Consuming between six and eight cups of joe a day, to call Renaud Tinel a coffee connoisseur seems an understatement. It comes in handy in his capacity as head of Nespresso Asia, a role he stepped into four years ago to manage current markets as well as oversee regional expansion.
“I was drinking coffee before I joined Nespresso as general manager of Oceania in 2007, but my consumption has increased considerably since,” says Tinel. We are in the new Nespresso boutique at The Gardens Mall in Kuala Lumpur, an aesthetically modern shrine to caffeine that juxtaposes the bright colours of Nespresso’s staple variants, warm wood and lush green in the form of potted coffee trees by the entrance. Brand ambassador George Clooney beams from a backlit exterior sidewall, inviting curious passers-by to share his joy in a well-made espresso capped with frothy crema.
“It is the crema that identifies a great coffee,” says Tinel, as his favourite brew, the Grand Cru Rosabaya de Colombia prepared espresso style, is set down in front of him. “It has to be just the right thickness and colour, and breaking it [with a spoon] releases the complexity, aroma and profile of the coffee. Being able to create this consistently is the mark of a good barista.”
In the case of Nespresso, the skills of said barista have been mechanised in beautiful machines to create identical, perfect cups each time. New iterations are arranged around the boutique on islands topped by petrified used coffee grounds, epitomising the brand’s comprehensive commitment to sustainability at every stage of production. It starts at coffee farms around the world, where farmers are fairly compensated for their labour, fertiliser is responsibly sourced and used, and natural water sources are measured to ensure consistency in water quality from upstream to downstream. Nespresso is a forerunner in the industry, launching the AAA Sustainable Quality programme 15 years ago before other coffee manufacturers had even turned their attention to the issue. Through the programme, in collaboration with the Rainforest Alliance, some 45,000 farmers have embraced sustainable practices that not only have positive environmental impact — such as healthier soil and higher productivity — but also improve the quality of the coffee cherries.
So pure are some of these cherries that they are expressed in single-origin variants, including the Rosabaya de Colombia favoured by Tinel. “I like the single-origin concept because you can only do this if you buy the beans directly from the farm, as we do at Nespresso,” he says. “The quality of the beans are so good that you don’t want to blend them with anything else, and you can almost precisely trace their origins through their flavour profiles.”
Nearly 300 agronomists are in the employ of Nespresso, travelling the globe to discover new coffees on all continents and extracting the purest of them to create these Grand Cru expressions. The Rosabaya‘s beans, grown on small plantations in Colombia, has a soft but intense profile of red fruit, reminiscent of wine with notes of blackcurrants, cranberries and redcurrants.
This commitment to excellence continues at the factory, where a team of 80 experts test each coffee 41 times before it is approved for release. Consumers are extended the same opportunity to be responsible with a recycling programme introduced in every market Nespresso enters. “Our capsules are made wholly from aluminium, which makes them infinitely recyclable, and used coffee grounds are turned into compost,” says the regional head. These single-use pods are often accused of being menaces to the environment with their mixed-material composition — typically a fusion of plastic and aluminium — an image Nespresso is trying to erase.
“There really is such a thing as coffee superiority, and it comes down to these things,” continues Tinel. “It’s the philosophies of the producer, quality of the cherries, practices from farm to factory and the result in the cup. I feel better about my beverage knowing it has no adverse impact on the environment. We also believe in a circular economy, which makes environmental friendliness financially sensible. People are increasingly concerned about making sustainable choices and expect brands to be similarly responsible citizens. We pioneered this in the coffee industry.”
A manager at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co and a general manager for the Dickson Textile Group prior to joining Nespresso Oceania, the French-born Tinel is credited with securing the company’s position as one of the best consumer brands in Australia. France schooled him in the art of the short black but it was in Australia that he developed an appreciation for cappuccinos and lattes.
“I can’t remember my first taste of coffee but it was likely at breakfast, served traditionally in a coffee bowl with plenty of frothy milk,” he says. “I was raised in France where coffee, like wine, is an integral part of our culture. There are clear similarities between the two; both look at profiles, aromas and origins in carving out distinctions. As your understanding of either grows, your appreciation and your tastes change accordingly. I began preferring my coffee more intense and black, but in Australia I rediscovered how milk, when prepared right, can enhance the flavour of coffee.”
Similar to wine, understanding coffee allows you to explore the world through links between origins and profiles, differing in intensity, flavours and aromas as you move from one continent to another. For instance, sunnier destinations produce fruitier flavours. Nespresso has two dozen staple variants, in addition to seasonal blends and special editions, all expressing bouquets that run the spectrum from floral and fruity to vanilla, chocolate and caramel. This diversity endears it to a wide demographic that might otherwise struggle to embrace coffee. While countries such as Australia have a “fantastic coffee legacy”, Asian markets typically have a stronger tradition of tea drinking. It is younger consumers here who are driving the market.
“Tea is intrinsically tied to ritual, which we recreate with coffee,” says Tinel. “Its preparation becomes part of the experience — details like the design of our cups and saucers also influence this. Coffee is part of your daily routine, and like tea, can be used as a moment of self-indulgence or to connect with others.”
Even the boutique is designed to facilitate this, with award-winning architecture and interior design firm Universal Design Studio creating islands that encourage interaction while exploring Nespresso’s varieties. “We are in the business of indulgence, which means we are in the business of people,” Tinel continues. “Coffee is an engaging subject and brings people together in many ways.” Some of them can be unorthodox: as at 2016, Nespresso was the first company to import coffee from Cuba to the US in more than 50 years amid smoothing trade relations between the Cold War adversaries.
The father of three is fervent about spreading the coffee story, a passion that spills over into his home life when he is not engaged in sportive pursuits such as climbing. His children, aged between 10 and 15, have some idea of his interest. “Children always have interesting perspectives on what their parents do,” he laughs. “They understand that I travel and that it has something to do with coffee, so they just relegate me to the role of barista. If we’re drinking coffee at home, I’m the one making it.”
This article first appeared on June 25, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.