristas need to do to attend is sign up! If you’re not trade then the tickets are still pretty cheap, and there’s a few left – and the proceeds do go to charity. 1 The weekend is dedicated to a consumer audience, with a different program of events and workshops.
While I’ve attended, and taken part in various aspects of the show since the beginning, this is the first year where we’ll have a stand and I’ll be there every day. I’m looking forward to sharing a load of fun things we’ve been working on – and obviously we’ll be making lots of coffee for people. There are once again signed copies of The Atlas back in stock, and we’ll have a few at the show as well as some delicious and unexpected things to eat!
Hopeful if you’re in the UK, and you read this blog, then I shall see you there. Come and say hello!
For the last two years (2013 & 2014) I’ve published a simple analysis on the prices of coffee in London, based on the data collected by Allegra for the London Coffee Guide. Kindly, they’ve once again sent me the breakdown so let’s dig in and see how things are changing across London year to year…
Surprisingly not much of a change. It is hard to find much data but it seems that the 2% rise in the average price is exactly on trend with inflation for consumer goods in the food/restaurant world in the UK.
Espresso by region
Here we’ll have a look at espresso drinks by region of London, comparing them to last year. Here you can see the change in prices from this year to last, and also the change in ranking for price for each of the 11 regions:
A few interesting bits here. Soho is now the most expensive place to drink espresso in London, taking the top spot from the West End. Price in Soho went through the largest increase in the city too – so I’d infer from this that Soho is probably the most difficult place to sell coffee in London. Rents are painfully high, competition is fierce and I think prices reflect the high costs of doing business there.
Also worth noting is the South West of London, that went through a price decrease. This might be a quirk of the data – it is unlikely that anyone lowered their pricing, but we might be looking at a number of new cafes opening with lower pricing. I’m not sure that this is a good thing. The data next year should be pretty indicative. I’d wager the prices in the region go back, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Flat White by Region
Let’s have a look at the flat white pricing by region in London:
Interesting to see the South West also drop in price, but not as dramatically as prices in The City. Again, I’m hesitant to read too much into this, because there are opportunities for the data to be skewed. I take the cheapest price listed for comparison, so if cafes are introducing smaller sizes this could also push prices down.
Harder to explain is pricing in The City. Espresso prices leapt up (on average) but prices for flat whites dropped.
As a little notable bit of data, I should disclose the number of businesses within each region. This could be taken as a distribution of speciality coffee, based on cafes Allegra have designated speciality:
In some ways I’m a little surprised that East London tops the charts, but then again the middle of London is so subdivided, while East London covers a wide geographic area. I think it is far to say that South West and West London remain the two unconquered areas of the city when it comes to population density vs great coffee.
Last year I referenced the Standard Deviation for both espresso and flat whites across the city. I thought, for a last table, that I should break that down and look at that too.
I was surprised that espresso pricing is a lot more variable than flat white pricing. I was also surprised that the lowest variance for espresso pricing was in North London, which had the highest variance for flat white pricing. I think the implication is that if you like espresso and are price driven, the West End may be the most expensive but you can find cheaper coffee if you look for it.
Again – I don’t have permission to disclose the full data (though it is available in the book if you want it), but if you have questions then ask me on twitter.
We decided that Coffee Jobs Board should support the Go Live! streaming of the World Barista Championships this year. The goal is to introduce the service to a wider audience, and connect more coffee people with opportunities around the world.
As part of that we made a short video, which you can see below (including a celebratory discount code so you can post free jobs for the rest of the month, wherever in the world you are):
We are also launching the Coffee Jobs Blog. Here we’ll be posting a mixture of things. Some focused on baristas, and those seeking career opportunities (such as interviews with members of the industry about their careers and advice they have, tips of making job applications as effective as possible and highlighting potential opportunities for learning or progression). For employers we’ll be postings tips on getting more applications, on creating career paths for staff and opportunities to help develop the staff or coffee program within their business.
Keep an eye on the @coffeejobsblog twitter account, and we’ll be posting through the other twitter accounts too. I’m pretty excited about this – and hope you enjoy it!
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