Decaf drinkers, the rumours (and by rumours, I mean official emails from Nespresso) are true: Nespresso is discontinuing the Vivalto Lungo Decaffeinato flavour.
Whether you only drink decaf, or you like to switch to decaf after midday so you can sleep, you’ve probably noticed that it can be hard to find good decaf coffee that doesn’t taste like lighter fluid. Despite being the only people who drink coffee for the flavour without any secondary motive of being more awake (which actually makes us the only true coffee lovers), decaf drinkers are still largely mocked and ignored by the wider coffee-drinking community.
This drove a lot of people to the Nespresso ecosystem years ago, back when they were the only real option if you wanted coffee that was decaffeinated using a variant of the Swiss Water Process instead of a chemical process. In the Original line of capsules, Nespresso has only ever had a maximum of four decaf flavours at a time: three espresso (40ml) and one lungo (110ml).
Now that the one decaf lungo is being removed from the range to make room for five caffeinated lungos, here are some alternatives you can try for your decaf fix:
If you’ve already got the Nespresso machine, you may as well try the espresso flavours. You won’t get as much coffee out of them, but they’re pretty good. The closest to the flavour of the Vivalto is technically the Volluto Decaffeinato, because they’re both at an intensity level of 4. But I prefer the Inspirazione Firenze Arpeggio Decaffeinato (despite its stupid name) because it’s a bit stabbier (though, the technical description is “dark yet short decaf Arabica coffee with cocoa notes”).
The only problem is that if you want the same size coffee, you’re going to need to use two capsules of the espresso and then one empty espresso shot of water, which takes your morning coffee from costing 85c to $1.56, which adds up over a year.
A different brand of Nespresso compatible pods
If you want to hang onto your machine, you can always move into ‘Nespresso compatible’ pods, which you can find pretty much everywhere. I’ve tried the Woolworths brand, the ones from Aldi, Starbucks, the Coles brand, Podista, and a few others over the years, and they tasted pretty bad. But these days there are some newcomers that look pretty promising, like St Ali.
The big downside of the compatible pods is that the vast majority aren’t recyclable. Coffee pods as a general rule are too small for traditional recycling, which is why Nespresso operates its own recycling system through its stores and a network of florists. The brand also uses infinitely recyclable aluminium. Most of the third-party pods use plastic, which is super bad instead of the usual amount of bad. So that’s something to keep in mind when you’re choosing new pods.
Reusable pods + your coffee of choice
If you’re concerned about the environment, reusable pods reduce waste and still allow you to be relatively lazy about your coffee making. All you need is your reusable pod and the ground coffee of your choice. The problem is that filling these little bastards is something easier said than done because they’re so small and fiddly. You’ll end up wasting a lot of the grounds, you’ll need to vacuum, and there seems to be a trade-off between how reusable the pod is and how good the coffee tastes (though others have had different results).
I found the ones with reusable lids tended to taste and smell really burnt, while the ones with the disposable foil lids fared a little better. Plus, once you’re willing to put that much money and effort into your coffee each day (the pods are pretty pricey, plus fancy beans), you may as well sell your Nespresso machine and learn how to work a traditional espresso machine, or a coffee plunger.
Nespresso Vertuo pods
The Nespresso Vertuo is a whole other machine. It uses much larger pods which allows for more water to move about the coffee while brewing, and it does a weird spinny thing, so if you put your cold milk at the bottom of the cup it still somehow becomes warm and creamy by the time the coffee is made. Witchcraft. I find the coffee that comes out of the Vertuo tastes a little less burnt, and the new machines are made out of a lot of recycled materials, which is nice.
Unlike the original machines, whose coffee amounts range from 25ml to 110ml, the Vertuo spans 40ml to 414ml, which is both a lot and oddly specific.
In decaf they have:
- 40ml Decaffeinato Intenso, which tastes closer to Nespresso’s original range of decaf flavours from before their current crop. It’s a rich intensity 7.
- 150ml Decaffeinato Ontuoso. This is probably the closest to the current Vivalto Lungo flavour because it’s also at an intensity 4 and has sweet cereal notes. But, if you have decaf for medical reasons, I’d take care with it and make sure to try it in-store before committing, because I always get a little shaky after this one and I don’t know what that means.
- 230ml just simply called Decaffeinato. This is at an intensity 6, so it’s on the border of being ok with soy milk (you generally want to go an intensity 7 or higher with soy so the milk doesn’t split). Tastes pretty good, but there’s a lot of it, so just be careful if you are decaf for medical reasons, because no coffee is ever truly 100% decaf, so you might be better off putting this in a jug in the fridge for iced coffees in summer, or sharing with someone else.
A Jura machine
These coffee machines are the Rolls-Royce of coffee machines, in that they’re sleek, incredibly good at what they do, and are extremely expensive. Jura specialise in automatic coffee machines that don’t use any pods, so you just pour in the beans and it will automatically grind the correct amount, add the right amount of water and give you the perfect cup of coffee every time.
I could sing songs about the coffee these machines make. If I ever win the lottery, this is one of the first things I would buy. They’re not awesome at making the frothy milk with the tiny bubbles, but everything else is the best you can get without having an actual barista who knows what they’re doing. They range in price from $1699 to $6490, though, so you would have to be quite committed to coffee.
Learn to make coffee in any other way that just uses beans
A lot has changed over the last decade, and there are now a bunch of places that sell really good decaf beans that use good techniques to decaffeinate those beans. For example, Dukes in Melbourne makes probably the best decaf I have ever tasted. And while, as a Melburnian, I am certain that other states don’t live up to the same quality as our coffee (it’s part of the citizenship process), I’m sure there’s somewhere near you that sells some beans that don’t completely suck.
Working a coffee plunger isn’t too complicated, though it is hard to just make the one small cup if that’s all you want. Working a manual espresso machine requires skills that you can gain, and not burning the milk or coffee will take a lot of practice, but it might be worth it if you’re feeling adrift without your usual lungo.