An article published in yesterday’s The Wall Street Journal noted the growth of coffee pod use in the U.S. for both office and home: Wall Street Journal Notes Growth In Coffee Pod Sales @ Vending Market Watch News at AMonline.com.
Customized and convenient, coffee pods have been pushed by the industry as an alternative to the office Bunn warmer. Office workers get to choose among a wide variety of pre-packaged coffee “pellets” to individually suit their tastes — each can be a Kenyan roast, an espresso, a cinnamon latte, or anything else that can be flavored and hermetically sealed in a plastic cup. And these self-contained pods, and their brewing devices, minimize the clean-up needs typically associated with handling coffee. Restaurants are also getting in on the act — since they can’t seem to hire a decent barista to save their lives — so many big-machine manufacturers are accommodating with one or two-group lines for pod brewing.
But the coffee industry is also doing a full court press on the home market. Some of the notable home pod machine pushers include Philip’s and Douwe Egberts‘ SENSEO “concept”, the sick marriage between Braun shavers and Kraft Foods known as Tassimo (whose print ads make good coffee look like a diaper change) , and Big 4‘s own Nestlé and their Nespresso (which is experiencing quite handsome profit margins) . The marketingspeak for each inevitably states that they “produce the perfect cup of espresso, cappuccino or latte”. However, after tasting the resulting product from one of these, it’s clear that uttering such a statement confirms that these manufactures have never experienced a perfect cup of anything.
That’s the major downside I see in these pods and their machines. For the common coffee consumer who is only casually interested in the beverage (whom makes up the great majority), you could argue that they are raising the standards bar compared to the Bunn warmer. But in many other ways, the standards are being lowered — much in a similar way that the super-automated espresso machines that infiltrated Starbucks in recent years essentially installed a glass ceiling on their beverage quality. The big tradeoff of these pods is that you can’t vary the strength of the shot, and most of all that the resulting shot is always — as Luigi di Ruocco of Mr. Espresso put it to me last year — “missing something”.
And since this is all about better access to better coffee, pods represent both a step forward and a step backwards. They’re a home run for convenience and flexibility. But for flavor, they’re a one-hop ground out to short. While the coffee grades are better these days, vacuum-sealed, pre-ground coffee has inherent limits — making pods little more than a packaging convenience over your dad’s can of Folgers. (Nespresso, as an example, produces a flavor called “Ristretto”!)
Until the pod people can create a beverage out of these contraptions that doesn’t sacrifice flavor, this new coffee format will remain a diversion for creating more of the ever-more-ubiquitous “adequate” coffee. The results are even less encouraging with respect to the “espresso” word.
This sister café to the Crissy Field Center is (less and less) inferior yet more popular — with the Golden Gate Bridge just outside. They serve the usual soup, sandwiches, baked goods, juices, and espresso. They have a few indoor tables and a lot of outdoor seating on benches and in the shade.
They serve a custom blend from Mr. Espresso — and the staff seem to know Luigi (which is a good sign). Using a three-group Mr. Espresso Rancilio machine, they serve a very large espresso in a short paper cup with an decent layer of medium-brown crema. It has an herbal flavor with some tobacco notes. This place originally overextracted their shots a bit, but that (and their espresso) has since improved with shorter pours of late. Their weekday baristas here are also generally better than the ones on weekends.
Today’s Sydney Morning Herald reported on some basic coffee consumption facts and figures: Coffee by numbers – Good Living – Entertainment – smh.com.au.
For example, Finns drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world. And when it comes to take-away coffee service, the average cost to the retailer is about 88 cents (AU$), which can be broken down as follows:
But even with Australia’s reputation as being some of the heaviest espresso drinkers in the world, instant coffee still accounts for 82 per cent of Australian coffee consumption. But then this is also true of the British, the Chinese, etc.
So how’s your Norwegian? A press release published today on Norwegian air travel site, Boarding.no, announced the availability of “true Italian espresso” on the central European discount airline, SkyEurope: Boarding.no : SkyEurope introduces Illy espresso on board. And to help seal the deal, the press release pulls out a photo op with their favorite Slavic beauty queens to demonstrate.
Perhaps this isn’t as poorly conceived as the espresso-machine-in-a-car idea we heard about last year. Airline food has always been a joke, but then so has coffee — at least until recently. So the idea of higher quality espresso beverages for air travelers isn’t all that ridiculous as an airline marketing strategy — particularly when you compare this to the 3,000 pounds of take-off weight some airlines have recently added just for in-flight entertainment systems (many of these same airlines rejected lighter safety systems on the basis of take-off weight).
