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Nescafé jars are the wrong size!

You get used to your favourite sort of coffee, and I have now become completely used to my favourite brand: Nescafé Gold Blend. Nescafé is, so they claim, the biggest selling instant coffee in the world.

Originally I started buying Nescafé Gold Blend because I had been told by my television that it would cause a very attractive young actress called Fiona Fullerton to become friendly with me, but now I buy it because I like it.

However, I have a serious complaint to make about the size of Nescaf&eacute jars. There is a lot of talk out there in Internetland and Blogland about how market researchers are trawling the blogs to find out, on behalf of the business enterprises who hire them, what the masses think of the latest products of these business enterprises. Well, let the Nescafé market researchers trawl this.

I have no problem with the coffee itself. It is the jars that concern me.

There is much about Nescafé Gold Blend jars that I like a lot, quite aside from liking their contents. They are very fine in their own right, both aesthetically and structurally. When people first emerged from the Communist Yoke into the Light of Capitalism, they found themselves confronted with packages and pots and containers containing branded Capitalist products that were so beautiful (the packages and pots and containers I mean) that they could hardly bear to throw them away. These Nescafé jars were an excellent embodiment of this dilemma. When archaeologists dig up something like these jars made by ancient Romans or Greeks or Etruscans they celebrate for a century and build entire new museums to accommodate these items and all their worshippers. Yet we Westerners just chuck them out with the rest of the rubbish.

And I do too, for reasons I will get to, but first let me explain what I like – or would like – to do with these jars. I like (and would like) to use them for shelving. Thus:


When I die, I expect all my various Internet scribblings to be forgotten utterly, very quickly, and that the last thing about me that anyone will really remember will be my kitchen, with all its CDs, and the fact that many of the shelves (for CDs and for general crap) involved Nescafé jars. But sadly, as that picture shows only too clearly, the lids are disintegrating. So first, Kudos to Nescafé for having solved this problem by changing the design of the lid. Not long after I constructed these CD shelves and began to learn the bad lid news, Nescafé changed their lids to make them more structurally robust, as robust as the jars themselves, and better suited to supporting horizontal shelves. So, some positive feedback there for the Nescafé market researchers.

The basic problem with shelving is when it gets too wide, and the shelves sag in the middle, under the weight of all those wonderful Capitalist products. To solve that problem you need a vertical lump of some sort to stick in between the shelves, and to save you the bother of doing any complicated carpentry, like this:


Those particular vertical lumps are there because the last thing you want to do to a shelf that you have just attached to a wall is smack more nails through it, thereby loosening it from the wall. So, the shelves on the right there are simply resting on a separately attached shelf below, not fixed to the upright at all. Hence the blocks holding them up.

And the ideal lumps for these purposes are things like Nescafé jars. True, these jars occupy valuable horizontal space, but they are pleasingly decorative, finely printed in interesting and tasteful colours, and they generally celebrate all that is best about our shared civilisation.

Or rather, Nescafé jars would be ideal for shelving purposes if only they were the right size.

Since I built the shelves illustrated in my first picture here, Nescafé jars have undergone two redesigns.

The first took them from the straight up-and-down design pictured above, to a pleasingly slim-wasted design, and now they have done a redesign of the original slim-wasted jar to make it slightly less like a Real Woman (surely this was partly what they had in mind – I shall call it that anyway) and more like a supermodel, i.e. taller and thinner.

Nescafé jars come in three sizes, and the smallest size is of no interest to me, being far too small for my most pressing shelving purposes.

However the medium sized Nescafé jar and the large Nescaf&eacute jar, pictured above, are very much of interest, being just the right sort of size.

So, here is a picture of the medium sized Nescafé jar, in its three recent manifestations. On the left is the original straight-up design, but with the new and improved lid. Then comes the Real Woman look, and then the Supermodel look.


You will notice that in between them are a couple of CDs, and there is the problem.

