Emancipate yourself from mental snobbery

For many years, I have been a coffee snob. But my entitlement to this snobbery is somewhat questionable, seeing as it stems from a few years spent as a barrista, back in the early 90’s when nobody knew what a barrista was. We did roast our own coffee, though, so were at least marginally authentic. And I could make funky layered drinks, after all. Given that most SA restaurants still today serve a cup worse than the one you can make at home, I certainly felt entitled to some snobbery at the time.

And “the time” lasted for a good 15 years, long after I had desisted from making layered lattes, and had instead begun digging myself  into theoretical holes so deep you needed a heidegger[ref]borrowed from the (absolutely tremendous) novel 36 Arguments for the existence of God: A work of fiction, by Rebecca Goldstein (partner to Steven Pinker)[/ref] to get out of them. But the time is now over, as I have gone and done one of the things that make real coffee snobs roll their eyes, and sometimes snort in disgust.

I have bought a Nespresso. A Le Cube, in fact, just like the one pictured on the right. Yes, it uses “pods”. But I can explain. You see, being a real coffee snob is not easy. If you intend to insulate yourself against accusations of being some sort of caffeine poseur (a short step from simply being a tosseur), then you really need:

  • good beans, roasted no more than a month before
  • a burr grinder
  • and a really proper espresso machine – the sort that you don’t find at your local @Home, and which might even make strange mechanical noises.

Then, if you’re a fan of flat whites and the like, you need a steamer too (this is usually built-in, though), as well as a milk steaming jug. The point is that you need a fair amount of kit – and more importantly, you need to know how to use it.

Because it’s very easy to make crap espresso, but not so easy to make an espresso that’s significantly better-tasting than the one from your moka pot. Also, not so easy to make a coffee, more generally, that’s better than the one from your cafetière. And the cafetière has been what the Doctor and I have been relying on since we started drinking coffee together, so as to wake up and wash down our cigarettes in the morning.

On top of the difficulty of using this specialised equipment effectively, there’s the mess. And the noise of grinding. And the needing to have freshly-roasted beans about the house. All of this is easier if you have a rolling country estate, and a Jeeves or somesuch to look after all the bits save the drinking of the brew. But that’s not me, and it’s probably not you, either.

With the Nespresso, I have to swallow some pride – sure. But what I get in return is a good cup, every time, where the “time” in question is rather short, seeing as the thing boots up and dispenses in a minute or so. With absolutely no mess, and no need to worry about the freshness of the beans and other snobby details. You see, I know the beans aren’t fresh already.

But as I was saying to the Doctor on the way to purchasing the thing, while we occasionally drink a coffee at home which merits a 8 or so (on a 10-point scale), we only get that in the rare situations when I’ll grind some fresh beans, and take care to make the coffee in ways which maximise the bean’s potential. Usually, however, our coffee will be a 5 or so – still better than instant, but really just a vehicle for caffeine.

Now, I get a 7 every time, with the minimum of time, fuss and mess. Plus, the device looks pretty good in the kitchen. Even the Doctor says so. Come have a coffee sometime and see for yourself (no, not you).

P.S. I was not paid or offered any sort of inducement to write this positive account of a consumer product. If Nestle wish to rectify this, please get in touch, as I’d hate to be out of step with blogging trends in SA more generally.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.