Coffee craftmanship was the topic for a panel discussion hosted by The Caterer and Nespresso Professional at the Treehouse London, attended by some of the industry's most influential figures
"I knew about a chefs' trip to Colombia a few years ago, so when Nespresso suggested this trip, I jumped at the chance. It was an amazing insight," said Michael Wignall, chef-patron of the Michelin-starred Angel at Hetton in Yorkshire.
He was speaking on a panel discussion on the importance of coffee craftmanship, sustainability and resilient farming practices earlier this month at an event run by The Caterer and Nespresso Professional at the newly opened Treehouse London hotel, to an audience of 100 influential figures from the hotel, restaurant and foodservice industries.
He had recently returned from a trip to a coffee plantation in Kenya with James Knappett, chef-patron of two-Michelin-starred Kitchen Table in London, and Nespresso B2B commercial director UK and Ireland Jean-Baptiste Coutant.
The Caterer editor Chris Gamm, who was hosting the panel, asked if the coffee production process "was inspiring to see?". Wignall replied, "Yes, definitely!".
"It was inspiring to see how hard everyone works, as well as how passionate everyone is in the whole process. They all seemed pretty happy; it was gratifying how rewarding it was for them. And because of all the techniques that the Nespresso agronomists, who are part of the AAA Sustainable Quality Program, had shown them, it meant that their coffee and land was more fertile as a consequence."
Knappett witnessed first-hand how farmers work in partnership with Nespresso to produce coffee, from the growing of coffee plants, to harvesting cherries, through to the cup. He said: "It was incredible. It's very rare for a chef to see the whole process of coffee making. I've seen chocolate, but coffee was one of the few things that you might not get a chance to do, so to go on a journey with Nespresso was really, really cool."
There is a extraordinary amount of craftmanship that takes place behind the scenes to produce the coffee. Expert cuppers sample each batch of beans to differentiate aromas and qualities and determine its suitability for production.
Wignall said he marvelled at the sommelier-like expertise of the cuppers: "I thought it would all be scientific, but it isn't – it's literally all just mouth tasting until it gets to the factory, just like wine – it's amazing. The whole process is quite laborious just for a cup of coffee – it's a good cup of coffee though!"
Back to the roots
The conversation moved on to the benefits of the Nespresso Resilient Farm initiative, which was created to make coffee farms and the surrounding landscapes more resistant to the effects of climate change. It has utilised Nespresso's network of more than 470 agronomists, as well as specialists in soil management and crop production, to provide training to assist farmers to improve the quality and yield of their harvest.
Knappett said: "The farmers have doubled, tripled, quadrupled their harvests compared to what they would have got without Nespresso's help. They took it on, they listened, and they learned from it."
Coutant explained why it was so important for Nespresso to fly chefs like Wignall and Knappett to Kenya to demonstrate the work they do in countries that produce coffee and give them an understanding of its origins because they value ingredient selection so much.
"We really wanted to showcase this because if we want to deliver the right cup of coffee, that's a huge investment. It goes through all these changes, all these little steps and you can't compromise. If you start to compromise, then the coffee quality disappears."
Knappett said that he had been able to translate what he learned about the significance of coffee sourcing into conversations with his staff and customers.
"We obviously took a lot of pictures while we were over there," he said. "Being able to document and then run through with the guys how much work goes into this much [an espresso shot amount of ] liquid is unbelievable. I've met people who are appreciating coffee more now. Fewer and fewer people are having milk in coffee so they can taste the work that somebody's put in.
"Like the food, you could talk to guests for an hour about coffee. We've got all the information to tell them. It's not something we've read; it's something we've witnessed."
Also on the panel was Julie Gallacher, sustainability and corporate communications lead at Nespresso UK and Ireland. She said: "Consumers are much more interested in understanding where their product is from and what the ingredients are." Coutant agreed, saying understanding the provenance of coffee was as important as chefs being aware of their supply chains and the provenance of ingredients.
Gallacher explained that Nespresso was also taking steps to offset its carbon footprint through its sustainability strategy Positive Cup, which sets the challenge of every cup of coffee having a positive impact on the environment.
One way it does this is through the planting of fruit trees, which has the added benefit of providing an additional revenue stream for farmers and providing shade to protect coffee plants.
On top of this, 84% of Nespresso's coffee is currently sourced through the AAA Sustainable Quality Program and the firm uses aluminium for coffee capsules, because it locks in aroma and flavours while being infinitely recyclable.
Rounding up the panel, Gamm asked Gallacher: "What's next for Nespresso, what projects are you working on at the moment?"
She said: "We're expanding our recycling schemes, but also making it easier for customers and consumers to recycle. Our ultimate goal is to unlock kerb-side recycling so people can just put used capsules in their normal recycling platform. We're working hard to unlock that opportunity."
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