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Nespresso to To Tim Wendelboe: Our Quality Matches Yours

Wendelboe Norway, baristas Nespresso

Norwegian roaster Tim Wendelboe was criticized by Nespresso following his home video series for baristas. Photo by Benjamin A. Ward.

Nestle-owned pod coffee giant Nespresso is firing back at influential Norwegian roaster Tim Wendelboe, arguing that its pre-ground coffee capsules match the quality of Wendelboe’s own.

The debate stems from a multi-video series produced by the Norwegian news agency Aftenposten in which Wendelboe gives home brewers advice, insight and demonstrations on all things related to quality coffee brewing.

In the series, Wendelboe routinely urges consumers to seek out high-quality whole bean coffees from craft-driven roasters that value interesting and unique flavors that can come from individual farms and lots. In the process, he calls out some well-known problems involved in the mass production of pre-ground capsule coffees, including freshness, flavor distinction and the widespread use of coffee with known defects.

In a published reply, Geir Kronbæck of Nespresso Norway suggests Wendelboe’s assertions in the series reflect his own financial interests, and that Nespresso’s sourcing, roasting and distribution practices allow for coffee quality that is on par with Wendelboe’s, as well as that of many of the world’s other renowned micro roasteries. Kronbæck also asserts that the Nespresso brewing system can produce similar results to manual brewing in any number of the world’s greatest coffee shops.

Writes Kronbæck (loosely translated from its original Norwegian:

Wendelboe obtains much good coffee, and he delivers unique taste experiences, but no matter how you prefer coffee to taste, no one can argue that Nespresso portioned coffee does not have the same quality as that found in various coffee shops around the world.

The quality of coffee is the pillar of Nespresso. Not only do we select the best coffee beans in the world, we continue the same meticulous quest for quality in all aspects. We wrap it in portions to preserve the quality, and to assert that the choice of packaging categorically lowers the quality of coffee is misleading to the consumer.

To his credit, Wendelboe has taken a diplomatic approach, lauding Nespresso for maintaining some quality control programs. In a reply published today, he responds to Kronbæck’s criticisms on a point-by-point basis, referring to Nespresso and other coffee companies as colleagues working together to help lead consumers to better experiences with their home coffee. He writes (translated from Norwegian):

I still maintain that the quality of the coffee in the capsules are not of the same quality as the coffees you can buy at the best coffee shops around the world. (This does not mean that all the coffee you can buy in the coffee business is good.)

By quality I mean not only the green unroasted coffee, but also the way it is roasted, how fresh it is and ultimately its taste. The flavor is most important, and it is influenced by many factors.

Comment

10 Comments

greg

Ironically, I came across the opportunity to play with my first VirtuoLine machine over the weekend. My verdict: I’m not even sure it makes what I would normally call coffee anymore… something closer to even a frappe. But the overwhelming sense was this was purely a design move to stay ahead of expiring patents and to lock in customers for at least a few more years.

Hardly the gestures of a company that feels it can stand on its own quality merits.

Gregory

Still owned by nestle. Still owned by a company that does not source their chocolate from fairly traded areas of the world. Still goes into small towns and takes up water sources and then bottles the water and sells it back to the people. The coffee on the other hand might be sourced meticulously but to what social regard. The coffee then goes into a plastic cup and super heated with water. The coffee inside is grounded way in advance and could affect the taste. Getting coffee from small scale coffe shops is better for the smaller business not the multinational corporation!

Rich Westerfield

So what? McDonalds has more “quality” than your favorite local artisinal burger joint. In business terms, “quality” has little to do with taste and everything to do with repeatability. I imagine Nespresso does have plenty of systems and checks that allow it to repeatably and reliably sort, process and package coffee to THEIR STANDARDS OF ACCEPTABLE TASTE. Which, obviously, are not the same standards of Mr. Wendleboe.

Ever been to Coffee Analysts in Burlington, Vermont? Many of the major consumer brands (e.g. Dunkin Donuts, Eight O’Clock), in the US send their green and roasted coffees there for extremely stringent QC testing to ensure those beans meet the acceptable standards for that particular company and that particular company’s target consumer. Every conceivable type of equipment for any conceivable type of size, defect, density, or other variation between beans can be tested there. And they employ arguably the best cuppers in the business. It could be successfully argued that those large “supermarket” brands have more “quality” than Intelligentsia, CCC or Stumptown.

