There were several reasons why I started this blog, most of them detailed in my first post, but I must admit that there was also a little greedy part of my brain that hoped I’d be sent free things to eat and drink, and maybe one day it would give me the opportunity to write professionally about my foodie passions. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I do love a freebie, and so free food does kind of top my list as a thing to make me go “woo-hoo!”.
So I did a pretty massive “woo-hoo!” when I received an email from a PR company asking me to review some new Nespresso*-machine compatible coffee pods. When they said that I would actually be PAID (a little bit of) MONEY to write the review as well as receiving FREE COFFEE, it was hard to contain my excitement. I may have excitedly squealed a little bit, and then said (squealed) “sign me up, right this instant”.
Being naive about these things, I expected to receive a couple of pods to taste and review, so I was thrilled to be sent a large cardboard hamper from Carte Noire filled with 4 cartons of coffee pods and some cute little Bodum espresso cups, along with some tasting notes for the coffees. I am a little bit ashamed to admit that I carried the monster box (tied with a gold ribbon) home with me on the tube, during rush hour, just so that I could show off my box of goodies to Andrew. He was, to be fair, very impressed. But he hates coffee so I think he was impressed because he was hoping this meant the start of great things for my blog and he’d be able to retire before he reaches 40 and allow me to fund his dream lifestyle: comprising of TV, Playstation and luxury holidays.
Andrew had bought me my Nespresso machine (Magimix Cube) several years ago as a birthday present – Nespresso were not so well known then (at least to us in the UK), but after doing some research he chose the pod option for ease of use and cleaning. As Nestle had been manufacturing the pods for some time, and had recently paid George Clooney to head their advertising campaign, he was confident that the pods had longevity and would therefore not disappear into the great coffee machine graveyard in the sky …
I love my Nespresso machine. I joined the ‘exclusive’ Nespresso club, purchased my pods online regularly (or occasionally from the Nespresso boutiques in Selfridges and Regent’s Street), and religiously drank a cup each morning (usually from their pure origin range) and evening (decaf lungo), made with milk heated in the Aeroccino (also a gift from Andrew, purchased at the same time as my Nespresso machine).
Even though I generally only drink a decaf coffee when I get home from work, I could not resist cracking one of the Carte Noire pods open to try my first ever foodie freebie (is it true that things taste even sweeter when you don’t have to pay for them? Yes!). I was concerned about whether the pods would fit in the machine, as my two previous experiences of Nespresso-compatible pods were not entirely successful. My colleague Odile, based in Paris, had bought me some pods from the French grocery store Monoprix, which would not fit in my machine; and I received a box of compatible pods for Christmas from Andrew’s sister which did fit, but did have to be forced in a little bit, which put me off using them, as I really didn’t want to break my cube.
The Carte Noire pods fit pretty much perfectly, and so I started off my coffee trial with a Number 5 Delicat (lively, zesty and tangy according to Carte Noire) made with a sweetener and hot milk. Now I like Carte Noire coffee anyway – I keep a jar of freeze dried instant at work for when I want a crafty cuppa (I hate the machine coffee we have in the office), so I expected to like this coffee, and I did. When you opened the wrapping around the pod you got a great whiff of coffee which was very appealing, and the cup itself had a decent flavour: although I didn’t notice any tangy notes, it tasted like posh filter coffee, even though it did keep me awake in bed as the caffeine coursed through my veins!
Next morning I tried a Number 9 Intense (rich in ‘cigar box’ flavours say Carte Noire … erm, okay), which I thought would give me a welcome wakening jolt. Again, I made the coffee as I like it, with some hot milk and a sweetener. I wasn’t so fond of this one – it was a bit too strong for my liking and quite bitter, even with the sweetener. However, it was not as harsh as the equivalent Nespresso version Ristretto from the intenso range in the black pod, which I actually couldn’t drink because it was so strong. I imagine hardcore espresso junkies would enjoy it, which is why I took a couple of samples across to Paris for Odile and her family to try. Surely if anyone can do a fair review of a strong cup of coffee, it’s a French person?
Well, Odile was impressed by the quality of the coffee, trying a 3 (Elegant) as she said she likes quite a mild cuppa in the morning (although I have tasted the machine coffee that she drinks in the office, and let me tell you that is ANYTHING but mild). I suppose it’s a true compliment that she enjoyed it, as genuinely weak coffee (which the French seem to consider most British and American coffee is) would be relegated to the league of the charmingly described ‘jus de chaussettes’ (direct translation: ‘sock juice’ mmmmmm). So thumbs up from the French!
I should have given some to the team from Italy for a true test. I had been to Milan only once for some meetings, and was impressed to see that their in-house coffee machine was a Nespresso one. There was also a jar of Nescafe next to the machine, which seemed rather strange. I asked my colleague Manuela what the Nescafe was for, and she said that’s used to wean children onto the taste of coffee! Those Italians – they do take their coffee tasting seriously.
