Personal Coffee Maker Turns Writer into a Caf-fiend
By Jim Bray
may never drink instant coffee again. Not that I do anyway, much, except under emergency conditions, but thanks to the people at Braun and Kraft Foods I've become convinced that individually packaged coffee and tea, and the hardware to brew it, is one of the better inventions of the early 21st century, second possibly to any breakthroughs in cancer research that may happen.
Now, I'm no connoisseur of coffee, just a guy who works at home and enjoys a couple of cups of Joe in the morning – but who generally does without because I'm too darn lazy to calculate how many scoops are sufficient for the third of a carafe that's enough to act as jumper cables for my heart. The brain doesn't work before the coffee hits, either, and if I have to figure out how to make the coffee first I might as well just go outside and bark at the moon for a while.
Then they sent me a Tassimo unit and a selection of their little coffee and tea packs. The occasion was the release of the Gevalia Morning Roast and Twinings Chai Tea Latte packs, about which I could care less – I like my coffee cheap, generic and black – but the concept of which intrigued me enough to fill the Tassimo's little reservoir in anticipation of a quick cup of morning glory.
And by the great Gods of Virtually Instant Gratification didn't it work?
The company says they released the morning roast T Discs (the little individual "software" packets) in response to consumers' desire for a larger cup of coffee in the morning, though it's undoubtedly also in response to a perceived need for more sales – isn't that why one goes into business in the first place?
But you can get a lot more than just trendy specialty coffees and teas – I found myself drawn to the coffee aisle of my local grocery store once my freebies ran out, coming home with packages of Maxwell House and ignoring stuff like Seattle's Best (on principle), as well as carte noir and Jacob's, whoever he is. I did get talked into trying Mastro Lorenzo, "a darker, richer Swiss creama coffee that captures the essence of an intensely aromatic European café," according to the documentation that accompanies the package. Though it isn't black and generic, I did find it quite tasty and will probably keep it in the collection for when I'm feeling particularly metrosexual.
The T Discs should last quite a while….
They also sent me another of their European Café Collection, Kaffee HAG Crema, but my wife refused to let me drink it because when I mentioned it to her she thought she thought I was calling her names. It's too bad; it smells wonderful.
The system is clearly a classic example of "the Gillette syndrome," where they practically give away the razor and thereby get you hooked on buying the blades, and buying them, and buying and buying.
I really need to invent something like this….
Alas, it isn't as if they give away the machine. Tassimo's web site lists it at $170, which buys a lot of instant coffee. On the other hand, the quality of the Tassimo's coffee I've tried blows instant right out of the mug. And you don't have to boil the kettle.
The system comes with its own water filter to ensure that only pure water is used to brew an increasingly broad selection of beverages that require hot water and are sold in T Discs. The filter sits in the bottom of the clear plastic reservoir which mounts and dismounts easily for refilling.
The company says each T Disc, which of course is designed to work only with the Tassimo, contains a precisely measured amount of coffee, tea, chocolate, concentrated milk, or whatever, and is sealed to protect the precious flavor inside. And thank goodness for that! When you insert the T Disc (it's very easy), the machine supposedly reads its bar code, calculates the amount of water needed, brewing time, and temperature required to prepare the perfect drink. They make it sound as if the thing's smarter than some college grads I've met.
All I know is that, once you get the green "go ahead" light, you press the big round button then wait for a moment (during which the machine makes noises like it's relieving itself painfully) and retrieve your Cup of Wonder. T Discs are only meant for to be used for a single cup, but I fooled the machine sometimes into letting me get a second cup out of them, at the cost of a weaker – but drinkable if you don’t care that much – beverage. I never tried wringing a third cup out of a T Disc; you might as well just nuke a cup of water.
I also cajoled some family members with less curmudgeonly tastes to try T Discs such as creamy latte and frothy cappuccino and they thought that, while they were no comparison with the real deal, they were better than the ones made by other such systems they'd tried. I guess that's a compliment.
Besides being great for the home or home office, the Tassimo would also work well in a small office environment, letting the worker bees individualize the first inalienable right of corporate benefits – "free" coffee. Once the boss has sprung the cost of the machine from petty cash, everyone else could either kick in for the cost of the T Discs or bring in their own favorites. According to the Tassimo web site, a 14 pack of Nabob Classic Colombian T Discs sells for about $7, or 50 cents a cup – not cheap but cheaper than Starbucks (and your employees aren't out wandering the streets when they're supposed to have their noses to the computer monitor). Naturally, the more exotic stuff costs more.
This means that my two cups a day, even if I broke down and used a whole T Disc for each one, would work out to about a greenback a day, which isn't a bad deal considering the convenience and the taste.
updated January 9, 2008
Over the Christmas holidays the company also sent me a selection of their new Starbucks T-Discs, which are offered in four flavors: House Blend, Breakfast Blend, Caffe Verona and Africa Kitamu. My favorite was the most generic House Blend, which they call a "medium-bodied blend of Latin American coffees." It's a nice, clean taste I didn't find too overpowering.
My second fave was the Breakfast Blend, which is quite mild but with good flavor. Caffe Verona is heavier (read "Fully bodied"), a blend of Latin American and Asia/Pacific coffees they say has been laced with 20 per cent Italian Roast. Far from being a "dog's breakfast blend," however, I thought it rather tasty and no one part of it overwhelmed the others.
Africa Kitamu is a blend of East African coffees and it was my least favorite of the Starbucks blends - though that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. It was stronger and more "full bodied" than I like, but when I let one of my loved ones (who's more of a coffee aficionado than me) pry it from my fingers he liked it quite a bit.
So once again, it all comes down to individual taste - and that's another thing I like about the Tassimo: you can indulge your individual coffee or tea fetishes without having to make a whole pot.
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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