The small-turnover espresso coffee sector has received some useful research help from, of all people, the http://www.which.co.uk/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">Which?organisation.
The consumer-choice magazine had been inspired to look at the small espresso machine market by the continuing debate over whether recessionary times affect the public's willingness to buy speciality beverages out-of-home, or whether espresso drinking might be moving into the home.
The review editors quote the John Lewis shops as claiming to have sold a small coffee machine every 45 seconds at Christmas, and comment that the product sector has now become ‘a must-have worktop appliance'.
It is this sector which has caused a continuing headache for the coffee trade - not just in that smaller restaurants are unlikely to pay £4,000 or upwards for a big espresso machine, but that the comparatively low throughput of coffee in such businesses brings an almost-inevitable risk of staleness. Small bars and restaurants using less than a kilo of coffee a week (about 140 espressos) are unlikely to be able to get through their coffee while it is at its best.
For this reason, smaller caterers will be interested to see that several of the machines tested, and several of those highlighted as 'best buys', were those which use capsules or pods, with several of them using the Nespresso-format capsule.
A typical such machine, which the reviewers praised as 'the best capsule machine we have used', was the Lavazza A Modo Mio, very recently launched in the UK. (The Which? reviewers actually counted two of these machines among their 'best buys', although we do suspect that it was the same machine in two colours!)
Lavazza's recent work on the capsule concept will be launched at the Caffe Culture trade show in London in May.
Meanwhile, of the 37 machines tested, Which? - recommended ten as 'best buys', including three from De Longhi, two from Krups, and items from Duality, Magimix and Jura.
The reviewers did single out one machine, the KC001, for particular damnation - "it creates such a poor espresso or cappuccino that we don't recommend it," was the verdict, followed by the acid observation that: "you must turn the coffee flow off yourself, but that does stop the machine producing coffee promptly, one of its only positive attributes"!
By Ian Boughton