With at least six machines, our Members and guest had plenty of coffee to taste on Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at Williams Sonoma – Union Square. We quickly realized that the technology of great tasting coffee has dramatically changed.
Our host, Glen MacDonald, Manager for this store recruited Emily Wann from Breville and several store coffee associates, Monica and Carlos for the tasting. In addition, they provided plenty of fresh sparkling water, mini plain butter scones and palate refreshing Citrus quick bread.
Representing perfection in conventional drip technology, Technivorm Moccamaster Grand Coffee (and its cousin, single-serve version) are handmade brewers with unique copper core water heating elements for highly precise and ideal 200F temperature. While producing a delightful cup, the Technivorm revealed the nature of the Illy medium roast beans chosen as our standard for this comparison. Many tasters found this coffee a bit bitter to their palates: a faithful expression by the machine of the bitter flavor favored by Italian-targeting Illy.
Next we had two super automated espresso machines, the Oracle from Breville, an impressive stainless device looking right at home in a café; and the Miele CM500, a powerful espresso processor and milk steamer in a large but sleekly designed black cabinet. Both have automated and adjustable grinding, brewing and steaming. Glen MacDonald explained that these brew utilizing steam at about 12-15 bars of pressure – considered ideal for a slow steady and creamy extraction. With the Illy coffee, many tasters found these brews more bitter than they typically drink. So, while not perfect for all palates, these high end machines – faithfully capture the essence of those beans as intended by the roaster.
The balance of the brewers, Nespresso Vertuo, Nespresso-Delonghi Latissima Pro and Starbucks Verismo 600 utilize the same core Nespresso technology. It’s based on using coffee pods, containing real coffee, not concentrate, and expressing the coffee out of the pods with high 19 bar pressure. That results in fast and efficient brewing. For this tasting, these machines did not use the Illy coffee, but coffee from Nespresso – with anywhere from a dozen to 20 varieties and from Starbucks with at least a half a dozen roasts. So, if you choose this Nespresso technology, you will need to appreciate the European or Starbucks roast agenda. If you like a Peet’s, Blue Bottle or something else, you’re out of luck.
But with these pods, smaller espresso ‘shots’ and larger American cups, you get coffee quickly – in only a minute or two from a dead-cold start to repeat brews in seconds…and merely pop in the next pod as the other gets dropped into a recycling bin. Yes, recycling. While there is some concern about creating more landfill, in fact, the pods can be returned by mail, to the store or via other coffee services. Pretty darn easy. For any of you considering a machine for an office staffed with colleagues who are not frequently fastidious, this is a slick “no muss” solution.
Looking at each model, the Vertuo is the lastest, a most curvaceous addition to your “counter candy”. It also features a separate matching milk warmer-frother. The Latissima Pro is a cute cube-like structure with a detachable milk bottle with steamer top. This is an ingenious way for you to make a single fresh latte, with real milk, and return the bottle to your refrigerator – saving milk, storing it safely and keeping your counter clean. The Latissima also has a hot water spout attachment, neatly stored, for tea or Americano drinkers.
Finally, the Starbucks Verismo is a straight up sleek espresso and coffee brewer. To make a latte or hot milk, you need to use their own pre-portioned pods. Unlike the other Nespresso machines, here you get to use Starbucks more American roast style.
So, how did our Members score the machines?
Taste & Convenience Ruled – Our top selection (6 “favorites”) is the Nespresso DeLonghi Latissima Pro ($599). It does it all and with a minimum of cleanup and with many flavor options.
Close Second (5 votes) – The luxury automated espresso machine, Oracle from Breville ($1,999), grinds fresh beans for each cup. It’s fully adjustable with moderate pressure for that thick super flavor-saturated crema.
Tied at Third (2 and 2) – If you like drip, the Technivorm ($279) is your choice. If you want that fresh espresso, a modern design and full roast perfection, Miele CM5000 ($1,299) is a good call.
On a further note, at the end of the tasting, our host replaced the Illy beans in the Oracle and Miele machines. As a regular Peet’s drinker, I was so happy to get that familiar roast with every bit of flavor from each bean – and creamy. So, I believe that there might be some alternative results if all the machines had been brewing one set of (Peet’s) beans. And that too is one of the important decisions you must make if you elect the new super convenient Nespresso systems. You have to love their European-roast beans.
– John Wiest