We anticipate that buying a premium product will offer peace of mind and years of enjoyment – and usually it does. If things go wrong within months of purchase these quality brands can sometimes fail to live up to their expectations. For me, two recent cases in point are a Nespresso coffee machine by Sage and the KEF LS50 wireless speakers.
Nespresso Creatista Plus by Sage – £449
I love good coffee and for many years I purchased beans from the Algerian Coffee Stores in Old Compton Street, Soho, W1. Regular trips to the West End are not really feasible since I left London for Devon. After the move I purchased a half-decent expresso machine but it was far too fiddly and practically useless for making expresso’s for more than one person. Bean to cup machines were not really well developed at the time and, in 2011 I became attracted to the Nespresso ecosystem.
My aversion to the idea of ‘pod’ machines was overcome by the sheer quality of the expresso and the wide range of coffee ‘grand crus’ available from Nespresso. Whereas I could not even consider the likes of Dolce Gusto and Tassimo (I like coffee too much), Nespresso was a whole different ball game. My first machine was an inexpensive Pixie and it looked and worked great for over six years. I can strongly recommend this machine – £140 very well spent.
Most of the coffee I drink during the week is black – usually Americano. I have a Sage kettle that heats water to different temperatures and I find the optimum for my taste is a double expresso with an equal amount of water at 85 degrees C. I sometimes enjoy an expresso or lungo. At the weekend, and especially on a Saturday morning I love a cappuccino. When I had an expresso machine I became quite adept at ‘stretching’ milk and creating just the right density of foam for a good cappuccino. The Nespresso Aeroccino 4 milk frother was not very good at preparing milk for cappuccino, although it was good for latte. For some time I prepared milk for cappuccino using the latte setting – not ideal but it was certainly acceptable.
What I really wanted was more control, and preferably manual control, over heating, stretching and frothing milk. At last, in 2017 Nespresso came forward with the Creatista; not exactly what I wanted but pretty damned close. I purchased the more expensive Creatista Plus with its stainless steel body. I was very pleased I did. Out of the box it worked very well. Coffee had a very good crema, thanks in part to the standard 19-bar pressure of all Nespresso machines, although I had a nagging doubt that it wasn’t quite as good in this regard as the Pixie, but the difference was marginal.
The real star of the show was the incredibly easy to use milk wand, which stretched and foamed milk very well indeed, and differentiated between flat white, latte and cappuccino very well. This really was the peak of pods and, in my experience, could only be improved upon by purchasing a bean-to-cup machine of about four times the price.
Now, there is a curious tale to tell here in relation to milk. I had long since learned that it is best not to use quality milk in an Aeroccino or the Creatista. By quality I mean something like the local south Devon organic (unhomogenised) milk I pick up from the market every Saturday. This makes a lousy – and flat – cappuccino. You are better off buying a standard (homogenised) supermarket milk. Why this is the case I do not know, although the fact that coffee in Italy or France is often made with UHT milk (aaaargh!) may provide a clue. I have no intention of walking up to a till with UHT milk in my basket.
All was going swimmingly until one Sunday the milk function on the Creatista more or less ceased working. I made cappuccinos for friends and did not realise until afterwards that the milk was cold and flat. Not very nice at all. I contacted Nespresso straight away and they were very helpful.
Had Nespresso understood and accepted the fault and replaced the machine with a new working one, I would not be sat here writing this now. The whole point of this story is that when you buy a quality product from a quality brand you expect quality after service. My experience was not a good one and it took Nespresso over two months to finally recognise that there was a problem and that the machine did indeed need replacing.
There were a few key factors for consideration by Nespresso: (i) the machine’s milk function broke down suddenly; this was not a gradual decline; (ii) the fault manifested itself every time – it was not intermittent, and (iii) the machine failed to work regardless of whether it was preparing organic unhomogenised milk or standard supermarket milk.
Nespresso attempted to fix the machine: it was picked up by courier and about a week or so later returned. When it returned it was in exactly the same condition as when it left! I was stunned and straight on the phone to the same very helpful chap I had spoken to previously (I can’t fault the staff at the Nespresso help desk). The machine was picked up by courier again and this time a brand new replacement was sent back.
I couldn’t wait to unpack the new machine and get it set up ready for its first coffee, but it wasn’t happening. This machine had obviously mitched off quality control and landed on my worktop with a giant exclamation mark on its screen. It was doing nothing. On the phone again. Another courier (actually it was the same courier, nice chap, I got to know him quite well). Another brand new replacement. I unpacked it with less excitement and more trepidation than the last one.
I’m pleased to say that the second new machine works very well and has done so now for almost a month. My fingers are crossed (which is causing the spell checker to go crazy) – and I’m hopeful of at least a few years good service out of this one. Incidentally, under normal circumstances I would have sent this one back as it has a dent in the side which prevents the drip tray from attaching fully to the body. But I’m really not bothered. There is clearly something wrong with quality control at the factory in China, but I’m just glad to be enjoying great quality americanos and cappuccinos again.
Part 2 coming up: the KEF LS50 speaker saga leaves me speechless.