Hot drinks anywhere, almost instantly – Spoonie paradise…

According to my ex – before, of course, she was my ex – I don’t have enough hot drinks, especially on bitterly cold days, like the one I’ve woken up to today. She might have had a point. I don’t drink tea, I’m not over-fond of instant coffee, and filter coffee is vastly over-rated which, frankly, doesn’t leave much.

A couple of years ago I flirted with espresso, but found the manual machine which I thought would be the answer to be very inconsistent. I spent days getting the grind just right, then worked on the tamping and, for a short while I’d get perfect coffee before the machine would throw a strop, and I’d have to start the whole process again. I just gave up. I’ve recently learned that the machine, the La Pavoni Europiccola, is, in fact, hopelessly erratic.

I actually do like hot chocolate but, for some reason, it doesn’t like me, making me feel appallingly nauseous some days though, in fairness, I don’t actually need a hot drink to achieve that, so it might be blameless.

However, I thought I’d try again, looking at what’s available from a Spoonie perspective, and the natural choice was one of heavily-hyped pod machines that make a variety of coffee-based drinks and so I’ve just bought myself a Nescafe Dolce Gusto machine. I was thinking of a Nespresso machine (both are from Nestlé – no idea why they need two ranges that do essentially the same thing**), but as far as I can see they just do coffee, while Dolce Gusto (DG from now on), offers hot chocolate and a variety of teas, as well as the usual range of coffee stuff. And the machines can be cheaper, too.

**My view is that the Nespresso machines have a sort of steam-punkish vibe, and are deliberately designed to appeal to coffee geeks (and if I were still drinking coffee, that would be me), while the DG machines have a more general appeal. Hell, this one’s almost cute! In both cases, what appealed most was the speed – hot drinks in seconds – which limits the time spent on my feet – always a good thing.

Krups Melody 3

                      Dolce Gusto Melody 3

The thing is, I’m not suppose to drink coffee, as the caffeine can adversely affect my heart (worsening my tachycardia which, finally, is under control). However, of the main coffee styles – espresso, filter, and percolated, espresso has the lowest levels of caffeine (because the amount of ground coffee used is tiny, around 7g for single shot, and it’s in very brief contact with the hot water), with filter being high – lots of coffee hosed down by lots of water – and percolators turning out coffee which is very high in caffeine, as the relatively large amount of grounds is in prolonged and repeated contact with the water.

So I opted for the Krups Melody 3 (on the DG website as the New Melody – singularly unhelpful – though the URL says Melody 3).

As they use the Thermoblock system, these are not the quietest machines, indeed, when first turned on, mine did a passable impression of a road drill while the pump waited to fill (a priming system would help). Once it settles down, the racket stops and isn’t repeated (unless you run the thing until it’s bone dry, I’d guess, which is a bad idea), but it then produced a filling-loosening, low-frequency hum that filled the whole kitchen.

I should, perhaps, explain that my kitchen has hollow plasterboard walls (drywall, in the colonies), to which the worktop is fixed – in effect turning the room into a huge amplifier – others might not experience this. Setting the machine on a piece of wood underneath which is a thick foam pad quietened in nicely. However, as I stole that from my Kenwood mixer, that still leaves a problem.

Anyway, as I said, I’m not supposed to have coffee, but I bought some espresso capsules – actually espresso Intenso in error –a sort of half-way house between espresso and a ristretto. It’s decent enough coffee – I’ve paid far more for far worse, hell, I’ve made worse – but for me, at least, the Intenso capsule would make a pretty good double espresso.

Update:- The Intenso capsule does, in fact, make a pretty decent lungo.

And because one of the virtues of this particular model is a manual dispense system** that’s perfectly possible, especially as there seems to be some excess capacity built into the capsules which is otherwise wasted. The Chococino (hot chocolate), for example, is supposed to produce 210ml in total, but gave me 250ml and still maintained its quality. Opening up the capsules, once cold (needs a sharp knife), showed the chocolate one to be empty, while the milk still had a very little left, so 250ml seems to be what the chocolate pods will produce if pushed to their limit.

**in Amazon’s reviews, it’s marked down for this, but I’m in favour of a system that requires you to pay attention to what you’re actually doing, and it lends a degree of flexibility, too.

But, the important thing for me is the exceptional ease of use. Turn it on, wait a few seconds for it to come up to temperature, insert the capsule, close the lever to pierce it, move the handle to “Hot” to make the drink. Done, in less than a minute, maybe 90 seconds for chocolate. There’s a shallow learning curve, but it’s hardly challenging.

All in all, then, extremely spoonie-friendly.

Of course, being me, the first thing I made was an espresso, which as I said was rather good, even unsweetened (I like my coffee sweet). There was no tachycardia as a result. I did experience some chest pain but, as I often do – and I’m pretty sure it’s not heart-related – I ignored it (apart from the usual brief moment of alarm – because one day it will be my heart), and all was well.

So far, then, so impressed.

The capsules, it has to be said, aren’t cheap, working out at 23.5p each for the espresso, 47p for the chocolate. I screwed up slightly when ordering from Amazon. I ordered a box of espresso (Intenso in error, of course), and a box of Chococino (hot chocolate), before realising that each box contained 3 16-capsule boxes and, bought like that, it works out at the above prices (buying from the DG website save 0.5p or 1p respectively, but also attracts postage if you spend under £25 (but only until the year’s end); from Amazon it’s free.

The chocolate is twice the price because while a box is still 16 capsules, it only makes 8 drinks, requiring a capsule of chocolate and one of milk for each.

For a family, then, this could get expensive. For me, having just a couple of drinks a day, it’s not too bad.

Finally, these machines have a reputation for being a bit spattery in their delivery of the drinks and, indeed, they are. However, selecting the right height for the adjustable drip tray fixes this, and all that gets spattered is the inside of the cup. Not a problem.

Machine and drinks information:-

NB: The DG website can be glacially slow on first use. Once in your browser’s cache, however, it’s fine.

Here’s a full list of the flavours available.

And a list of currently available machines.

And this is the one I got. Note that the same machine comes from two manufacturers, Krups and DeLonghi. I opted for the Krups version, currently £59.99 from Amazon, partly because I wanted a red one, which brightens up the kitchen nicely (though, of course, it can be used anywhere there’s an electrical socket, and might wind up in the living room), partly because I have several Krups gadgets and I like the quality, and also because I have a DeLonghi espresso machine which is unutterably crap.

There’s also an automatic version.