Australian cafes may be going crazy over the latest brewing gadgets and ever more inventive caffeinated concoctions but some of the country's best-known chefs are turning to a decidedly simpler method of serving coffee: pod machines.
A handful of venues have recently begun using Nespresso capsule machines as part of their coffee service, including The Age Good Food Guide one chef's hat-rated Cecconi's in Melbourne and Sydney's Buon Ricordo, as well as Merivale's Papi Chulo in Manly.
Two of Australia's top chefs – Sydney's Tetsuya Wakuda and Melbourne's Shannon Bennett from three-hat Vue de Monde – have also lent their names to the trend, having being appointed "culinary ambassadors" for Nespresso last year. The former venue serves Nespresso to diners and the latter at events.
They join fellow ambassadors Heston Blumenthal, Phil Howard and Mauro Colagreco, who spruik the brand in Europe and around the world, where more than 700 Michelin-starred restaurants now serve Nespresso coffee.
Armando Percuoco from Sydney's Buon Ricordo introduced a Nespresso machine alongside his two regular espresso machines more than a year ago.
Having two types of machines offers many advantages, he says – most importantly, the system guarantees a quality brew no matter who makes it.
During slower periods, for example, a select crew of expertly trained staff make coffees the traditional way. But when the house is full, anyone can use the pod machine knowing a coffee of consistent quality will result.
"I'm an Italian and in an Italian restaurant I expect an espresso to be made in the right way," Percuoco says.
"When you have so many waiters you don't expect everybody to make coffee. If you're making coffee on a normal machine, the guys who are really expert make fantastic coffee but the guy who is not so expert - you can expect lousy coffee.
"The thing with the Nespresso is it's always good coffee and always [made] same way. That's very secure for the restaurant and very secure for customer."
Pod machines also tend to be quick, compact and easy to clean, Percuoco says.
While Percuoco says he's had no complaints from diners, Maria Bortolotto, from Cecconi's, in Melbourne, says a few staff and customers have objected to pod coffee since the venue converted from a conventional machine to Nespresso's top-of-the-range Aguila model a year ago.
Ultimately, however, the efficiency and consistency of a pod system outweighs such concerns.
"It's a very comprehensive machine," she says. "You can do [anything] from a cold chocolate to a hot chocolate [using sachets]. You can do cocktails and espresso martinis."
But the editor of The Age Good Cafe Guide, Matt Holden, says "push-button" coffee made on an industrial scale is out of step with the craft approach many chefs take towards cooking. In contrast, specialty roasters tend to use beans from select sources.
"[Top chefs] go to a lot of trouble sourcing ingredients and making sure that diners are aware of the provenance of food, telling you where the food's from and who grew it ... but then they're just not taking that much care with the coffee when they're using a pod machine," he says.
"[If] I went and paid $200 for degustation that was capped off with pod coffee I'd think that wasn't right."
Anna Pavoni from Sydney's two-hatted Ormeggio at the Spit and Willoughby hot spot Via Alta says conventional machines are worth the extra hassles of training and upkeep.
"It is definitely more difficult to make a consistent coffee using an espresso machine than using a pod machine ... but personally I don't think it gives you the same guts as an espresso machine."
Ormeggio uses a Vittoria two-group Giugiaro auto-espresso machine and Via Alta has installed a La Marzocco GB two-group AV espresso machine, using an organic blend from Lavazza's new premium Locale range.
"As an Italian restaurant we need to have really, really good espresso," she says. "For an Italian to drink a coffee they also expect it to be quite rich and with a lot of the pod machines you don't get the same richness."
But it's not just the quality of coffee that matters to Pavoni, it's also the image.
"Good coffee is not only essential to customers but it's also essential to your staff," she says. "It's so satisfying as a barista to use a beautiful espresso machine."
Originally published in The Good Food Guide