The first design was okay, which was why I used it for my CD shelves, but (aside from the lid thing) it had another quite serious drawback, being somewhat too big for CDs. Too big is better than too small of course, but it is not ideal. You either have wasted vertical space, or you stack CDs horizontally on top of the vertically shelved ones, neither arrangement being entirely nice looking or entirely convenient. How much better it would be to have it the ideal height (like my lumps of vertical timber in picture number two above), thus wasting no space, and thus accommodating the maximum number of shelves on your wall.

The Real Woman version of the medium sized jar was a real step in the right direction, as you can see. It was smaller, but crucially, not too small. Anther fraction of an inch and it would have been perfect.

But in the latest redesign, what did Nescafé do? Blinded by exclusively aesthetic imperatives, but with no thought for function, they made the medium sized jar bigger, in fact very nearly as big as the original straight-up-and-down look. Talk about a wasted opportunity!

Had I known that they were going to turn the Real Woman of the medium sized Nescafé jar into a Supermodel version I would have stock piled more of the Real Woman ones than I did. As it was, they sprang the redesign on my out of the blue, and I now do not have enough Real Woman jars to serve my ever growing CD shelving needs. I will have to use timber. Hard work, and aesthetically dreary, but form must follow function.

So far so unsatisfactory. But the situation with the large Nescafé jars is far more distressing.

Take a look at this picture:


The same three jars, with the two redesigns, and this time, a couple of videos, and a DVD.

Now it is far worse. Now, the jars are all too small, and too small is worse than unsatisfactory; it is just plain useless. The straight-up design was too small even for the smaller video cases like the one shown, and even a tiny bit too small for DVDs, a tiny bit too small being simply: too small. And the latest version, the Supermodel, is still too small not only for videos, but for the now ubiquitous DVD. For DVDs it is a very, very close thing. But close is no cigar. A serious blunder.

I am not happy. Stick that up your market research, Nescafé.

With Nescafé jars letting me down so badly from the CD and DVD shelving point of view I have been on the look-out for other commonly available products whose jars or cans might do these two jobs.

Here’s a possible DVD candidate:


The trouble with this spray can is that too much would be asked of that lid. Solidity needs to go right to the top. It would be those old Nescafé lids all over again, only far worse.

This is a bit more promising, for CDs. At least it is the right size.


But structurally, again I have my worries about it, and I would need to do some serious testing before using it.

Plus, I suspect that cans are definitely stronger if you don’t open them, and I do not care to buy can after can of Red Bull if, on structural grounds, I cannot even drink it. There must be cheaper crappy drinks available in cans this size, but most are those poncy energy type drinks, and cost the best part of a quid.

I used old fashioned, uncrashable by hand, like your granny had during the blitz, Tesco and Sainsbury’s own brand baked beans and mushy peas tins, for my most recent shelving efforts:


By the way, that is a glass Crème Brulée tub at the bottom there, in which I have complete confidence. Glass is tough stuff, although I guess the price of being wrong about something like could be uncomfortably high.

These own brand, old fashioned tins seem a whole lot stronger than those little fizzy drink cans, which seem to be deliberately designed to be crushable, which is not at all the quality you look for to support your CD collection.

So, all in all, Nescaf&eacute really missed a couple of tricks here, especially on the DVD front. And if my reseach is anything to go by, this market is still wide open and begging for someone to burst into it with a product that is structurally perfect for CDs (in the medium size) and DVDs (in the giant size). “Also tastes good” would make a fine slogan for such a product – “Also good for car cleaning” – “Also a great sink unblocker” – “The kids also like it in sandwiches”. Whatever. And make sure that, like Nescaf&eacute jars, the containers are as strong when empty as they are when full.

Plus, an issue I have not really dealt with but which could use a bit of thought is how wide from side to side and how deep from front to back these containers ought to be, for structural purposes. Personally I would want to see just one container for each bit of vertical structure, with a boxlike shape perhaps being ideal. The same shape, in other words, for CDs, as my timber verticals in picture two, and something similar for DVD shelving.

