Reviewed by Chris Legg
For this review, I was sent a 10-pack each of the four varieties making up Carte Noire’s range of coffee capsules designed to fit Nespresso espresso machines (see www.cartenoire.co.uk/faq for compatibility information). I was also sent two of the purpose-designed “Le Temps de Vivre”, “Plus Fort” espresso cups, manufactured for Carte Noire by Bodum.
Let me start by saying that I am in no way a connoisseur of coffee; I don’t know all the coffee-drinking lingo, nor do I know the correct ways of sampling the “nose”, flavour, etc…, so this review is written from the perspective of an ordinary punter. An ordinary punter, I should add, who “knows what he likes”: I tend to prefer my coffee strong and highly flavoured, and this has inevitably coloured my reaction to the different varieties. Others may like theirs to be more subtly-flavoured, so I would urge anyone tempted by this review to sample these coffees to try all four before deciding on their own favourite.
The cups resemble rounded shot glasses, and are “double walled” (think: double glazed), the idea being that the pocket of air between the inner and outer keeps the inner layer hot while ensuring that the outer doesn’t get too hot to hold. In this they are very effective, and luckily there is a silicone plug to stop the air expanding too much and causing the glass to explode in your hand! I can’t honestly swear that the heat retention of these glasses is any better than that of the ceramic cups I usually use, but they certainly provide a stylish way to drink coffee, and I will undoubtedly enjoy drinking many a coffee out of them in future.
Moving onto the coffee itself, the tasting notes supplied describe variety No3 (Elegant) as “delicate”, “light”, “velvety” and “warm”, with an “enticing aroma” of “ripening corn”; it’s also said to be “full-bodied”, “smooth, balanced and satisfying” and a “no-nonsense ‘easy to drink’ coffee”. I’m afraid I didn’t detect much aroma, although there may well have been something grainy going on in what I did smell. It’s easy on the palate – perhaps a little too easy, in fact, with not quite enough “body” and “punch” for my tastes. It’s also undeniably smooth.
No5 (Delicat) is described as “silky”, with a “fruity note” and “finesse”; and as an “exceptional, pure Arabica coffee” that’s “lively, zesty and tangy”, with “delicate wine-like acidity” that “seduces” and “delights the palate” and is “refreshing, mild and delicate” and “seamless”, and also with a “mellow lemon acidity”. There was definitely a tang there when I tried it, but more in the “nose”, although it was very pleasant, even enticing. Taste-wise, it was certainly silky and refined, although still not quite punchy enough for me. Overall, it was an eminently drinkable coffee, the aftertaste of which reminded me slightly of dark chocolate.
No7 (Aromatique) is said to be an “aromatic pure Arabica” with “delicate hints of cocoa”, a coffee of “true character: rich, complex and earthy”, with “delicate [that word again!] nutty and caramel undertones” but “deep flavour delivery” [!]; one that’s “pleasurable and pleasing” [?] and “strong” and “full bodied”. I was hit by the caramel on the first sip – there’s a definite sweet taste to this one, but the smoothness is still present and correct, and the smell is pleasant, if difficult for this drinker to put his finger on. In short, I agree with the “true character” bit – I found it the best of the bunch up to that point, with a nice, nutty aftertaste.
Finally, the notes describe No9 (Intense) as [unsurprisingly] an “intense”, “rich” “dark roast” “pure Arabica” that’s “flamboyant” [?], with an “abundance of strong, full flavours”; it’s also meant to be “opulent”, with “’cigar box’ flavours” such as “smoke”, “wood” and “tobacco”, “bold, stimulating and aromatic”, “powerful”, and “strong”. Well, I can’t quibble about the smokiness! There’s also an invitingly sweet aroma and plenty to get your teeth into flavour-wise, including the emergence of a caramel aftertaste as it cools. Given my penchant for strongest-of-the-strong coffees, though, the big surprise for me was that it was slightly pipped in my affections by No7.
So how do I sum up my experience of drinking these four espressos in a few lines? OK… there’s a good range of styles that’s likely to suit most tastes, and while I may not be swapping to these capsules from my beloved Nespressos just yet, I would definitely consider buying them again.
Carte Noire espresso capsules contain 10 single servings and are in supermarkets now with an RRP of £2.79.