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Can Homemade Coffee Compete With Coffee Shop Coffee?

Published 6 May 2010

No matter the gadgets, really good homemade coffee can prove to be elusive. Nescafe say that they have the machine to do it, but how does it compare to London’s plethora of independent and chain coffee shops? We went along to one of their events to review their new Dolce Gusto coffee machine.

Nescafe is one of the first brands that comes to mind when you think of coffee, but they are best known for their classic Gold Blend and other instant coffee granules which are fine for a quick cuppa but not really at the high end gourmet end of the spectrum. With the launch of their Dolce Gusto coffee machine, it’s the gourmets that they’re targeting, though. They very vocally promise coffees as good and as varied as at a certain rather popular coffee shop chain. Given that London is by far the UK’s biggest consumer of coffee shop coffee, not to mention the most expensive place to buy it, if the machine lives up to the promise it could save us Londoners thousands.

Since their launch last year, The Dolce Gusto team have been demonstrating their new coffee maker around the country – you may have spotted them at the BBC Masterchef Live show at Olympia last year, or at Taste of Christmas over at ExCel. Now with a wider than ever range of coffee options, they want to show off just what the machines can do, giving out a few hints and tips for more creative coffees along the way. Having set up shop for a day at Leicester Square, they invited London Insider to review and give the coffees a go to see how they compare to the likes of Starbucks, Costa or Monmouth, which is a personal highlight of Borough Market. Having recently had a snoop around the Costa roastery in Kennington and being a bit of a coffee aficionado, I was interested to see what they’d serve up.

The Dolce Gusto machines catch the eye. Lined up on tables, they are so achingly stylish I would have been forgiven for thinking I’d walked into Nigella Lawson’s kitchen by mistake. First on the menu is a quick demo of the coffee machines so that we could make ourselves a cup. Mastering the technique is the easy part, it’s choosing what to make that’s tricky. There are fifteen different varieties outlined but that’s really just the start. What sets these machines apart from others is that you have control over how much coffee, milk and water you add to each cup. This means that in theory the possibilities are literally endless; from lattes to cappuccinos, mochas to americanos and many more in between. For my first cup, I kept it simple with a latte. The verdict? It’s good and frothy with an intense espresso flavour coming through but not a bit of bitterness. I’d say it was at least as good as Starbucks or Costa, but truth be told they’ve never been a favourite of mine.

Things get more interesting as a couple of mixologists take to the stage to demonstrate some coffee cocktails – all alcohol free given it was fairly early in the morning, but that doesn’t mean some couldn’t be added. Highlights included using vanilla ice cream as an indulgent alternative to milk, the addition of orange zest and spices, and making a latte much more exotic by using coconut milk. The Dolce Gusto coffee machines provide the base of these cocktails, adding all-important texture as well as taste. The machines dispense coffee and milk at high pressure. This pressure moves about the molecules in the liquid and creates the frothy milk texture we’re now used to in bought coffees, as well as that all important head on the top of an espresso. This 15 bar pressure is higher than any other home coffee machine currently on the market, but the same as the professional machines used in all the major coffee shops, hence Nescafe’s comparison.

The texture is certainly impressive, with the milk stealing the limelight from the coffee itself. It’s a shame that the machine only uses pre-packed capsules, as it’s tempting to play around and froth more than just the milk that they offer – coconut milk, for example…

Reigning in too many frothy ideas, I settle down for the final part of the Dolce Gusto experience – a coffee themed cookery demonstration from TV celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott, unashamedly OTT presenter of Ready, Steady, Cook. Coffee and chocolate sauce, tiramisu, and biscotti are cooked up whilst Ainsley even manages to find time for a bit of impromptu dancing. It’s fair to say the coffee isn’t really the focus anymore, but it’s great fun so do look out for more Dolce Gusto events which may be coming up around London. In particular, keep an eye on their Facebook page for all the details.

If you get a chance, the Nescafe Krups Dolce Gusto coffee machines are certainly worth a try for the milk alone, but whilst the coffee, which is pre-packed into capsules, could be compared quality-wise to the likes of Starbucks of Cafe Nero, there’s no way it can hold its own against some of the distinct, fuller-bodied blends with much more character that is available in places such as Monmouth, the lesser known Scooter Caffe in Waterloo or new face on the block Tapped & Packed in Fitzrovia.

Article written by Ben Norum.