(Russell writing...) A little mini-review on a self-purchased Xmas present now that we've had it a couple weeks.
CBTL Contata single-serve coffee system. The big advantage this apparently has over single-serve systems like the Keurig is that it can do espresso, coffee, and tea, and it bests the Kraft Tassimo because its espressos are "real" rather than simulated since the Tassimo doesn't use enough pressure (only 3.5 bars compared to the 15-18 typical for espressos) to make true espresso.
CBTL is a relatively new thing in the states and only has limited distribution for the time being (can be found online, at Coffee Bean & Trea Leaf stores, or Bed Bath and Beyond). It's based on the evidently popular Caffitaly brewing system that can be found throughout Europe.
Do I recommend? Well, maybe. If you like espresso, it's worth looking at. Basically on par with Nespresso for less $$! If you're a coffee/tea person only, get a Keurig (although apparently they have widespread reliability issues). If you want it all so to speak, and don't mind "simulated espresso" (and I'm not convinced that I don't), get a Tassimo.
Incidentally, here are my favorite beverages thus far (*all CBTL espresso/coffee capsules are 100% Arabica):
- Italian Espresso: dark, intense, rich, and fairly smooth (least bitter of the espressos). definitely my favorite of all. the machine is worth having in my opinion for this capsule alone.
- Continental Espresso: slightly lighter espresso, but still smooth overall
- Premium Espresso: I was expecting to like this one the best, but it actually seemed quite bitter with an odd aftertaste in comparison to the other two
- Viennesse Coffee: Relatively rich bodied and smooth, but still a bit watery at the preprogrammed 8oz pulls for coffee (I've since adjusted the coffee setting to just over 6 oz...a little bit disappointing that I even have to do that, but oh well)
- Tropical Passion Tea: actually an extremely tasty tea that I have to say I'm a fan of. however, the teas in general suffer from having loose tea particles that get pushed through during the brew process. the word is that CBTL may be redesigning the capsules to improve this issue. i hope so
UPDATE: So, as I mentioned in the review, we haven't been overly impressed with our Contata. The CBTL espressos are bitter and the coffee thin in my opinion, and after a year of use I stand by that. As a matter of fact, Katie and I did a bit of research on the Nespresso systems, the new Keurig Rivo, as well as simple Moka Pots to see if those might be suitable replacements (even did a few visits to Williams Sonoma to do a hands-on taste test with Nespresso and the new Starbucks Verismo, the latter of which we were unimpressed by).
However, before we went and dropped another large amount of money on a whole new single-serve system, I figured I should try at least to see if some of the other Caffitaly capsules you can buy overseas might make the Contata worth keeping around. I had tried before to find an e-tailer who would ship to us with no success, but perhaps this time I would have more luck.
As it happens, the Julius Meinl company now delivers straight to the US, so I bought up a sampler of their Mocca Forte, Decaf, Espresso Symphony, Cafe Crema Melody, and Tango Intense Espresso capsules. I have tried every one of them over the past week, and here's my final diagnosis. The Contata has redeemed itself! CBTL continues to disappoint me with their offering (although I haven't tried their new Carnivale, etc., capsules), but I found every one of the Meinl capsules I purchased to be vastly superior!
One issue remains in that none of the Meinl capsules I bought are intended to be used for a full 6-8 oz cup of drip-style coffee, and all of the CBTL coffee capsules come out thin. My remedy for this is now to use the Meinl capsules as the foundation for making Americanos. A wonderful solve, and you get quite an engaging, smooth yet bold cup from some of the stronger Meinl capsules like the Tango (which packs quite a punch in an espresso shot).
So there you have it. My contention with the Contata has been with the limited CBTL capsule selection in the US rather than with the Caffitaly system itself. Now having tried the Meinl capsules, my opinion has improved immensely! The downside of course is that this raises the cost per capsule since you have to buy them from overseas. Oh well.
My next goal is to somehow track down the elusive Cagliari Superoro capsule, which apparently has a reputation for being the best espresso by far on the Caffitaly system. I'll give another update once I find it :)