Just how good are the new Nespresso Decaffeinato capsules?
Let’s start off by saying that, as a self-confessed coffee enthusiast, I rarely drink decaffeinated coffee. It’s partly because I actually do get enough sleep, and partly because I have always personally found decaf to be a little inferior in flavour and body when compared to their full-bored equivalents.
It was with that backdrop that I became intrigued when Nespresso recently announced the addition of decaffeinated variants for three of its coffee capsules, adding to its comprehensive capsule range. With this announcement, they posed a challenge…
Their press release both made a bold claim and a presented an interesting challenge!
The new decaf variants
These new decaf versions are: Arpeggio Decaffeinato (intensity 9), Volluto Decaffeinato (intensity 4) and Vivalto Lungo Decaffeinato (intensity 4). These correlate to their caffeinated versions Arpeggio Grand Cru, Volluto Grand Cru, and the Vivalto Lungo Grand Cru, respectively.
Taking them up on the challenge
Given my previous experience of decaf, I though this was a challenge I wanted to take on, so I set about evaluating the new capsules.
My espresso machine has a Nespresso attachment but it’s an add-on and not easy to use for testing purposes. What I needed was a machine specifically designed to handle the Nespresso capsules. Luckily, the nice Nespresso people kindly loaned me a dedicated Nespresso machine so that I could sample the coffee brewed in the way intended.
We used a DeLonghi Lattissima+ for the tests. I will detail our test findings on the machine in a separate blog.
Suffice to say it was splendid for these tests.
I won’t go into detail about the capsules from a consumer perspective, as the Nespresso site does a much better job than I could.
But, for the coffee enthusiasts out there – yes, I opened a capsule to inspect the grind. For that particular capsule, using my digital scales, the complete capsule weighed in at 7g, and there was 6g of ground coffee. The coffee itself appeared to be a fine grind. In comparison, my Espresso machine takes the ‘usual’ 7g for a single shot and I usually prefer a coarser grind (seen on the right of the photo) as it delivers my preferred taste.
So, the Nespresso capsule has 1g less coffee that a ‘usual’ Espresso shot, so perhaps that explains the finer grind. Whatever the reason, the capsules worked just fine and the grind did not affect the coffee’s flavour as far as I could tell.
The capsules are made from coated aluminium and can be recycled. I also understand the capsules are hermetically sealed to minimise oxidation etc, and that’s an excellent feature. Stale coffee is to be avoided!
So, how did I take their decaf challenge?
For the one week testing period, I set aside my trusted espresso machine (it was probably pleased to get a break, to be honest), and only drank coffee made from the Nespresso variants listed above (both the caffeinated and decaf variants). Each time I pre-headed two cups/glasses and made one of each (i.e. one caffeinated and one decaffeinated). I then took alternate sips. I know that cleansing the palate with water between sips might have been a good idea, but in fact with alternate sipping I found I was better able to compare each of the two variants side-by-side so to speak. After all, their challenge was “Will you taste the difference?”, and this was the best way to take the challenge.
The coffees were drunk as Espresso, Lungo, Latte or Cappuccino as those were the (only) options available on the supplied machine. I also tried Americano by adding hot water separately. My family members helped with the Latte and Cappuccino (blind) comparisons which lent the testing additional balance.
The challenge results
On the caffeinated capsules the blend name was stamped into the foil. For two of the decaf variants (Decaffeinato Vivalto Lungo and Decaffeinato Volluto) the names were omitted from the foil.
The foil is already stamped with the Nespresso motif, so adding the blend name would seem simple to do. This omission is a trivial point, as it clearly doesn’t impact the flavour, and anyway you would identify your favoured capsule by colour.
Additionally, all three Decaffeinato capsules display a red dot on the bottom to show they were decaf variants, which is a simple but very useful visual indictor.
Was this the most scientific taste test undertaken by internationally-recognised connoisseurs using cupping bowls? No. Neither did we spit the coffee out between sips (not a chance!).
But, as a coffee-enthusiast, I know when I have a good coffee in my hand, and these coffees were good. And they were consistently good as you might expect from a capsule system. I was particularly (and pleasantly) surprised by the Decaf variants.
Back to the grind?
Although I kind of missed the art (and it is an art) of grinding, tamping and brewing, I found the Nespresso capsule system to be easy to use, consistent in results, convenient and less messy that my Espresso machine.
The Challenge results
The Nespresso challenge was “Decaf or not Decaf? Will you taste the difference?”
My answer is: No, I didn’t taste the difference. These Decafs were spot on for me.
All of these coffees were good, and they have altered my opinion of what Decaf coffee can be.