Mini-Review: Verismo espresso machine (Starbucks)

May 31

First off, the important info: I’m calling this a “mini” review because I don’t actually own a Verismo, nor am I high enough in Google rankings that I can get free stuff or loaners for reviews. This is based on my research and on a demo I got at my local Starbucks.

So, if you’ve been in a Starbucks this year you might have noticed the prominent advertising and display of the Verismo espresso machine. The ad copy says it’s Starbucks quality beverages in the comfort of your own home, super quick and easy. But what is it and how does it work?

The basics: This is a home espresso machine similar to a Keurig “K-Cup” machine — meaning, it takes handy little “pods” and makes drinks out of them, one at a time. What makes it different from a Keurig is that it makes espresso (I’ll admit, I’m not 100% sure whether it really fits the definition of espresso or whether it just brews super-strong coffee from the pods) as well as milk-based drinks like lattes. To make a latte, you put a coffee pod and a milk pod in the machine, push a button, and very soon after you’re sipping a small latte.

The coffee pods are available in several popular Starbucks coffee varieties, and the milk pods are, as far as I can tell, plain 2% powdered milk. There’s some packages that contain both coffee pods and milk pods, so you don’t have to buy them separately.

How does it taste? Not bad at all. My expectations were low — I mean come on, reconstituted milk in a latte? — but the latte itself was fairly tasty. I’ve been served worse by coffee shops with actual espresso machines. This is not a vending machine latte but a decently brewed drink.

The pros:

  • Very easy to use
  • Very easy to clean up (just throw the pods away)
  • Makes pretty good drinks
  • Pods are available in different Starbucks roasts
  • Makes a single serving with no wasted coffee or milk
  • Looks nice on your countertop
  • Not too loud
  • Cheaper than buying the same drinks at Starbucks

The cons:

  • Throwing away used pods creates extra waste
  • You have to buy the pods from Starbucks, and you only get so many per package (compare this to buying a pound of coffee for a regular espresso machine)
  • If the pods become scarce or are discontinued, your machine is a paperweight
  • Not much variety in milk choices and little control over how the milk turns out (no extra-dry soy cappuccinos!)
  • Not the cheapest machine on the market

Should I buy one? It depends on your needs. This could be a very useful machine for situations in which you’d use a Keurig K-cup machine — in an office, for example, where having a full espresso machine with steaming pitcher and pounds of coffee is not very practical. It might also be useful for people with limited hand strength or mobility, who would like to make espresso drinks at home but can’t always wrangle the equipment necessary. Or if you just want a super-simple, fast, no-fuss way to get a nice drink.

Personally, I passed on it. The idea of having to buy the pods, and then throw the used pods away, wasn’t very appealing — especially at that price point. For all the hype I was expecting something a little more akin to the machines Starbucks itself uses, which automatically grind beans and pull shots. I’m sticking with my simple, inexpensive Delonghi espresso machine and the occasional … okay,¬†more than occasional trip to Starbucks.

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Misadventures in phone purchasing

May 26

I have unusual cell phone buying habits for an American. I prefer to buy phones up front, unbranded, from third-party retailers for minimal pre-installed crap. No contract obligations, no “pay it off over your next several bills”, I just get a phone, slap a SIM card in it, and I’m good.

This is partly because my last few phones have been what I call “obscure hipster phones” — little-known models you can’t generally get at your local carrier store. If you go to the Nokia Live theater, they have a display of Nokia phones throughout the years … and not a single one of the Nokias I’ve owned are in the list*.

But as much as I love Nokias, it gets a little tiresome having obscure phones. And since Nokia threw the N9 under the bus in favor of the Windows Lumias, I was faced with a choice between sticking with Nokia and submitting to their hasty change to Windows, or getting an even¬†more obscure hipster phone called Jolla. After much research, I decided to go for option C: get a phone with a widely-supported OS that hasn’t been abandoned by the manufacturer. Namely, the Nexus 4.

I knew T-mobile was selling the Nexus 4, so I called my local store to see if they had some in stock — they did. As soon as I walked in, the customer service guy asked me if I was the person who’d called, and went to grab a 16GB phone from the back. I asked if it was branded and filled with pre-loaded crap. “Nope, this is straight from Google.” Awesome. Then I asked the price. “It’s $49 up front, plus $17 off your next –” No no, how much if I pay for the whole thing right now? “$457”. Does that include tax and fees and whatnot? “Nope.”

