The Nespresso Decaf Challenge

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Just how good are the new Nespresso Decaffeinato capsules?

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Introduction

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…

The challenge

Their press release both made a bold claim and a presented an interesting challenge!

Their Claim

“The new coffees were especially crafted to match the exceptional character and aroma of their original Grand Cru alter egos”

Their Challenge

Decaf or not Decaf? Will you taste the difference?”

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.

The machine

Delonghi Machine
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.

The capsules

Nespresso Capsules
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

Nespresso Volluto

Volluto (intensity 4)

This was pulled during the day as Espresso and Cappuccino. It was a light roast and had a balanced flavour with little obvious sharpness (almost slightly sweet actually). The caffeinated version (the glass on the right in the photo) produced a thicker (better for me) crema, was almost imperceptibly darker and tasted just a tiny bit sharper. In reality, the difference was very slight and I’m being very picky.

Nespresso Vivalto Lungo

Vivalto Lungo (intensity 4)

This was pulled during the day as Lungo and Latte. It’s a nice coffee with a mixture of flavours (in a good way). The caffeinated and decaffeinated versions tasted that same, with the decaf variant having just marginally less body – almost like a little hot water had been added after brewing.

So, they had the same taste, but the caffeinated variant was a fraction ‘lighter’. But if you drank them separately, rather than doing the alternate-sip comparison, I wouldn’t really be able to tell them apart. This was the favourite blend with the family testers.

Nespresso Arpeggio

Arpeggio (intensity 9)

These were pulled for morning Espresso and for an occasional Americano. It’s an intense and strong coffee with a creamy/chocolaty hint. Although it’s not their most intense blend, I really like it and thought it had ‘spot on’ intensity for me. If I had to choose a capsule to drink every morning, this would be a great choice, and I’m not surprised it’s the Nespresso top seller.
As far as the challenge is concerned – could I discern any difference? Well, I am not sure how Nespresso achieved it, but I couldn’t differentiate between the caffeinated and decaf versions. This is a winner for me, and my personal favourite.

Nespresso Capsules

Other observations

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.

Conclusions

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.

More information

The press release can be found here.
The range of Nespresso capsules can be found here.

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