Capsule coffee cornering home market
The pod people have come to take over Wellington's coffee.
The march of their sleek machines and accompanying pods, like the eggs of some strange alien animal, is unstoppable.
The capsules have already cornered a significant percentage of the home coffee market, thanks in part to George Clooney starring in advertisements for Nespresso.
But do they spell the death of espresso? Critics say the coffee they make is bad - and they create a huge amount of waste - but people seem to like them. More than 185 million are sold every year in Britain, and they can be found in several thousand Michelin-starred restaurants.
Max Kremer is a convert. He bought a second-hand machine that takes Nespresso capsules after being impressed by the taste.
"It was a bit of an impulse buy," he said. "The capsules are not cheap - they work out about $1 a cup - but considering you buy a cafe coffee for $4 . . . I don't want to call it a saving, but it's good."
The main advantage is convenience: "You don't have any mess or have to clean up grounds."
Many true coffee connoisseurs would not be seen dead drinking from a capsule. Others are less concerned.
Alex Hewitt, barista trainer at Weltec, does not feel threatened by the march of the pod people.
"It's a different market," she said, aimed at people who don't want mess, to take time to make a "proper" coffee or know how to use their espresso machines.
However, she thought the capsules made substandard coffee. "I've had it and it didn't taste nice at all. It was the flavouring. My in-laws use it, and it was just nasty."
Consumer NZ's Kate Sluka tested several capsule machines and said they struggled to produce impressive taste.
"We've had several capsule machines through tests in the last couple of years and none of them have scored particularly well on taste," she said. "A couple did perform better than some manual machines, but they still weren't getting the taste scores that non-capsule machines have achieved."
Economically, capsule systems have suffered from the "lock-in effect" - buyers must get all their capsules from the company that makes the system.
However, Sluka said this was changing. "In the last couple of years more capsule machines and capsules appear to have come on the market. Consumers aren't so tied to using proprietary capsules which must be ordered online in bulk."
That said, the cost of a single Nespresso capsule is 97c. One for the Caffitaly system is about 99c per cup. Cheaper versions - compatible with one of the main player systems - are available, but a shot from a coffee roaster is about a third of the price.
"Ultimately some people are happy to trade off a perfect taste experience, expense and extra packaging against the convenience of a capsule machine," Sluka said.
ENCAPSULATING A PROBLEM
Anyone who buys a coffee capsule machine soon runs into a particular problem.
Each "dose" of coffee comes in a little aluminium or plastic case, and you soon end up with piles of used ones lying around. They are only small, but you need one for every coffee. Owners can be overwhelmed by empty capsules.
In order to recycle them, you have to separate the coffee remnants from the aluminium, which on a large scale is not easy. After Max Kremer bought a machine, he began collecting the empties but, after about a month, fruit flies were starting to emerge from the bag. "I have good intentions but haven't actually recycled them," he says. "I had to dump them."
Nespresso, which opened a Wellington store last year, runs a recycling service. It would not reveal how many capsules it had sold, or how many it had recycled, citing commercial sensitivity.
Country manager Guillaume Chesneau says: "The used capsules which we collect are sent to a recycling facility in Auckland, where the aluminium is separated from the coffee grounds. The aluminium is smelted for reuse in other aluminium products, and the coffee grounds are used for compost and fertiliser."
It is also possible to reuse the capsules by following online "life-hack" guides. Capsule importer mycoffeecapsules. co.nz said other types of capsules could also be recycled.
The Dominion Post