If you are the one to crack this market wide open, and your product becomes the market leader for the domestic shelving needs of people with my kind of shelving habits throughout the world, think of the permanent advertising that this would mean. A marketing man’s dream, I think you will agree.

Maybe, all uncaring, your company already makes containers exactly like those I want, and puts something in it I could happily consume. You need then only alert the world to this circumstance. In which case, go to it.

And before anyone else says it, I do not believe that CDs and DVDs are about to vanish from the earth, and that everyone will store everything on their hard discs. CDs and DVDs are “hard discs”.

And it only needs a few to feel as I do about how to shelve them all for this to be a nice pair of little market niches, and a nice little source of word-of-mouth chatter.

Perhaps someone will concentrate on just making the containers, and leave others to worry about what to put in them, and do lots of licensing deals. THat must already be what happens with tin cans.

Come on Capitalism, you can do it. You can do anything that you put your mind to.

Internet marketing endnote: Although I do not see why bookshelves made like this are intrinsically any more dangerous than any other kind, it seems possible that if this idea were flaunted in something like old-fashioned TV or newspaper adverts, it would then be pissed all over by Health and Safety fascists. So, make the things anyway, and then, you know, let it be known, Internet style, how excellent they are for shelving purposes. No need to alert the authorities to what is happening by incurring a big Mainstream Media bill.

Send me some samples. If they do the job I have described, I would be delighted to help you to spread the word.

44 comments to Nescafé jars are the wrong size!

  • Good evening and welcome to another edition of ‘Storage Jars’. On tonight’s programme Mikos Antoniarkis, the Greek rebel leader who seized power in Athens this morning, tells us what he keeps in storage jars. From strife-torn Bolivia, Ronald Rodgers reports on storage jars there. And closer to home, the first dramatic pictures of the mass jail-break near the storage jar factory in Maidenhead. All this and more in ‘Storage Jars’!

    But first, here is Brian Micklethwait and his take on Storage Jars and the art of good shelf keeping.

    How fascinating.

    Maybe you should consider buying new shelves.

    Or maybe you should find a new hobby.

    (Or maybe I should shut up.)

    Lemon curry?

  • David Hall

    Could you maybe fill the Red Bull cans with cement or filler or something? Have no idea if this is possible, still maybe worth a look.

  • David Hall

    Thanks for that. That sounds like a really good idea. Drink it, and replace it with something stronger (structurally). Any suggestions exactly what, anyone? Something solid but bubbly, and thus strong enough but not too heavy. Does such a thing exist?

    I’d still like something where I didn’t have to mess about so much, though.

  • Spray insulation. Comes in a can that will fill several square feet. Uses a thin tube that will fit into the open can without getting messy – reusable. Sets up in an hour. Light as a feather. You trim the overage that extrudes out the top and there you go…solid, non-crushable lengthwise, chemically inert, and light. Also it adds R-factor insulation to your shelves.

    I can’t believe I’m participating in this.

  • Rich

    I’d use expanding foam insulation.

  • BillO

    The structural integrity of a can, loaded as you have shown, is not affected by whether it is opened or closed. And with the kind of weights you’re dealing with, whether or not anything is in it is irrelavent. Tubes have very high compressive strengths, and the tab only supports the can against radial forces.

    There are two big howevers, though: a.) can has to be a tube, and b.) all the force has to be longitudinal.

    a.) means that any dent or crease in the side of the can completely destroys its load bearing capacity.

    b.) means that the top and bottom have to be flat against the shelves

    Demo here.

    I used two cans for balance, not because of the weight. On can easily support me (145lbs.) as long as I maintain my balance straight on top of it.

  • BillO

    I should probably clarify the open/closed / filled/empty thing.

    When the can is closed the liquid is pressurized. This is fairly strong, which is why you can’t squeeze an opened can, but once you open it, it’s easy to crush.

