Sunday 28 May 2017

Coffee fans - Wake up and smell the quality

Gerard Harrington enjoys a coffee at his home in Santry. Picture: Damien Eagers
Gerard Harrington enjoys a coffee at his home in Santry. Picture: Damien Eagers

Capsule, bean-to-cup or pump - that is the question for coffee fanatics who are seeking to replicate the coffee shop experience in the comfort of their homes, writes Isabel Hayes

Move over tea. These days, it's all about coffee and not just in coffee shops. Those who are used to having their 'skinny flat white to go' increasingly want to replicate that experience at home and when it comes to buying a coffee machine, an old-fashioned filter coffee appliance probably won't cut it. 

Nowadays coffee machines range from easy-to-use capsule machines, like the hugely popular Nespresso range, to bean-to-cup appliances that grind coffee beans from scratch and offer a fresh cappuccino at the flick of a switch.

According to Jonathan Priestley of Debenhams, coffee machines are one of the strongest performing areas across their stores. "It's a growing area in the Irish market and we've seen rapid growth in the last few years," he says.

"The main thing that's driving it is the growing amount of independent coffee shops and coffee chains like Costa and Starbucks. People are out enjoying coffee and socialising over coffee and they want to recreate that experience in their home."

Coffee machines aren't just functional; they're also a style piece for the kitchen. Different models come in all sorts of colours, sizes and shapes.

There are three main types of coffee machines to choose from. Capsule machines are a popular choice for those who are buying their first appliance. Traditional pump machines are similar to those in coffee shops, where the water filters through ground coffee beans to offer a refined coffee experience. A cross between these two is the bean-to-cup machine. Like the pump machine, it gives a more refined coffee but without the manual labour. You simply put fresh coffee beans in and press a button.

"The biggest seller for us at the moment is the capsule machine," says Neill Callan of Harvey Norman. "The advantage of the capsule machine is that they're very simple to use. You just pop your capsule into it, push a button and your coffee comes out. There's no maintenance and no major cleaning. It's very straightforward, which is what a lot of customers want."

Nespresso is one of the most popular brands of capsule coffee machines. The company opened a boutique on Duke Street last year in response to the growing demand among Irish customers, according to Jonathon Sims of Nespresso. "Irish consumers are very knowledgeable about food and are demanding of quality and provenance," he says. "Our quality beans and extensive Grand Crus range offer Irish consumers the opportunity to have a quality coffee to suit all palates, at home, conveniently."

The entry-level Nespresso machine, the Inissia, starts at just €99, with prices rising to €599. Most machines require a separate milk frother (or aeroccino), if lattes and cappuccinos are your thing.

Nespresso machines are the biggest sellers on the market, says Neill Callan of Harvey Norman. "The machines are simple to use and the quality of the coffee is a big seller," he says. "Because there are a wide variety of strengths in the coffee, it really does have something for everybody."

Capsule machines that offer more than just coffee are another popular choice, particularly for families. The Dolce Gusto machines by Nescafe and Bosch Tassimo machines offer customers a range of different drink capsules, from lattes and cappuccinos to chai lattes and teas. The capsules for milky drinks such as hot chocolate already contain UHT or powdered milk, so there's no fiddling around with milk frothers.

"Last year was a big year for multi-beverage machines and we're expecting it to be the same this year," says Neill Callan of Harvey Norman. "It's really blown the market open and supermarkets have also really got behind the capsule culture."

For those who prefer to make their coffee from scratch, there is still a steady demand for traditional pump machines. These barista-style machines involve a bit more work - tampering down ground coffee beans into the machine and filtering water through, while steaming milk on the side. But the result is a coffee that is perfectly tailored to how the drinker wants it.

The Sage by Heston Blumenthal Barista Express with a built-in coffee grinder is at the higher end of the coffee machine market at €742 but it has sold extremely well this year, according to Jonathan Priestley of Debenhams. "It looks like the machine you expect to see in coffee shops and it gives that experience and taste. It's definitely one for coffee connoisseurs."

When spending a lot of money on a coffee machine with a grinder, it's worth checking whether the blades are stainless steel or titanium. Most entry level machines use stainless steel blades, but when the machine reaches a certain temperature, stainless steel blades can burn the oil on the coffee bean, resulting in a bitter taste. Titanium blades won't.

For those who want less work than a pump machine but a more tailored coffee than a capsule machine can offer, the bean-to-cup coffee machine is the perfect answer.

"As people become more knowledgeable about coffee, they're starting to trade up to these from capsule machines," says Priestley. "They're looking for the next level, the ultimate experience. A lot of customers are going for a bean-to-cup because you're making the coffee from fresh coffee beans."

With bean-to-cup, the ground coffee beans go straight into the coffee machine without any need to remove them and filter the water through manually. Most machines have an intuitive userface to guide you through the steps, and some have buttons that allow you to select cappuccino or latte without further ado.

Depending on the machine, you can select the strength of your coffee, how much water goes in it, the temperature of the water and how finely ground the beans are. Some bean-to-cup models allow several users to programme exactly how they like their coffee, which they can then access at the touch of a button.

"When a customer is looking for a coffee machine, we go through how often they drink coffee and how particular they are about it," says Neill Callan of Harvey Norman. "If they mostly drink instant coffee, then they'll probably go for a capsule machine. When someone is really dedicated to their coffee they'll go for a pump or bean-to-cup machine."

Irish Independent

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