Creamer Schemers

A couple weeks ago, my Nespresso coffee maker sprung a leak. As it brewed a cup, it also “espressed” a small river of coffee from the base of the unit. An online chat with the good people at Nespresso determined, a) the maker really was broken, b) the one-year warranty covered the repair (whoo-hoo!), and c) the fix would take up to ten business days. Well beans; ten business days meant regressing a full two weeks on drip coffee instead.  Hold the phone; did I just label myself a coffee snob?

Nespresso

Nespresso – for those of you not familiar – is one of the many capsule coffee systems on the market today. Unlike the Keurig K-Cup, “Nestle-Espresso” capsules spin as the water passes through the grounds (7,000 RPMs – vroom vroom!), adding a light-colored frothy cap of “crema” on top. The crema enhances the aroma, but more importantly delivers the mouth-feel of a latte, as if you stirred something in from the dairy family. But call me fooled; Nespresso’s nothing more than coffee in the cup.

Bunn’s coffee-monster

Coffee snob? Parvenu, perhaps. It wasn’t that long ago I contentedly drank “joe” from one of those big metal Bunn machines, flavor-boosting my Styrofoam cup contents with a sugar cube and powdered Coffee-mate. Then, I spent a year in Rome and my world was forever coffee-rocked. I returned to the States armed with words like cappuccino and espresso and caffe latte. But America didn’t even know the word Starbucks yet. A “coffee shop” was still a greasy spoon diner; forgettable joe in a forgettable cup.

Mind you, not having Starbucks didn’t mean I was gonna crawl back to the Bunn, especially after a year of Italy’s la dolce vita (look it up). Eventually I dropped hard-earned cash on one of those early model home coffee/espresso/steamed milk contraptions – a machine requiring twenty minutes, twenty steps, and a phone-book-sized operations manual to produce a small cappuccino. The birth of the American barista did not start at Starbucks, my friends. It started in the frustration of orchestrating an overly complicated home-brew system in search of pseudo-Italian-style coffee.

Sometime after Starbucks opened its first doors (but before Nespresso), Keurig developed the K-Cup. The Keurig coffeemaker felt like a huge step up from standard drip (and ushered in the concept of single-serve coffee at home). Keurig opened a seemingly new world of coffee to me – exotic names like Green Mountain or Paul Newman’s or Donut Shop – but let’s be honest. Keurig was basically glorified drip, and I still wasn’t taking my coffee straight, like I did in Italy. And that’s where Nespresso shines. If the K-Cup is a step up from drip, Nespresso is the entire staircase.

Ironically, the same company producing Nespresso markets a line of oil-based creamers sugary enough to make your coffee taste like Easter in a cup. Nestle already offered creamer flavors like Peppermint Mocha or Italian Sweet Creme or Toasted Marshmallow, before recently adding Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Funfetti. Not to be outdone, International Delight augmented its own coffee creamer line – REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup, Cinnabon, and OREO Cookie Flavored, with – no joke – a PEEPS flavor. Better check for bunnies before you take a sip.

For the record (if the Pulptastic website is to be believed), I’m not even close to being a coffee snob. I can choose from any of their twelve defining characteristics and come up short. I don’t read about coffee. I don’t speak the lingo (“Robusta?” “Arabica?”). I don’t know what “cupping” is. I do enjoy a Starbucks coffee every now and then. Finally, I’m half-tempted to check out the PEEPS creamer (maybe I won’t even need the coffee in my cup). See the Pulptastic list for yourself. Maybe you’re the coffee snob instead of me.

I’m still waiting (im)patiently for my repaired Nespresso coffeemaker to come back. I’m barely surviving on my backup K-Cups. But I’m no coffee snob. And I was just kidding about wanting to try PEEPS in a bottle. On the contrary, those creamer schemers can keep their product far, far away from my Nespresso.

Some content sourced from the 2/3/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “Rich Sales Boost Coffee Creamers”.

The Sweets Life

“Pagina Non Trovata” has the look of an elegant Italian phrase (or an opera title), until translation and context reveal its harsh reality. The phrase means “page not found”, which in my instance referred to a (former) on-line job posting for Italian candy company Ferrero. My punishment for seeking the advertisement two months after the fact? Ferrero, the second largest chocolate/confectionery company in the world, is (was) looking for sixty taste-testers – “sensory judges” if you will – to offer opinions on its products. O.M.Gee I wish I’d seen this sooner.  Instead, I won’t be one of the chosen few because, well, “page not found”.