    As far as the refilling thing goes, I don’t think I’d spend the time and money to bother. It’d help some if the load became unbalanced across the top of the can. Otherwise, unless each can needs to support several hundred lbs. it’s not going to make a difference.

  • cardeblu

    Not to get too far off of this very important and interesting topic, but:

    Instant coffee?!?!


    Why, yes; I am from the Pacific Northwest. How could you tell? 😉

  • Julian Morrison

    Plaster of Paris. Pour it in and it will harden inside.

  • Jake Walters

    to Brian Micklethwait, Try plaster of paris, a bit messy sure but it will do the trick quite well and you could pour it in easily with a fan. I used to use the stuff when I needed to make empty coke cans seem as if they were full of coke.


  • Well, I am from London via Sydney, and I am with cardeblu on the instant coffee.

  • Robert

    You guys should blog about politics less and more about home decorating. This had to be one of the most interesting posts I’ve read on this site.


  • Only savages drink instant coffee.

  • In my view there is good and bad instant coffee. And the same applies to the stuff stewed for an hour by Italians in Frankenstein laboratory equipment. That too can be great, or taste like liquid fertiliser.

  • Tony H

    In my view there is good and bad instant coffee.

    Sorry, there’s bad and even worse instant coffee. It’s revolting, churns up the stomach, doesn’t even taste like proper coffee. It dumps the life-enhancing ritual of locating the best beans, grinding them to perfection, adding just boiled water etc, and reduces the process to a crude exercise in caffeine ingestion.
    Time for another pot…

  • Matt the Kaff

    The best instant is the cheapest. Asda granules are 31p for 0.44lb, or “200 grammes” as adherents of the inefficient and outdated Napoleonic system of mensuration call it. Anybody know anything cheaper?

    BTW, around four-fifths ot the way through this post I suddenly realised what it truly means to lose the will to live. Thanks, Brian.

  • M the K

    Obviously making you lose the will to live is something, and I’m touched, but a piece like this one only really hits the spot if some readers at least acquire the active desire to die, yet find themselves spending the last few moments of their lives, before ending them, reading it.

    Anyway, Happy Christmas.

  • I hear Brian’s point about Italian coffee sometimes being awful but a question? When did you partake of liquid fertiliser for the taste comparison?

  • ernest young


    I noticed the coffee jars in the pic at the header to your Culture Blog. Just thought that you were one of those impoverished professor types, and a bit quirky to boot….

  • Tatyana

    Brian, why not go the boring but tried and approved way of supporting your shelves with steel brackets? For example, (Link)
    Doesn’t take space off your shelves (fit more versions of Brandenburg concerto), connects to the studs in your wall, therefore supported by the structure of partitions itself – and as reusable as your beautiful jars. Just remember, place them in increments of 16″- same as distance between your wall studs.

    On the other hand, you can excersize your patience, collect your jars and use it for walls itself, (Link)

    Oh, and instant coffee should be called some other name. It has no connection to product made out of coffee beans, not in flavor nor taste.

  • tsol

    Cement, foam insulation, plaster of paris- these are all fine replacements for instant coffee, taste-wise.

  • jefe

    If the jars are too short, just put a half-inch thick square of wood under each of them. That should give you enough space for DVDs.

  • I’m amazed that people are buying Nestlé products anyway. Boycott!.

  • I’m amazed that people are buying Nestlé products anyway. Boycott!.

  • Boy, there are sure some idiots out there. Do they even realize that there are women that are physically unable to breastfeed – what about them and their babies?

  • Harry Payne

    Filled up a couple of alcoves recently with book/video/DVD shelving thusly:

    Take quant.suff. of shelving about 9cm deep and 1.5cm thick (Ikea had something along those lines but of late have provided a “new improved” version which is too thin). Cut parts to the height of whatever you want to store. Drill two holes at 1/3 and 2/3 along the length of each part and in the middle of the width to take screws (2″/5cm or longer) Fix one such part to each end of the alcove at the bottom using a touch of vaseline on the screws to help them through the wood and to prevent rusting. You have made your first shelf support.

