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Hands on: Starbucks Verismo puts the green mermaid in your home

Oh my goodness, you guys. I’m so darn wired right now. My eyes are wide awake, my legs are shaking, and I’ve written, edited, and drafted several stories… man, it’s not even lunch time yet! I could blame this on my natural hyper-ness, but it’d be way easier to chalk it up to the inclusion of the new Starbucks Verismo machine in our office. Although the Verismo technically came out at the tail end of summer, consumers are just now recognizing the machine with its ad campaigns scattered across their television screens. And when the coffeemaker arrived on our desks, you best believe we tried the heck out of its brews.

But wait. What exactly is the Starbucks Verismo system?

Look and feel

The Starbucks Verismo is a single-served coffee machine that uses plastic capsules with pre-ground coffee and powdered milk to brew a Starbucks-quality cup right in your home. Straight out of the box, the Verismo is ready-to-use, no assembly required. Just fill the back tank with water and rinse the machine five times to clean the system and you’re all set to brew an espresso, coffee, americano, or caffe latte (with a Starbucks standard two percent milk). The overall size of the machine is slim, and takes very minimal space on our rather minimal kitchen counter.

The machine has three brewing buttons: Espresso, Coffee, and Milk. Depending on which beverage you’re making, the order of these buttons is quite important. For example, caffe lattes require you to insert the milk pod and steam the milk first, followed by an espresso shot. Americanos are brewed with an espresso shot followed by the coffee button for hot water. Regular coffees require you to open a freshness foil seal on a coffee pod before brewing. At the moment, Starbucks only offers three coffee varieties, in addition to two espresso roasts and its two percent milk pods, and it has no immediate plans to expand the line. However, one of the brews is the seasonal Christmas Noel, so if the machine takes off by next fall, we might begin seeing pumpkin spiced lattes brewed in our own homes.

Brew and taste

Making a coffee drink on the Verismo is relatively simple. Pull the lever up, drop in the pod, and press the appropriate button(s) for your drink. We decided to make ourselves a caffe latte, since the addition of milk-based drinks are rather uncommon in the single-serve coffee machine market. To our amusement, the Verismo was able to recreate the milk foam at the top along with a nice coffee gradient. If you’re only making regular coffee drinks, you can optionally add your own fresh milk and sugar to taste.

We spoke with Anthony Carroll, Starbucks’ manager of coffee quality, who assured us the Verismo guarantees the homemade drinks match the quality of two percent lattes Starbucks lovers know. “From a milk standpoint, we wouldn’t compromise the milk with a product that wasn’t on par,” he said. The milk pods contain no additives or preservatives and are crafted to be comparable to a drink you can buy from any Starbucks retail store. That sounds dandy and all, but how up-to-par was our experience?

While we think the coffee is certainly high quality, it’s still the milk pods that gets us. That’s not to say the milk is bad, but no matter now you manufacture it, powdered milk is never going to rival the taste of fresh milk. It’s just a fact. That said, the lattes made with Starbucks’ powdered milk pods do taste good, and satisfy a good craving for something out of a machine in our kitchen – no trip outside, no lines. The espresso and coffee drinks are also far superior to watered-down drinks that Keurig cups tend to offer.

If you want more from your Verismo, you can also visit its official site for more recipes that include vanilla, mocha sauce, and cocoa powder to sweeten up your drinks. If you can wait for the drink to cool, feel free to toss that over ice for a frosty beverage as well. “If you were to consider the beverage assortment in a cafe, you have a great array with the Verismo,” Carroll says.

Learning curve

While I personally had no trouble learning to use the Verismo, my colleagues did experienced minor issues. If the lever isn’t pushed far back enough, the pods tend to get stuck in the machine. Other times, the Verismo will eat the pods entirely without brewing the coffee, and there’s no way to dig it back out after they’ve been inserted – unless you want to sort through the receptacle bin for any un-punctured pods. At $13 per 16 pods, you effectively lose $1.25 each time one gets stuck in the machine. At that rate, you might as well buy the freshly-made version in stores.

After brewing a couple of drinks, the Verismo will also prompt you to rinse the machine by lighting up only the espresso button. In an office environment where people like myself get excited about playing with gadgets and machineries, this means we end up rinsing Verismo about once every two days and refilling the water tank daily. Keep in mind this is a small machine, and will be more appropriate in a home setting. If you’re looking into invest in something for the office, the Verismo won’t be right for you.

Bottom line

Is the Starbucks Verismo system going to replace our office morning coffee runs before hitting the work day? If we’re feeling particularly lazy, yes. Otherwise, freshly made coffee will always be worth the extra time and effort. Still, for a machine that brews drinks in matters of seconds that taste quite comparable to the real deal, the Verismo is a top contender in the premium espresso machine market that Nespresso currently dominates. At $200, the Verismo is also competitively priced, and makes an appropriate gift for the upcoming holiday season… if your recipient is no coffee snob. Otherwise, casual drinkers will find the machine fun and simple to use, provided you also give them tons of pods to enjoy in case they lose a few in the first couple of attempts.

The Starbucks Verismo is sold in select Starbucks stores, major department stores, and online in four colors: red, silver, champagne, and black.