Beverages: Coffee connoisseur

18 May 2006
Beverages: Coffee connoisseur

Andrew Richardson, managing director of Nespresso, talks to Diane Lane about coffee snobbery and sustainability

I understand Heston Blumenthal's a big fan of your coffee. Is that for personal consumption or does he serve it to his customers? Certainly Heston enjoys a fair bit of Nespresso, at home as well as at work - as do Jamie, Delia and Gordon, by the way - along with his penchant for green teas. But the majority of our coffee sold in Bray is consumed by patrons of the Fat Duck as well as the Hinds Head [Blumenthal's pub next door]. They have seven machines between them, and generally order more than 2,000 capsules a month.

What do you think of the standard of coffee served in restaurants and hotels in general? In general… honestly? It's lousy. Most restaurant or caterer's coffees are burnt or bitter-tasting. And it's not because of the machine or the coffee they use, both of which could be excellent. It's because the staff either don't know how, or don't have time, to make a coffee right. Crema is a sign of great coffee. If you order an espresso and it doesn't have one, you can be sure without even tasting it that it'll be bitter.

Are catering operations paying enough attention to the promotion of their coffee? No, I don't think restaurants are promoting coffee all they can. There's so much you can do with coffee - so many ways to give the customer a range of choice - and in increasing choice, you're going to increase the number of customers you will appeal, and therefore sell, to. Offer a choice of blends to the customer to complement their dessert choice. You can even offer flavoured coffees and creative coffee cocktails. I make a latte with curry - and chocolate and cinnamon - and it's hugely popular. Creativity is the key.

You're pretty passionate about coffee. Does it annoy you when people want to dilute an espresso with milk?
Not at all. In fact, what I find more annoying is when people assume they must drink it short, black and without sugar in order to be perceived as a connoisseur. About 89% of Britons drink a cup of coffee every day, and we generally prefer our coffee with milk or cream.

I want everyone to appreciate premium coffee, and to do that we must drink it just the way we enjoy it - not how we perceive it should be or how snobbery dictates.

Is Nespresso concerned with the issue of sustainability? In order to maintain the consistency of our blends we have been involved in helping to ensure practical and environmental sustainability for our coffee growers for years. Buying sustainable coffee has to involve an element of fair trade, too, to ensure the quality of our growers' lives and those of their families. We choose to work with growers who we believe can produce a consistently premium-quality crop in keeping with Nespresso's high standards, and then we give them every help we can, from farm assessments, seed selection and agronomic consultancy to production and harvesting assistance, and we ensure they benefit directly from the excellence of their crop.

Our AAA programme [Nespresso's sustainable-quality programme], which has been operating for over three years on a formal basis, now ensures that no less than 75% of the export value of the coffee we buy finds its way directly to the growers.

From what I've seen of Nespresso machines, you just pop in a capsule and the machine does the rest. Can this really produce a cup of coffee of comparable quality to one made by a barista on a traditional espresso machine?
Perhaps unbelievably - yes. Nespresso coffee is encapsulated - very different from a pod. It's the freshest package of coffee you can make, because you don't open it till seconds before you make the cup. The coffee is really our USP. The machines are great, too, but they're just a delivery mechanism. The combination of the two can indeed put a barista to shame, because the quality and consistency of Nespresso are guaranteed. A barista just can't achieve that consistent quality.

What's your opinion on single-estate coffees? Are they superior? Some single-estate coffees are fantastic, but just because something is labelled as single-estate doesn't make it great. Every coffee bean we consume originally comes from a single estate, but they're often blended with other coffees to make a better cup. Unfortunately, "single-estate coffee" has sort of evolved into one of those marketing buzz words. Now, when a great estate coffee is discovered - and it might only be great one year out of 10 - that's when it's every good roaster's responsibility to bring this special coffee to the attention of as many people as possible.

So what do your dinner-party guests get with their after-dinner mints? I play with coffee after dinner. Most recently, I mixed a couple of espresso shots with a couple of drams of good Scotch and a tablespoonful of pure chocolate powder, shook it all up in a cocktail mixer with loads of ice to chill it down, then poured the mix into wine glasses. Then poured a layer of Baileys down the side of the glasses so it'd sit at the bottom and topped the glasses off with dollops of fresh whipped cream. Tastes like a mocha milk shake, but packs a bigger wallop!

*Nespresso Business Coffee Solutions. Tel: 01603 457159*
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