Date: March 2006

Column/Title: Single-Serve Correction and Reactions: Tassimo and Keurig

Author: Kenneth Davids


The Coffee Review?s recent review of single-serve coffees and systems (At What Cost Convenience: Tasting the New Crop of Single-Serve Coffee Systems) provoked some sharp reactions from readers as well as one well-taken correction.

It turns out we were wrong when we dismissed all of the coffee-with-milk drinks produced by the new single-serve coffee brewing machines as "faux cappuccino." My rather flip definition of faux cappuccino was a beverage that combined an ordinary, light-bodied coffee with milk produced by a powder, a combination that in our tests produced a thin-bodied, rather cloyingly artificial-tasting beverage.

Reader Mindy Carton pointed out that the Braun/Tassimo system, unlike its current competitors, uses a liquid milk product to generate its caffe-latte and cappuccino-style beverages. It also produces a coffee component for these drinks with an espresso-like weight and body.

You use one Tassimo T-Disc (a flattish plastic capsule) to produce the espresso component, and another T-Disc (this one fatter) to produce the milk component. Each T-Disc incorporates a barcode containing instructions to the Tassimo machine in regard to how to prepare the beverage contained in the Disc. However, you have the option of overriding the barcoded instructions and cutting off the brewing process by pushing a "Start/Stop" button.

Somewhere in-between. If you let the barcodes on the T-Discs tell the Tassimo how to prepare your espresso and milk you will end up with two ounces of rather thin-bodied espresso and six ounces of milk, netting an extremely milky beverage with almost no coffee flavor. However, with a little practice and a quick finger on the "Start/Stop" button I was able to stop the flow of espresso at about one ounce and the flow of milk at about four ounces, producing a combined five-ounce beverage with good coffee presence and a heavy milk body (the sooner you stop the flow of water through the milk the heavier and less dilute the milk).

This beverage is considerably superior to the powdered milk and drip-style coffee alternatives produced by the Tassimo's current single-serve competitors. However, though it might satisfy the classic cappuccino drinker in a pinch, it remains far short of an authentic cappuccino: The milk pre-sweetened milk has a flavor a bit reminiscent of the canned, evaporated stuff, and the heating/frothing process generates a froth that is coarse-textured and large-bubbled rather than velvety and fine-bubbled.

What you think of the coffee component of the beverage probably depends on your taste in espresso: The T-Disc blend, prepared by Gevalia, is heavy on high-quality robustas and produces a low-acid, bittersweet shot, medium-bodied but rather lean in mouthfeel, a little sharp and shallow as straight espresso but with reasonable presence in milk.

Several readers wrote in defense, in some cases passionate defense, of the well-established Keurig machines and their K-Cup coffees. I found their heat a bit puzzling, because I thought I exempted the Keurig from my main criticism of single-serve machines: the limited range and quality of the coffee you can buy to brew on them. As I pointed out in defense of the Keurig, there were approximately seventy different coffees from five distinguished roasters available in Keurig-compatible K-Cups at the time I wrote, and soon after my review appeared Tully's Coffee of Seattle announced that it is joining the Keurig club and packaging several of its excellent coffees in K-Cups.

To reiterate my position on the Keurig machines: 1) they produce a relatively light-bodied, delicately caramelly cup that many people love, and 2) there are any number of diverse, excellent coffees available for brewing attractive variations on this delicate, caramelly cup.

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