In other words, Nespresso is not saying their coffee tastes as good as Mr. Wendleboe’s to those who like Mr. Wendleboe’s particular preference for sourcing and style of roast development. All they’re saying is that they’re not hacks.

Alan

“Nespresso brewing system can produce similar results to manual brewing in any number of the world’s greatest coffee shops.”

That doesn’t exactly sound like “We’re not hacks.” Wendleboe’s comments about roasting, where 400 lb. roasters that have computer controlled profiles, are hardly comparable to a 15 lb. roaster with the master roaster constantly checking the beans. Ground coffee is ground, and will never be the same quality as “fresh” ground. That’s just the beginning.

This discussion will go on for many more decades, and more comparisons will be done to prove one point or another. The truth is convenience wins out, and only those willing to take a little more time will discover the differences and yet, it all boils down to the tongue.

I have had the experience of someone trying single estate, shade grown/bird friendly Mesa de los Santos from Colombia, and they preferred their Folgers over that. I have had the pleasure of Kona and Jamacian Blue Mountain from Wallingford Estate, and for me it does not overshadow Peru’s La Florida, but it beats most anything S-Bucks puts out with a West Coast Roast!

Nespresso couldn’t afford to use “the best” beans, unless their definition of “best” is different than that of the ICA. Let’s face it, their definition may be slightly different, at that could make a big difference in the cup.

There are a lot of marginal quality coffees produced in the coffee growing regions, and then there is the infamous “robusta” that get’s into the fray. So when it comes down to a giant like Nestle, it’s all about profit first, and advertising campaigns to brain-wash the public into believing what they’re trying to sell. Hey, it’s Capitalism at it’s best.

Nespresso vs. fresh roasted, single origin, fresh ground and brewed with a good pour-over or vacuum pot is never gonna fly. Been there, tasted that, owned three coffee shops, still learning.

David Burke

I am an amateur roaster
I believe that if you are a professional barista you should be able to differentiate between the flavors of espresso produced by Nespresso or a professional machine however it is very difficult for most people to differentiate the taste of a naturaly bitter tasting espresso from another
Nespresso coffee is actually quite good!

Richard Stott

Ok I can leave a balanced reply on both as I buy from both Nespresso and Tim. I don’t see any problem with that. My preferred drink is usually made from freshly ground beans but sometimes I don’t have time for the ritual which I enjoy and would prefer to reach for a decent tasting Nespresso pod than some of the other alternatives.
Having become acquainted with the whole process of choosing the right beans and proper roasting as a young boy (my grandfather was a tea and coffee merchant)my preference would be to see as many people as possible given the opportunity to drink good coffee. Nespresso makes coffee accessible for many and some will undoubtedly move on to other choices enjoyed by those of us who take our coffee seriously. There’s room for all.

A. Dent

In addition to the issues with the beans and roasting – is the control- or lack of control- users have with the capsule machines.

What is “manual brewing”?
Pour-over, Chemex, french-press, filter vs no filter, paper filters, metal filters,…
Being able to have full control over grinding, brewing time, water temperature- and flow- all of which is important for the final taste.

The local coffee house “on the corner” can do these things on-the-fly, from cup to cup,… you can even do this at home,… capsule automatics cannot.

Age of roast is of course also of importance, and perhaps Nespresso roast continuously and ship quick, but it can take months before the capsules reach whomever uses it.

Mag

Nestle must have a very different standard of “Best Quality” with CQI, and what is C.O.E.? If Nespresso uses the “Best” beans, meaning all these efforts paid by these C.O.E. farmers in growing the best crops are not being recognised and honored.

bruce

hmm, i’d like a little clarity on another matter – it was brought to my attention that Nestle, the notorious frankenstein food giant, does not onlt have coffee in the pods, but thickeners, emulsifiers etc to give the illusion of it being a great ‘shot’?!
(a guy said i must cut open a pod and look inside – never done this – anyone have and able to revert or confirm this?

B Zanetti

Bruce, many have done this and there’s been some more scientific analysis done on the grounds contained within those pods. They all basically confirmed the coffe ground content inside the pod is indeed – a real unadultered coffee.

However, the fact it’s ‘real’ coffee doesn’t mean this is also a great brew, good one at its best, but great, inspiring and memorable it certainly isn’t. I tried it and it left me unphased, questioning what are all those ‘Nespresso connoiseurs’ around the world raving so much about.

Not to mention lack in content weight, the pods contain 1/2 – 2/3 of a standard espresso pulled shot.

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