Let’s ponder this (past) job opportunity for a paragraph, shall we?  Ferrero is (was) searching the world for several “average consumers”, who would (will now) get paid to eat chocolate.  “No experience necessary”, they claimed (otherwise by definition you aren’t an average consumer).  The only real requirement, absent food allergies, is (was) a willingness to move to northwest Italy, which darn-it-all means France and Switzerland are just as easy to visit.  Ferrero gives (gave) three months of paid training, followed by an offer to join the company as a part-time taster. “Part-time” in Italy translates to maybe a) second job, or probably b) la dolce vita (“the sweet life”, which definitely does not include a job).  Ferrero’s job is akin to unwrapping a bar of chocolate and finding a Wonka golden ticket.

If Ferrero created run-of-the-mill chocolates, searching late on their job opp wouldn’t be such a tragedy.  But Ferrero makes Ferrero Rocher (of course they do), those gold-foiled balls of decadent chocolate and hazelnuts.  They also make Mon Cheri, those pink-foiled chocolate cubes filled with cherries and sweet liqueur.  They even make Tic-Tac’s for gosh sakes, the boxed pill-like mints all-the-rage when I was a kid.  And finally, their pièce de résistance (or in Italy, “piu degno de nota”), on which the entire company was founded over sixty years ago, Ferrero makes Nutella.

Maybe it was half-hearted reading up to now, but mention Nutella and most people really sit up and listen.  I’m convinced Ferrero puts a secret something into Nutella to make consumers crave hazelnut chocolate spread all the more (bolstering the theory Starbucks does the same with its coffee drinks).  Why else would shoppers storm a small store – and engage in a brawl – when the Nutella stock was discounted 50% (see video here)?  Which leads to an even nuttier question: why have I never tried Nutella myself?

Nuts+chocolate equals killer-combination – I get that.  Give me a basket of Halloween candy and I’ll fish out all the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  Offer me thirty-one flavors at Baskin-Robbins and I’ll easily short-list peanut-butter-and-chocolate.  Sell me M&M’s at the movie theater and I’ll always choose peanut over plain.  But in all my examples, I’m talking peanuts, not hazelnuts.  Nutella spread is new territory for me, which means I’m the perfect candidate for Ferrero’s job. I have no experience with hazelnuts.

The more I read about my future employer, the more I’m impressed with their credentials.  Ferrero buys 25% of the world’s hazelnut production (and fittingly, acquired the world’s largest hazelnut producer four years ago).  They employ 40,000 candy-men and women in a network of 38 trading companies and 18 factories.  Ferrero keeps its recipes under lock-and-key, never letting the press into its facilities nor hosting a press conference, and always engineering its own production equipment.  A recent survey labeled Ferrero “the most reputable company in the world“.

As if I need a clincher to make this decision, last January Ferrero acquired the Nestle’s company’s candy division.  Holy cowbells.  On top of Nutella, I get to taste-test Sweetarts and Butterfingers and Laffy Taffy and the decadent Nestle’s Crunch (silver-foiled chocolate with a generous helping of crisped rice)?  Why even pay me?

I could do this job.  The more I think about it the more I’m convinced Ferrero needs 61 sensory judges.  I’m just (fashionably) late to the party.  All I need to do is brush up on my college Italian (no joke; I spent a year in Rome back then), convince my wife that our dogs, cats, and horses would be next to heaven in northwest Italy, and promptly board the next Alitalia flight.  Sweet life – er, dolce vita – here I come!

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and the USA Today article, “Dream Job: Italy’s Nutella maker seeks 60 taste-testers…”

Precisely Enchanting

If you watched any of the Winter Olympics the past couple weeks, you witnessed dramatic moments only the Games can deliver.  Some literally took my breath away: the edge-of-your-seat overtime shootout in the women’s hockey final (a 3-2 win by the Americans); the exquisite battle for gold between the highly-touted Russians in women’s figure-skating; and the first-ever victory for the U.S. in the team sprint of women’s cross-country skiing, where Jessie Diggins’ come-from-behind lunge at the finish line took the gold by 0.18 of a second.

