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Coffee capsules favored by women

[Consumer Report]

Apr 16,2011
A collection of Nescafe Dolce Gusto brand coffee capsules and the Circolo capsule coffee machine, price 249,700 won (230 dollars). Provided by company

Kim Na-hyun, a 29-year-old doctor living in Seoul, used to frequent coffeehouses like Starbucks to get her daily dose of java but although she didn’t want to give up her take-out coffee, the steady stream of paying 4,000 won($3.69) or more for a cup of coffee at cafes prompted her to seek an alternative.

Recently she purchased a capsule coffee machine.

“A coffee capsule costs less than 1,000 won per cup,” she remarked. “I think I should be able to save a significant amount of money in the long run.”

Capsule coffee, which first entered Korea about five years ago, is gaining an increasingly large following among local consumers who want quick and easy access to coffee that tastes professionally brewed.

On the first basement level of Hyundai Department Store’s Mok-dong branch in western Seoul, the prime location facing the escalators is occupied by a Nespresso store filled with neat rows of espresso capsules and sleek and compact capsule machines.

“The capsules are basically coffee beans, pre-roasted, blended and ground into powder and sealed in vacuum capsules for handy brewing,” said Kim Il-bum, a sales clerk at the shop.

The brand’s capsule coffee machines, which range from roughly 300,000 won to 1,000,000 won, don’t differ much by function but the prices vary depending on the country of origin and design, with the more expensive machines often coming from Italy.

But if the price of the machines makes you pause, the ease of making a cup of espresso might convince you. You simply insert the capsule into a slot, slam it home, press a button and in 10 to 15 seconds you get a 40 milliliter (1.5 oz) cup of steaming espresso. You can choose between 16 varieties of capsules, from pure original espresso to a variety of blends and even decaffeinated capsules.

The main customers are women in their 20s and 30s.

Although the majority of coffee consumption in Korea consists of instant coffee mixes that achieve around 1 trillion won in annual sales, some of the younger generation who have grown up with coffeehouse culture tend to prefer espresso and americano rather than instant mixes with sugar and cream.

And why women? “Men have a tendency to equate the price of two coffee capsules with, say, a pack of cigarettes and think they cost too much,” said Kim. “Overall, women tend to be more particular about the taste of the coffee they drink.”

Nespresso, a subsidiary of the multinational food giant Nestle, began making coffee capsules 26 years ago and was the first to bring them to Korea. Other brands, such as Nescafe Dolce Gusto, Illy and Lavazza are also available locally.

Nescafe Dolce Gusto was launched last December. This brand offers machines that are more affordable, ranging from 159,500 to 249,700 won. And its range of capsules comes in four simple varieties: cappuccino, latte macchiato, americano and espresso.

However, the customer must be cautious when choosing a brand of capsule coffee machines since none of them are compatible with each other. So once you settle on a brand, you’re stuck with it.


By Lee Jung-yoon [joyce@joongang.co.kr]



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