But no La Marzoccos here. The airline-hardened machines they chose to fly are made by relative no-name Iacobucci of Italy. And although Illy isn’t exactly my choice for great espresso, it will do in a pinch — and will do well for most palates.
I won’t be going out of my way to catch a flight on SkyEurope anytime soon. But the continuing trend for consumers to demand better espresso just about anywhere has now reached 30,000 feet of cruising altitude.
Today’s Washington Post published an article telling the tale of a small, independent coffee shop that succumbed to consumer preferences for big national chains: Quick and Easy Killed the Coffee Shop.
The demise of Sirius Coffee in D.C. is a tale told all too often. But, despite the author’s point about the trap of consumer convenience, it’s more than just that. Some independent coffee shops have thrived and even excelled. Meanwhile, there are also many independent coffee shops that really shouldn’t survive — and could use a good kick-in-the-pants from a new Starbucks moving into town (case and point: just take a walk down Ocean Ave. in Carmel-by-the-Sea).
Even if you’re as gargantuan as McDonald’s — if the coffee isn’t getting any better, it’s time to get out of the game.
Starbucks, the chain formerly known as “Starbucks Coffee” that was also once known as a coffee company, is apparently seeking to continue its evolution towards a general retailer: All Headline News – Starbucks To Step-up Non-Coffee Sales – July 10, 2006.
Starbucks is bulking up its sales team to offer more merchandise for the upcoming holiday season. I suppose if I am going to get my oil change there, I may as well purchase my car parts from them too.
A recent arrival near Hayes Valley, Caffé Trieste calls their latest café location “downtown” (www.caffetriestedowntown.com). This makes their fourth in addition to their Sausalito, Berkeley, and original North Beach locations.
The new café is a bit like the North Beach mothership: photos of Bill Cosby and Loni Anderson deck the walls, and there’s an Italian mural on the back wall. But this location is decidedly newer and more modern. There are nicer wood floors and furniture, flat screen monitors with Internet access, and a greater emphasis on exotic teas. In front there is a closed off array of patio tables along the Market St. sidewalk.
When it comes to the espresso, they use a three-group, Line 95 La San Marco machine to produce shots with a thin layer of lighter brown crema that dissipates quickly. Flavorwise, it’s ashy and somewhat bitter. A genuine disappointment for fans of good espresso. Served in wide-mouthed, brown ACF ceramic cups.
Like more than a few Italian-styled SF cafés, the exuberance is high for Italy’s matchup with France in the 2006 World Cup final this Sunday. Caffé Trieste is helping locals get their fix with a flat screen TV in the back. Forza Italia!
As referenced here in a previous article, Israel knows a little about espresso — and some of that is making its way overseas. One of the stories in New York City this week is the arrival of Aroma Espresso Bar: Israeli coffee chain coming to NY – Travel from Israel, Ynetnews.
A chain of over 70 cafés in Israel, Aroma has plans to expand to Toronto and other North American cities. (NOTE: it is not related to the since-defunct Aroma Espresso Bar that once existed near the Embarcadero Center at 450 Sansome and Commercial St.) The article reviews some of the nuanced customer service differences Aroma has learned about doing business in New York City (versus Jerusalem) — although the café plans to stay true to its home roots.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article yesterday on how soft drink industry giants are banking on coffee consumers wanting convenient, instantaneous coffee: Soft drink titans push coffee in a can | ajc.com.
Just as when large, conglomerate coffee roasters convinced consumers that the future of good coffee was crystalized grit in a can during the coffee Dark Ages, Big Beverage wants you to ditch all the mess and fuss of beans and brewing. This strategy might work for those who have not develop their coffee appreciation beyond Taster’s Choice. But to some of us, this sounds like Big Beverage is fighting over a larger share of a dying market.
This is like trying to corner the brodino (i.e., American coffee) market in Italy.
Yesterday the Manila Standard Today published a brief, introductory article on the lifecycle of a coffee bean: Philippines News – Manila Standard Today – The journey of a coffee bean – july05_2006.
It’s written from the perspective of Nescafé, which is part of the scary Big Four, and from the perspective of producing the lower grade robusta bean. But Nescafé, and robusta, are big in the Philippines — so you get the idea.