Capsule Crisis 1: April vs. Starbucks
So this is a first for me, and perhaps for you to. And I have to be 100% honest. In terms of the product, I am not really into capsule coffee. Mostly because of environmental reasons. I am not a huge fan of the waste, I am not a huge fan of the huge amount of aluminium and toxic metals it includes. I don’t enjoy seeing the budget supermarkets such as Aldi selling plastic and foil robusta capsules at a ridiculous price. And I was really curious to see that Starbucks also now has a capsule range, clearly because of the market for this sort of coffee. The only world in which I can happily get behind the capsules would be if they are at least compostable. I feel this is the best option, as the plastic ones require cleaning to be truly recyclable, and the metal ones, well, who knows. At the same time, the consumer is an issue as many will throw them into the trash without really considering the implications if they have their convenience. This as we can tell then is an incredibly complicated topic and while at some point I would like to delve into it more, I feel, as a barista, as a coffee enthusiast and moreover, as a writer about the world of coffee that I owe to myself to actually try it before I judge it completely. At the same time, I want to support the smaller roasters who are trying their best to answer the needs of their customers and offer a fair, well produced product that everyone can enjoy, regardless of the method that they brew their coffee.
I just have to mention here that I do not own a Nespresso machine, so I had to borrow one from a friend, and it was here that I discovered something interesting. The thing was filthy. Not out the outside, on the outside it was pretty nice actually. But the buildup of calcium that had built up on the inside of the machine was considerable. I started the clean up by running through about 1 liter of water, the first half of which smelled entirely of Robusta.
After that I was able to start brewing and making some coffee, and for this experiment I picked up one commercial product, produced by Starbucks, and a specialty coffee capsule produced by roaster Patric Rolf Karlsson out of Copenhagen in his April Coffee Roasters These two products could not be more different which made it quite interesting.
For this tasting I simply had to break it down like I would any coffee, and judge it based on what I have in the cup. I used Volvic water, as I felt using a bottled or good quality filtered water might produce the cleanest cups possible. And for both cups, I brewed using the small cup/ristratto button that April recommend using their pods on.
So how did they taste?
The Starbucks Kenya was quite interesting, at 3.90 it was an affordable capsule option, with lovely packaging. It allows you to buy pods without that much aluminium, they are half plastic with a little foil cap at the end so they break more easily. Perhaps this is a good option for anyone with the time to clean the capsule out after before proceeding to recycle, and perhaps for anyone who doesn’t wish to give Nestle all their money.
The flavour profile:
I found this coffee quite dark despite being called a medium roast (what does that mean any more). The tasting notes given on the packet included, fruity, berry and sweet. But I found the finish quite bitter. I have no idea what quality the coffee used was but I assume it was a commercial Kenyan coffee it was to be sold at such a low price. When it cooled, I did get a bit more of the sweetness and perhaps even a little blackberry jam, but I would not call it acidic by any means. It had a full body, and a heavy crème that did not disappear very quickly.
This roast from April was certainly lighter, and at 10euros (price including the shipping and mark up the shop I bought it had to put on the caps) it costs a little bit more than a commercial roast from Starbucks. This perhaps is the big difference between the specialty roasters and the commercial roasters, sacrificing price for quality.
This coffee tasted a bit closer to what I would like in a Brazil. It had a nice body but it was lighter in taste than the Kenyan, probably due to the roast profile. But it was also quite sweet, lots of notes of kakao and sweet creamy chocolate, perhaps a little like Nesquik, but with a sweet and light acidity and a clean finish and aftertaste. It was quite nutty in the finish but not unpleasant, in actuality, it was quite balanced as a coffee. I quite enjoyed this cup, I may have even inhaled the thing.
If I could choose one? Well, it would be unfair to pick a winner, so I’ll put it this way, for the price of 3.90, the Starbucks coffee will appeal to many people because of its ease of access, its affordable price and shiny expensive looking packaging. Those who are more interested in flavour and quality though will be more attracted to the April capsule, as this will represent their view of coffee more to begin with anyway. I would definitely recommend using the bottled or filtered water as well over some tap water. I did try the Kenyan with some Britta filtered water and it was not pleasant at all, so I feel perhaps the water itself will have a big part to how these coffees taste and getting the most out of your machine at the end of the day.
But I would also remind you to clean that machine nearly every time you use it with a bit of water.
This use of water is also something I’m not entirely happy with though and found it to be quite a lot for so little. So even though I have access to some great coffee from friends and roasters such as Patric, who I know are looking at ways to find a more sustainable method in producing their capsule coffees, and I have seen products from North America and England that are now compostable capsules it will never be my favourite brew method. But if you choose to get a capsule machine, try and support your local roaster who really is trying his best to make a good product, if you can afford this and is a flavour that you like.