Contrast with the many home espresso machine design failures, Nestlé’s Nespresso pods and machines have been something of a consumer success story. The Nespresso machines do exhibit good design and an impressive amount of convenience. For a number of home espresso lovers, however, these advantages ultimately pale in comparison to their required use of stale, pre-ground coffee. And when you add in that these machines are just as susceptible to the build-up of rancid coffee oils, and thus require regular maintenance anyway, they’re no longer quite as hands-off convenient as advertised.

Yet Nestlé has been very savvy at globally positioning these machines and their pod “system” as an upscale brand. (Contrast with Kraft Foods’ home pod coffee system, Tassimo, which has been a financial disaster.) Today’s Los Angeles Times featured an article on Nestlés marketing strategy for the Nespresso, which has included branded boutiques for showcasing the devices: Nespresso controls brand with boutiques – Los Angeles Times. (Last year we wrote about one such Nespresso boutique in Lisbon’s Chiado District, including George Clooney’s Portuguese ads for the stuff.)

Of course, Nespresso’s chief executive is going to say, “We’re selling the ultimate coffee experience” — even if that experience means stale, pre-ground coffee pumped out of a hunk of cheap plastic. The question for me is how long can Nespresso play this Wizard of Oz-like “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” upscale experience. Because sooner or later, coffee consumers will catch on to the critical importance of freshness in good coffee. And like fresh baked bread, nobody considers pre-shredded croissants, baked a month ago and stuffed in vacuum-sealed capsules, an “upscale experience”. The proof is in the flavor.

Nespresso's CEO says: 'Pay no attention to those pods of stale, pre-ground coffee!'