Anyway, back to what I think. I hadn’t learned my lesson about drinking caffeinated coffee after work, as I could not resist trying a Number 7 Aromatique (Carte Noire says it is rich, complex and earthy with delicate nutty and caramel undertones) when I got home that night, and that one was my favourite of the bunch so far – a good intense coffee flavour, but not harsh or bitter. Rich and nutty? Yes, I’ll go with that, Carte Noire. A kind of smack your lips together tasty coffee, where you quite fancy another one almost immediately (definitely ill-advised if it’s after dark!).
I next decided to try Odile’s favourite Number 3 Elegante (delicate, light and velvety say CN) in it’s espresso form, as intended. So this time I opened my freebie Bodum cups, which are lovely – they are like double-glazed glass cups so the outside never gets warm to the touch even though the liquid inside is piping hot, and the glass never gets condensation on it either. And – best thing ever: they are dishwasher safe, so no hand-washing nonsense required.
Now, the reason I am not particularly fond of espresso is after an unfortunate coffee experience in Venice many years ago. Andrew and I had gone on holiday there for our fifth anniversary, and on a quick pit-stop near the main piazza I ordered a coffee – “American or Italian?” queried my waiter. “Italian of course” I said, rolling my eyes at Andrew and thinking to myself how can the waiter not tell that I am a sophisticated European and not an un-cultured American? I regretted that thought when I received my thimbleful of gut-wretchingly thick and strong ‘Italian’ coffee, which the waiter watched me choke down as I realised that it really does no good to be a snob, and whilst drinking espresso looks marvellously civilised and sophisticated, it’s simply not for me.
But, I wanted to give my Carte Noire coffee the thorough review it deserved – after all, I was being paid – and so I put aside my prejudices and made myself my first espresso since Venice all those years ago, with a little bit of sugar mixed in. Now I am not sure I’ll ever be a complete convert to espressos, but Number 3 was mild enough for me to actually enjoy it, and think I might even be brave and try an espresso with a Number 5 next …
So, these coffees were free. But would I actually pay my own hard-earned money for them? Yes I would, as they taste as good as the Nespresso pods, and actually I think I preferred Number 7 to my usual Nespresso coffee. The Carte Noire coffee pods are available from Ocado, which means I would be able to order them alongside my regular grocery order instead of having to faff around with Nespresso: either you need to order at least 200 pods to get free delivery, or you have to suffer the hell that is Selfridges to queue at the Nespresso boutique for hours (well, that’s been my experience so far, and the Regent Street boutique was equally hectic last time I went there). Apparently they are now available in most supermarkets, and cost around a penny less per pod than the cheapest Nespresso pods (Carte Noire’s RRP is £2.79 per 10 pack).
However, the downside for me is the amount of packaging for the Carte Noire pods – each pod is individually wrapped within the box (I guess to keep the coffee fresh – whereas the Nespresso pods are aluminium), and so they take up a lot more space in your storage cupboard than the Nespresso tubes do. You can also recycle the Nespresso pods and I can’t find anything about Carte Noire recycling on their website or official literature. That puts me off.
Additionally, there are no decaf versions of the Carte Noire range for now – in fact, they have a range of four compared to Nespresso’s 22 varieties. And, of course, they don’t have the variations – Nespresso currently have 3 special flavoured coffee in chocolate, vanilla and caramel – the vanilla pods are my absolute favourite and give a delicate taste of vanilla without the need for a calorie-laden syrup.
Overall, Carte Noire have made a great start, and it’s certainly handy to have access to coffee from the supermarket instead of having to order via Nespresso. Hopefully their range will grow over time (and I am sure we’ll see the introduction of more competitor brands as well), and they sort out their packaging. Until then, I’ll keep working through my recent order of 200 Nespresso pods … but I’ll be watching Carte Noire with interest.
Now, if KitchenAid, John Lewis, Hotel Chocolat, Cocoa Locoa, Marmite, Comte cheese manufacturers, Halen Mon and Penderyn have any burning desire to send me freebies, please do and my blogging ambitions will be fulfilled. But they know that I love them so much I’ll pay anyway …
What else I have to tell you:
SMALL PRINT FROM CARTE NOIR
This post is an entry in the Foodies100 Espresso Collective Challenge, sponsored by Carte Noire. Each box of Carte Noire Espresso capsules contain 10 single servings and are available in supermarkets at an RRP of £2.79 and are available in four intensities. To find out more about the new Carte Noire Collection Espresso click here.
*Nespresso® is a registered trademark of a third party without any link with Mondelez International group. Compatible with all Nespresso®* machines bought before July 1, 2013. After that date, compatible with most Nespresso®* machines bought. For additional information regarding compatibility, please see UK: www.CARTENOIRE.co.uk/compatibility