For more than a decade, my choice of coffee has been espresso. I dislike weak coffee, it looks like my school swimming pool. I switched to espresso when I left the UK, a country where, to find good coffee or good bread, you need specialist knowledge and hours of hunting — I specifically wanted to live where both could be bought reliably and without fuss.

Until a few months ago, I happily drunk Nespresso coffees at home and work. I’d wake myself up in the morning with an Arpeggio, and drink Ristrettos for the rest of the day. I find these coffees deliciously strong and flavoursome without being matchbox rough. Actually, Arpeggio is not as smooth as Ristretto, which I why I chose it to wake me up: it’s the coffee equivalent of splashing cold water on sleepy face.

Eventually, though, I developed sleep problems, and realised coffee was partially responsible. I tried cutting down, but that only partially worked: I like coffee, and didn’t want to give it up. I compromised by switching to decaf, mostly, restricting myself to one or two caffeinated cups a day.

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The flavour difference between decaf and caffeinated is noticeable: caffeine adds its own distinctive bitterness, although it’s not the only bitterness in coffee. Switching to decaf means that particular taste is lost. I still get the other coffee flavours, & I gain a good night’s sleep, so the loss is worth it. Anyway, because I’ve only reduced my caffeinated coffee, not zeroed it, I still taste caffeine, just less often.

Because the flavours have changed, I decided to resurvey available coffees, to find new favourites.

  • Nespresso decafs are all good. I still drink a lot of, now decaf, Arpeggio and Ristretto.
  • Starbucks coffees are different. To me, they are two tone, with two distinct tastes like a harmony, not a continuous range. I find them unusual (and reliable) enough to look out for Starbucks when travelling. There seem to be two different decaf Starbucks Nespresso compatible capsules, from two difference suppliers. The more expensive is a rectangular box which can be bought from Starbucks coffee shops here, and in supermarkets. It is disappointing, because it lacks the harmony. It’s a perfectly good coffee, except it’s badly overpriced. The other, apparently produced by Nespresso themselves, is a somewhat tubular box. It has the distinctive flavour. I found it for a reasonable price on the Dutch site I very much recommend the second variant.
  • Lavazza offer a Nespresso compatible decaf coffee, Ricco. It’s not bad at all. This is the only particularly good Nespresso compatible decaf I’ve found in local supermarkets. (Lavazza supplied the only decent coffee I found when living in the UK.)
  • No other decaf has appealed to me. There are a lot of alternative brands available, and, to be honest, they all taste cheap, even the ones that cost a lot of money. There might be some better coffees hiding amongst this morass, but I haven’t found them.

What I learnt is that:

  • Good coffee costs, but so does marketing. I don’t mind paying for good coffee, I strongly object to paying for the marketing of bad coffee: I don’t like being cheated. I’ve not found a good coffee at a cheap price, so a cheap price is a good indication of bad coffee. Unfortunately, the conmen of marketing departments mean most expensive coffees are crap too.
  • Many suppliers produce much caffeinated coffees, but only a few decafs. Their decaf offerings maybe worth considering, but if they don’t supply my market, I won’t buy their products.
  • Quite obviously, I’m limited to what I can buy here in Luxembourg, whether in shops or online, so I miss out on coffees only available elsewhere.

I’ll continue to drink my favourite Nespresso coffees, their decaf versions, but I’ve added Starbucks and Lavazza to my personal selection.