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Our CBTL shipment included one sleeve of CBTL Premium espresso, one sleeve of CBLT House brew, one sleeve of Earl Grey tea and one variety box that included 12 different varieties of coffee, tea and espresso. The instructions say to “select preferred capsule” — that was a no-brainer. I wanted to see how well this little machine does espresso, so espresso it was.
The little plastic cups are similar to K-cups, but slightly shorter and wider. To insert them into the machine, you lift the silver metal lever on top of the brewer, drop the capsule in with the label facing front, and push the lever back down.
The lever operates smoothly and easily — something important in our family, since my roommate has little hand or grip strength after a stroke. He can easily operate the Contata without assistance.
Place a cup on the cup platform. Since I was using an espresso cup, I pulled the dispensing spout down toward the cup. It’s easy — you just pull downward on the two little “handles” molded into the sides of the spout.
Press the button. There are three buttons arranged in a circle around a 4th button on the top of the brewer. The left-hand top button brews an espresso, the right-hand button brews a long espresso and the bottom button makes regular brewed coffee or tea. They’re pre-calibrated to pull a 1-ounce shot, a 2-ounce shot and a 7.5-ounce shot. You can recalibrate any of the buttons to change the output by simply holding the button in until your coffee reaches the desired level in your cup, then release the button. From that point on, that’s how much coffee you’ll get when you press that button.
In about 3 seconds, the Contata Single Serve Coffee Maker started dispensing the espresso into the cup. It was a lovely thing to watch the rich, reddish crema start filling the cup and slowly separate into layers. The finished shot was beautiful — deep and dark at the bottom, then gradually getting lighter and redder toward the top, ending with a velvety, opaque foam that marks excellent espresso.
It takes from one to three minutes to dispense your beverage, depending on the setting you choose. My first espresso was ready to drink in precisely 61 seconds. It was wonderfully hot — not quite hot enough to scald my tongue, but far hotter than the coffee dispensed by either the Keurig or the Tassimo.
When the cup is done brewing, you simply lift the lever to drop the spent capsule into the used capsule tray. The tray holds up to 10 spent capsules, so you can get away with emptying it once a day, or empty it more often.
The Taste Test
I’m an East Coaster, so I don’t have a comparison point for CBTL coffees from the store. I can tell you that the espresso is amazingly good — better than I typically get at any of our local espresso bars. The flavor was rich, smooth, creamy and concentrated, just bitter enough to get the astringent edge that makes good espresso so wonderful. It was good enough that I scooped up the foam clinging to the sides of the cup with my finger because I didn’t want to waste it.
The Bottom Line
Since that first cup, I’ve had some time to play with the machine. I’ve adjusted the settings for the lungo to make a larger, more diluted cup. I’ve brewed a chai tea, which was absolutely delightful, and brewed a House Brew coffee, with similar results. I’ve taken to brewing in my transparent cups because the result is so pretty to look at, and I’ve developed my own turbo brew — a House Brew dispensed into a 12-ounce mug, followed up by a shot of Continental espresso dispensed into the same cup.
At $139, the CBTL Contata makes an excellent espresso, and not just “for the price”. The biggest drawback is the selection of coffees and other beverages available. Since you can only use CBTL coffee capsules in the machine, you’re confined to the dozen or so beverages that CBTL packages in capsules. The variety includes 4 espresso blends — Italian, Continental, Premium and Premium Decaf, 4 brewed coffees — Viennese, French, House Brew and House Brew Decaf, and four teas — Chai, English Breakfast, Moroccan Mint and Tropical Passion — so you do have a nice choice of CBTL varieties, and there’s always the chance that the company will decide to offer seasonal varieties on a limited basis.
The CBTL coffee capsules are available at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf locations, as well as online at the CBTL website in packages of 10 capsules for $7. The capsules are comparable in price to Keurig K-cups, though they’re not as widely available. When you sign up for the CBTL Premium subscription service, you can get reduced or free shipping (with a minimum $40 monthly order), and have the opportunity to try samples of limited edition and seasonal coffee and tea blends.