The capsule revolution
2014-07-18, Jenny Wang

Sachets are oh-so last-year. Coffee lovers can now enjoy the pleasure of ground, pre-processed coffee beans at home and at work. Jenny Wang serves up a fresh brew.

Instant coffee sachets belong to the past, and coffee capsules seem to be the go-to thing if you’re craving for a quick intake of caffeine.

It’s a tiny air-tight container made of aluminum and recycled material — the size of a bottle cap, with ground, pre-processed coffee beans inside. The capsule needs to be fed into a specialized coffee machine that has functions like pre-heating, brewing, controlling water volume and even generating the froth — all rolled in one.

Coffee capsules are already in vogue in Hong Kong. It’s a fad that’s fast catching on. A coffee capsule takes only a minute to brew. Admittedly, it takes merely seconds to dissolve coffee powder in a mug, but increasingly office-goers seem to favor fresh ground coffee over heavily-scented and synthetic instant beverage. It’s common to see professionals dashing in and out of coffee shops, with a steaming cup in hand.

At the entrance of the Nespresso boutique in the IFC Mall in Central, a LED-lit billboard flashes the novel products on a loop. A slick and seemingly cutting-edge coffee machine is displayed on the window. Inside, customers are sipping freshly-brewed coffee.

Twenty-two varieties of coffee capsules are available — color-coded in terms of intensity, on a scale of two to 12, says Yimia, a sales assistant. Nine varieties of coffee beans harvested from South Africa are on offer, categorized according to intensity and aroma.  


Catering to taste buds

“Some people like it light and fruity, some prefer the creamy variety with modest intensity, while others may be into heavy and bold flavors. A wide spectrum of intensity is on offer to cater to distinctive taste buds,” she said.

“Last April, a new variety, Ristretto, was added to our range,” Yimia said. “It caters to those having an affinity for the condensed creamer floated on Espresso — the sort obsessed with a smooth and velvety texture.”

As the market expands, developers keep upgrading the coffee machine, streamlining its functions as well as its appearance. The compact, light-weight and thus ever-so-convenient coffee machine fits snugly in the cramped office spaces in Hong Kong. It weighs around 2.5 kg.

“This machine can pre-heat, brew, stir milk froth and adjust the water volume at one go. One could use it to make a cappuccino, latte or espresso,” Yimia added.

Three basic lines of the capsule-coffee machine are priced from HK$1,388 to HK$1,988, while a multi-functional model costs a prohibitive HK$3,688. A stand-alone froth maker branded as Aeroccino costs HK$950. A pack of 10 coffee capsules costs somewhere between HK$52 and HK$63.

While the price of coffee capsules sounds affordable, that of the coffee machine is rather steep. A store manager at a Starbucks outlet in Central, identifying himself as Joe, feels this could be a drawback. “The coffee capsules can be only used at home or in the office. The machine’s not portable. To have coffee on the move, one has to turn to a coffee shop,” he said. “Also, capsule coffee is not as fresh as ours as coffee beans tend to lose their intensity over time.”

However, there are takers for this new fad who do not mind spending good money to enjoy the taste of freshly-brewed coffee. A customer surnamed Lai, who was sampling a shot of Espresso, said he has a capsule coffee machine at home and it is very convenient.

“I have a cup of coffee every morning after I get out of bed. It’s a way of starting my day in a fresh state of mind. Also, my family can bond over coffee at home without having to go to a cafeteria. “It could be my own coffee shop, brewing a drink matching the standards of the big multi-national brands. That’s a great fun,” he says.

Being a serious coffee devotee, Lai, however, concedes that “Starbucks has a slightly better taste and quality”.


Convenience counts

“It’s great!” exclaims Joy Chien, a Taiwanese who works and lives in Hong Kong. She says the capsule coffee machine comes cheaper in her native land. “But I still bought a new one for my husband and myself because convenience is what I care for.”

An expat from the UK says: “The design is convenient and good-looking. And the used coffee capsule can be recycled, and it’s environment-friendly.”

Asked if the machine is a bit over-simplified as it does away with the stage of crushing coffee beans, the sound of which certain coffee aficionados consider an essential part of the experience, she shook her head, saying: “This doesn’t bother me.”

Joe of the Starbucks outlet also does not think it is an issue, “I’m a coffee nut. But if I switch to using a capsule coffee machine, I’ll be very comfortable with the incomplete coffee brewing process.”

And his logic could well be shared by fellow coffee drinkers in Hong Kong. “In fast-paced Hong Kong, efficiency and lack of complicatedness are the overriding considerations,” he adds.

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