• Nescafé’s parent company sent us a jar of each of its new high-end instant coffees – so we stuck them all in our Johannesburg office's kitchen to see what would happen.
  • Initially our colleagues stuck to what they knew.
  • But after three days, they showed a clear preference for a new flavour they said gave a real kick – and for which they may shed blood.

Earlier this year Nescafé made some changes to its Gold line of instant coffee – with results not everybody loved.

The Gold range now consists of four distinct flavours and one decaffeinated version pretending to be coffee, all of which retail for around 60% more than Nescafé Classic, the band's workhorse.

The flavours are very different, both in marketing and reality. Gold is a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans that Nescafé promises gives a "rich, yet smooth and rounded taste". Alta Rica, on the other hand, is 100% Arabica sold as having an "intensity of flavour".

See also: Nescafé Gold coffee has changed its recipe – and it now tastes completely different

So when Nescafé's parent company Nestlé sent us an unsolicited full set of the flavours, we decided to see what our colleagues would make of them.

We positioned the test coffees strategically next to a regular coffee station in Media Park, Johannesburg, that serves cheaper instant coffee to around 80 people during peak times. Then we gave them the bare minimum of information. 

Initially there was a clear preference for Nescafé Gold and the milder Velvety variant, the most familiar of the flavours and either loved or hated by those who know it.

Seasoned instant coffee shoppers also criticised the price points of the new Gold flavours.

"If I wanted bad coffee that expensive I would buy it from a garage shop," one tester said about the regular Gold, in a typical comment.

"Gold is the best coffee," a respondent on the other side of the spectrum said. "I drink it at home, I love having it at the office."

By the second day, however, after many people had tried several different flavours and talked among themselves, a clear preference for two of the flavours became obvious.

It took another day and a half for the first bottle to be finished, scraped clean to the bottom, in fact.

Both the "bold and intense" Alta Rica and the Espresso were popular, but the Espresso was finished first – and nearly inspired violence. Several testers described, in detail that would curdle the blood of HR officials, what they would like to do to the people who finished the Espresso bottle, and one promised to steal any replacement bottle of Espresso and defend it with violence if necessary.

The Espresso is, in fact, not as strong as the Alta Rica, according to both blind taste testing and Nescafé's own rating. But our testers said its extremely fine texture made for a pleasing cup of coffee, and several remarked that it woke them up, just like a good coffee should.

But "it could be the name", one admitted. "It doesn't really taste like espresso, anyway."

The pretend-coffee Decaf version had barely been touched.

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