… wat. $457? When pretty much everyone who wants a Nexus knows you can get it from Google for a hundred bucks less??

Now, I was willing to pay a markup for the convenience of having the phone right now, instead of having it shipped. And I like giving my money to local shops so at least a little of the money might stay in my community. But I am not paying a whole extra hundred bucks on a $350 phone for no reason.

And just like that, T-mobile lost the easiest sale they would’ve had all month. I knew what I wanted, I was ready to pay for the whole thing right there, they didn’t have to sell me on it or anything. But instead of getting their markup, they got $0**. Good job, beancounters.

Happened to be at Fry’s a little later, and checked their phone racks. If I read their crappy signage right (and let’s face it, at Fry’s that’s a big if) they were selling it for $550. Two hundred dollars over Google’s widely-advertised price. Even Newegg has a $100 markup on it. The cheapest price I found was some random retailer on Amazon — and if I’m looking at Amazon, I might as well buy from Google anyway since I’m not gonna save shipping time.

So in the end, Google got my money. I know situations like mine are rare, and most Americans have no idea of the real cost of their smartphones. But really? Nobody’s even gonna come close to Google’s price? There’s gotta be some weird kind of reseller agreement or something going on, because that’s just straight up weird.

And just for a little icing on the nerd cake, when trying to purchase the phone I found a bug in the Google Play store’s Wallet integration. Because when you do QA for a living, bugs come out of the woodwork at a moment’s notice. I’m like the pied piper of crappy code.

* The E71, N900, and N9.
** Well, besides the money they get from me every month anyway.

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Review: Natural Brew Chai Cola

May 25

As someone who’s addicted to tea drinks and loves a good soda, when I spotted a bottle of Chai Cola at my local zPizza I knew I had to try it.

Chai Cola

Natural Brew Chai Cola

This particular specimen is by Natural Brew, one of the many soda microwbreweries that’s popped up in the US in the last couple of decades. The ingredients list for the Chai Cola, as you can see here, includes mostly normal, pronounceable ingredients, along with the vague and mysterious “Natural Flavors”. I’m assuming that includes the chai spice flavor. No high fructose corn syrup, no caffeine other than the decaffeinated black tea — no decaffeination process is perfect.

The flavor is more chai than cola. If you handed to someone without telling them what it was, they would immediately identify it as some kind of chai soda. The cola flavor is much more subtle, but gives a little extra depth to the chai. The flavor would probably be more complex if the cola were caffeinated (caffeine is naturally bitter).

Overall, I really liked it. It’s tasty, not overwhelmingly sweet, and paired nicely with a pepperoni pizza. If you’re looking to try it for yourself, the Natural Brew website has a Store Locator, but it doesn’t seem to work so well. It didn’t find anywhere near my zip code selling it, even though I got mine just by walking down the street to a pizza joint. But keep your eyes open at any store or restaurant that has a cooler of “natural” or “alternative” sodas, and you might just find a bottle.

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Still here!

May 22

Jeez, five months since my last post. How’d that happen?

Have patience folks, this blog isn’t dead. It’s just … uh … resting? It’s been a busy year at my day job, and I’m dealing with the medical issues associated with incubating a new human being in my torso, so I haven’t been able to update as much as I should have. Plus, well, the aforementioned human being seems to be draining all my writing mojo.

But the best way to regain writing mojo is just to write, right? I will be attempting to do that by hook or by crook.

I have a few coffee-related posts planned — e.g. a mini-review of the Verismo espresso machine Starbucks is selling right now, and a review of their new bottled iced coffee. Plus maybe reviews of some other random coffee/tea drinks I get around town.

I’ll also be trying to use this for more actual bloggy stuff, by which I mean blathering about things in my life that pretty much nobody else gives a crap about. It lets me look back over my old words nostalgically, and gives this site some signs of life.

Hopefully by forcing more words out of my fingertips, I’ll regain some of that vanished writing mojo and I’ll be able to write more betterful, like I usedta. And if you miss me, you can always check out my Twitter feed for whatever random thoughts and/or cat pictures I’ve come up with lately.

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