The Precision Of The Perfect Cup

Jan 12 2013 @ 9:12am

At some of the best restaurants in the UK, Julian Baggini was horrified to discover they're serving Nespresso, coffee made "by the waiter popping a capsule into a machine and pressing a button." After a blind taste-test with some experts, however, Nespresso scored the highest. Baggini theorizes why:

Coffee-making lends itself to automation, since all the key variables are strictly controllable. Technically, it’s relatively easy to get hold of the best coffee beans, roast them at the right temperature for the right time, grind them to the right fineness, and then vacuum-seal the right quantity for one shot. From that point on, the coffee will not degrade, effectively being as fresh once the machine pierces the capsule as it was when it went in. Then it’s a matter of hiring leading coffee experts, throwing millions of pounds of R&D at a crack team of engineers, and building a machine that will force the right amount of water through the coffee at the right temperature and pressure.

In theory, that is bound to result in a better brew than the traditional process, which, for all its romance, is full of opportunities for degradation and mishap. A bag of beans, once opened, will start to lose its flavour very rapidly once it is ground. Calibrating temperature and pressure is also difficult and subject to human error. While the capsule always contains exactly the same amount of coffee, the amount the traditional barista places in the portafiltro, and the degree to which is it compacted with the tamper, will always differ slightly. Most cafés do not get every step right, and they only get away with it because most people drown their espressos in steamed milk.