              

Consider “0.18 of a second” (for a second).  The blink of an eye takes twice as long.  Now consider measuring 0.18 of a second.  Remarkably, we’ve had the technology to do so since the 1950’s.  For the Olympics, that precision was provided by Omega, the watch manufacturer from Switzerland.  Of course the timekeepers were Swiss.  What other country is so renowned for the keeping of time?  What other country coordinates forty-six individual railway companies on a single network of tracks, bringing its trains into the stations on-time every time?  Where else in the world would you feel more confident banking your cash?  Six years ago, Omega developed technology capable of measuring one-millionth of a second.  At the Pyeongchang Olympics they used a photo-finish camera capable of ten thousand snaps per-second.  The Swiss redefine “attention to detail”.

I’ve had an affection for Switzerland from a very young age.  As a kid, my introduction took place in subtle ways.  Shirley Temple’s “Heidi” was based in Switzerland. The Switzer brand of red/black licorice (still available in “vintage” candy stores) was a frequent purchase.  The cute little Swiss Miss in our pantry beckoned me to hot chocolate.  As a Boy Scout, I always carried one of the Victornox Swiss army knives.  At Disneyland I roller-coasted through a scaled-down replica of the Matterhorn – one of the Alps.  I had my first taste of fondue.  And for a Suisse exclamation point, I consumed a ton of that “holiest” of cheeses.  My ancestry test should’ve produced a little Swiss DNA, don’t you think?

As an adult, Switzerland’s products are no less present in my life.  Lindt is my favorite chocolate (and I’ve tried my fair share of chocolate). A Rolex watch is still the material equivalent of corporate-America success (though my tastes are more modest – perhaps a Swatch [Swiss-watch]?)  Velcro can be found on several items in my wardrobe.  Haagen Daz is my favorite brand of ice cream (a product of the Swiss company Nestlé).  And a lengthy search for “adult” Swiss licorice led me to Chateau D’Lanz, a family-run business in Washington state producing some of the best.

Speaking of Nestlé, the Toll House chocolate-chip cookie recipe is also one of my favorites. Here’s a bit of trivia: Toll House was an inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.  Ruth Graves Wakefield is credited with inventing the chocolate chip cookie (by mistake) somewhere nearby the Toll House.  The price Nestlé paid for the right to Ruth’s recipe? A lifetime supply of Swiss chocolate.

Now speaking of Velcro, here’s another bit of trivia.  George de Mestral was a Swiss engineer and amateur mountaineer from the 1940’s. Hiking in the Alps one day, George noticed seeds kept sticking to his clothes and to his dog’s fur. When he returned home, George developed a synthetic “sticking” technology like what he’d found in nature; a hook-and-loop zipper alternative eventually patented as Velcro. The clever name is a child of the French parents velours (velvet) and crochet (hook).

Okay, we’ve covered Swiss precision and some world-class products, but I haven’t addressed what makes Switzerland so fetching.  How’s this for starters: the entire country can fit within the greater Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  Bordered by France, Italy, and Austria, the Swiss are typically fluent in French, Italian, and German; as well as their home-country language of Romansh.  Switzerland produces some of the best in skiing, snowboarding, and mountain-climbing (of course), but also tennis? (hello, Roger Federer).

     

Here’s some more Swiss charm.  The colorful Guards in the Vatican City are the only foreign military service permitted to its citizens.  Switzerland’s “non-interference policy” dictates its only participation in foreign wars is typically through the high-profile benevolence of its Red Cross organization.  And citizenship in this fair country?  You’d better hope you have blood ties through birth or marriage.  Otherwise it’ll take twelve years of a special-residency permit, combined with a long-term work visa.

Despite my obvious affection, I should probably stay away from precisely enchanting Switzerland.  It’s a real country like any other after all, which means not everything comes up roses.  Perhaps I’ll cling to my snow-globe impression of the Suiss Alpenland instead: a gentle people living high on the Happiness Scale; the cleanest and quaintest cities imaginable; cobble-stoned streets and chalet-like houses.  The magnificent Alps serve as the backdrop, their slopes ascended by rickety cog railways and descended by skillful skiers.  Listen for an accordion or a little yodeling.  Look carefully enough into my globe and you might even notice the von Trapp family, marching down the mountain trail from Austria, singing their do-re-mi song.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.