16 December 2013

FEATURE: Christmas Coffee

Stay wide awake for Santa.

Let's be clear; when we say Christmas Coffee we don't mean whatever Gingerbread Toffeenut Egg-Nog latte you've bought, served in a red cup, from Starbucks. No, we mean a couple of quality coffee brewing machines and a few choices of the powdery brown stuff to stick in 'em.

Christmas at Test Pit Towers is a time when our coffee consumption (which is already worryingly high) doubles, as we stay up late online shopping, wrapping gifts and worrying about the fact that we don't have a chimney. That's why we offer to you a few first-rate coffee-gift ideas.

We'll meet you at 3 am on Christmas morning to check that Santa is alright. He's getting on, you see...

Nescafe Dolce Gusto Mini Me

Styled after an obedient robotic puppy, the Dolce Gusto coffee machine is light, compact and a proud homage to plastic. But don't let the materials put you off, as this feisty little chap produces probably the quickest coffee of any espresso machine we've ever played with while also producing zero mess.

Like a lot of modern coffee machines that place emphasis on convenience, the Dolce Gusto requires special pods to work. So if you want a coffee from your new Nescafe machine, you need to buy Nescafe pods. Fortunately the choice and quality offered by the coffee giant is pretty good (details below) and operation of the machine couldn't be simpler.

First fill up the compact water reservoir in the back of the Dolce Gusto then select your pod. Slide the capsule into the little tray on the front of the machine (or the puppy's head as we referred to it) and switch on. It takes less than a minute for the machine to reach temperature, and when it does flick the top lever and the good stuff will start to flow.

What is interesting is how the machine achieves a high enough pressure for good quality espresso. The pod is pierced by a very narrow tube which then forces the hot water in to mix with the contents and then out by a high 15 bar pressure through the bottom of the pod. Once done simply open up the machine and throw the spent pod away: no mess and no spilt coffee granules.

Another nice touch is that the drip tray on which you place your cup or glass is height adjustable; leave it low for a tall latte or mocha glass or raise it up for a small espresso cup. By doing this Nescafe have eliminated any splashes that may have been caused by the distance the coffee has to fall. Good thinking.

We love the choice of colours available so everybody should be able to find one to match their kitchen or office, and the design is certainly a conversation starter. As for the quality of the coffee, we'll leave that to below to describe, but needless to say every cup we had from this thing (and that means EVERY pod the lovely PR person sent us) was a delight.

Good choice of pods, good looks... good price.


We tried the Dolce Gusto with...

Nescafe Mocha, Grande Caffe Crema, and Lungu Intenso coffee pods

Mocha. This comes in two parts; a pod for the milk and one for chocolaty/coffee goodness. Unlike most machine mochas it is think, flavourful and frothy.

£3.68 for 16 pods (so 8 cups).

Grande Caffe Crema. This is a single pod, full cup black coffee. A layer of crema forms on top and the coffee taste is nice and light.

£3.68 for 16 pods.

Lungu Intenso. All these pods disappeared on the first day of testing. It's a strong espresso designed for a smaller more intense hit. Lovely and strong and lacking the bitter tang of other espressos.

£3.68 for 16 pods.

Philips Saeco Poemia

Complete with cranky arm thing and milk steamer, the Saeco Poemia from Philips looks more like you'd expect an espresso machine to appear. Traditional yet plain styling make this something that would easily fit into any kitchen decor.

This takes standard ground coffee which can be poured into the arm compartment with the included scoop. It also features a slot-in addition for the arm which allows the Saeco Poemia to take coffee bags as well. So for those with a wide-ranging love of coffee this is perfect.

To use, simply take off the machine's lid, fill the removable water reservoir and wait for the green light. Meanwhile pop your coffee into the arm, press down with the back of the scoop (nice touch - the scoop also stores away inside meaning you'll never lose it) and slot in the coffee arm. Once ready, just flick the chunky silver dial to either the left for coffee or to the right for the steamer.
We really like that the coffee compartment arm is spring loaded as this part can often break on other machines due to the force required to lock them in place. With the Saeco Poemia however, the extra give the spring allows makes for an easy and safe locking mechanism.

The addition of a milk steamer is very welcome, and although the majority of the Test Piters enjoy their coffee straight and black, the ability to make cappuccinos and lattes is great, especially at this time of year. The speed of the thing was also pretty impressive, and although it won't warm a cup of milk quite as fast as your city-centre barista can, it certainly beats many of the other machines we've previously tested.

So universally useful, nice accessories and well thought out design.


We tried the Saeco Poemia with...

Lively Up by Marley Coffee

No strangers to products bearing Bob Marley's name, we dipped into this espresso roast from the company founded by Bob's son Rohan. The Lively Up blend is strong with hints of cocoa and fruit which we thought worked best as a straight black espresso.

£7.99 per 227 gram bag

Bird & Wild Forest Grown Coffee

A relatively new British company, Bird & Wild source all of their coffee from farms in forests where bird habitats are not destroyed. The coffee is lighter than the Marley, with a softer taste making it perfect for lattes.

£10.99 for 2 x 227 gram bags

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