Judging Java: Cafe Nerro

Written By Jake Dabkowski, Coffee Columnist

4.5 Globes out of 5

Throughout the history of this column, I’ve made it pretty clear that, for the most part, I don’t like chain coffee. Occasionally, chains will make great specialty drinks (this is especially true for Starbucks), but, at surface level, their coffee leaves something to be desired. I recently went to a Caffe Nero, which is a primary European based chain with a handful of locations in America.


My initial impression was that Caffe Nero isn’t like other chains. The store I went to was incredibly spacious, with tall bookshelves lining all of the walls. Another thing that stuck out to me was how large and impressive the Caffe Nero espresso machines were. They were large and fancy looking. I have minimal experience roasting espresso, but I was well aware of the impressive machinery. It looked very expensive.


The real thing that blew me away though was the coffee, specifically the actual beans that are used. Other chains like Starbucks will use a lot of sugar and additives to make their drinks taste good. This is to overcompensate the fact that their drinks do not have particularly good beans.  


A few chapters back, a friend of mine told me that his logic for cooking a great burger is that the patty should taste delicious on its own. The toppings of the burger should seek to emphasize and enhance the taste of the patty, not create the flavor. Coffee is the same way.


Great coffee starts at the beans. The beans are the core of the drink, their taste is stronger and more important to every drink than any additive. Unfortunately, many coffee shops and most chains don’t understand that. The new Starbucks drink is great, but it’s great for the wrong reasons.


Caffe Nero, on the other hand, has fantastic beans. Their main espresso roast, which they call Classico, is delicious. That’s all great news for two reasons: number one being that if you get a regular cup of black coffee or just a shot of espresso, it’s going to be great. Number two being that if you get a specialty drink or a latte it’s going to be fantastic, well above the average of other chain’s similar drinks.


Their coffee is incredibly rich and layered with hints of dark chocolate, while also having certain elements of light, fruity notes. It’s an incredibly balanced coffee that doesn’t go too far in the direction of either too dark or too light. Overall, I think this is a cup of coffee that any coffee drinker who tries, regardless of their own personal preference, would agree: this is a good cup of coffee.


My only complaint with Caffe Nero is that there are not any near here. This chain is a primarily European chain, but they’ve been slowly expanding throughout the United States recently, so hopefully we can get one in the Pittsburgh area soon. Until then, there beans are available online, and I’d recommend either ordering them or stopping by a Cafe Nero location if you’re near one.