    Now measure the front and back of where you are going to rest the shelf on the top of these parts as in my own personal experience it will vary. Cutting straight edges will not do unless you are willing to either take a chunk out of your plaster or end up with unsightly gaps at each end of the shelf (and risk of lack of proper support). Cut shelf to fit, lay on top of fitted parts. Rest two more parts on top of the shelf at each end of the alcove and fix to wall. Repeat as required. Use height parts in middle of shelving if the shelves start to sag (depends on length of shelves and what you put on them).

    With practice, you can end up shelving a house in a week-end. I have helped do this.

  • ian

    In my impoverished student days we used bricks – if you wanted to make them look more attractive you wrapped them in paper.

  • Alternative idea:

    1. Get an IPOD
    2. Transfer all discs onto IPOD
    3. Sell all CDs to someone behind the technology curve.
    4. Redecorate

  • Were you aware that Nescafe first hit the shelves just a few months before Hitler came to power?

    Those were bad times for our species.

  • Pauk d s: You really have no conception of the size of Brian’s CD collection.

  • Erm, go get a shelve from IKEA. It’s cheap and sturdy.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    What I want to know is why Brian has a Mariah Carey CD. (Look carefully at the photo with the three Gold Blend jars.)

    I would have pegged Brian as having better taste than that. 🙂

  • I solved my CD overflow by placing them in albums, along with the covers.

    Having taken part in this discussion, I have concluded that I really need to get out some more.

    Happy Christmas!

  • Here is my two pennorth. I think this is a more unsophisticated version of Harry Payne’s advice. Get from B&Q a reasonably nice-looking plank/lathe/baulk/whatever you call it of planed timber that is square in cross section – maybe 3″ by 3″. The idea is that it is chunky enough to stand upright on its own when cut into lengths the height of a Proper Nescafe jar. If you don’t want to nail them in, either do nothing – it works with the jars after all – or drill screw holes very slowly and gently with a hand drill.

    Offcuts of drainpipe might work as well.

    Alternative idea: put out an appeal for old Nescafe jars.

    (You won’t believe this, but I hadn’t read this post when I was blathering on about your jars last night.)

  • lunacy

    Didn’t read all posts so forgive if this has been mentioned.

    Fill the little bastards with sand and tape them shut at the mouth.


  • lunacy

    Little Bastards = Red Bull Cans

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    And here I was, Lunacy, thinking that by “little bastards” you meant Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Polly Toynbee, and the rest of the lot. 🙂

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    And here I was, Lunacy, thinking that by “little bastards” you meant Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Polly Toynbee, and the rest of the lot. 🙂

  • D. Timmerman

    I’m going to have to come to the defense of instant coffee here- what I like about instant coffee is that it’s very mild tasting, and doesn’t have the strong bitter taste of many coffee’s. Usually when I brew my own, I use a breakfast blend type, where the ground coffee is a little larger, and produced a milder coffee.

    Not all of us like to drink bitter raw sewage like the stuff they serve at starbucks.

  • Not that it has anything to do with my idea of using spray insulation in cans, but:

    You guys over in London have neat names –

    Perry de Havilland
    Brian Micklethwait
    Alex Singleton

    I get a mental picture of RAF pilots climbing into their kites for a dawn patrol during the Battle of Britain….

    Then again, around here we’ve got names like Bubba and Skeeter…

  • irenius

    Judging by the titles that’s a fine collection of pornography you have there.

    Odds on, you have a striong handshake.

  • Why not try some lateral thinking?

    Stack the CDs on their sides. That way you won’t a. disfigure your decor with those ugly jars and b. you won’t strain your neck trying to find that CD you must listen to now. ~ even though they all seem to be Gold Bland.

  • Try some lateral thinking.

    Put the CDs on their sides.
    That way a. you can improve your decor.,
    and b. read the titles of your Gold Bland collection.