The coffee pencil

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Caran d'Ache Nespresso Pencil

I like coffee. Most mornings I use a Bodum siphon maker or an AeroPress to create a little joy. I used to love the KitchenAid siphon maker, but it gave up the ghost and seems to be a retired model. For another type of drama, I used to own a Wilfa Precision. Although you can figure out the water flow, it persists in seeming like magic. I’ve elected to not explore stovetop or open flame approaches. I even enjoy instant coffee, which seems to have undergone slow gradual improvement over the years. I haven’t tried the new “high end” expensive instant coffees.

In 2016, I regularly stayed in hotels, almost all of which were furnished with pod or capsule coffee makers. There are many types of these – they come from Illy, Keurig, Nespresso, and others, and each manufacturer has multiple models. It took me a while to get the hang of them – I’d usually destroy the first capsule. There is a very explicit order of operations with these machines (which may seem obvious once you know it, but I didn’t) – add water to a vessel, turn on the machine, open a slot for the capsule, place the capsule, close the slot, push a button or buttons.

Let’s note something – the K-Cup inventor regrets his invention! I see the use case in a hotel room, but overall, these pods are “awful for the environment” (New York Times, 2021). Here is my hometown’s reasoning about why they don’t recycle the multiple pod formats (City of Toronto, 2018).

If you’re not aware, the venerable Caran d’Ache has been selling a series of limited edition 849 ballpoint pens. Caran d’Ache say they are “made using the aluminium from recycled capsules”. It would be interesting to know if these were post-consumer recycled capsules.

On the pencil front, Caran d’Ache just released a similar leadholder with the lead being 25% coffee grounds! Even further, they have released a version of their famous Grovelier beech Swiss Woods pencil with the 25% coffee lead!

As Caran d’Ache say, “This edition no.4 will enable people who bought the previous editions to expand their Caran d’Ache + Nespresso collection”. Good grief, that’s quite cynical. What I really don’t like is the feeling that I just bought the world’s most expensive advertising pencil. It has a lot of Nespresso branding, but it’s sold at retail as a regular writing implement. You may want to take a look at this post at Bleistift, which notes that there are multiple Nespresso collaboration products.

About the pencil – it is sold in a set of three. The cardboard packaging has three dimensional pencils and coffee beans! The pencils have striking end caps, which are painted but meant to convey the Nespresso capsule colours.

Caran d'Ache Nespresso Pencil

Caran d'Ache Nespresso Pencil

The imprint is a bit different than the standard 348 pencil, reading:

Obverse: Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood FSC TM
Reverse: A recycling story is in your hands

The lead, said to contain 25% recycled coffee grounds, is of course a curiosity. Coffee is known to make a natural stain, but can it survive the modern lead making process?

The lead seems smooth, maybe just a bit fainter than the 348, but does slightly crumble.

L: Swiss Woods 348, R: Nespresso version
Caran d'Ache Nespresso Pencil

As well as being a super exotic pencil – locally made and manufactured in Switzerland from Swiss beech wood and using a lead partly made of coffee – something else stood out for me. The pencil is extremely aromatic, and not in a good way, at least for me. I’ve read that the 348 is aromatic, but I found the samples I’ve used only slightly so. This Nespresso pencil, between the beech wood and the lead (we can observe the lead independently via the Nespresso Fixpencil; it is highly aromatic), is too fragranced for me to use. I actually wondered if Caran d’Ache got an assist from their friends at Misenzir.

It is sold as a collaboration, but is it? Collaborations are a hot topic. I saw a piece on France24 just yesterday about fashion collaborations – Fashion collaborations: Revolution or commercial tool? (YouTube link). For me, this pencil is definitely different and interesting, but not fully usable.

Caran d’Ache Block Erasers

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Caran d'Ache Block Erasers

Wow, it has been a decade since the last comparative eraser review at pencil talk. I think the reason is that erasers have generally reached an excellent quality level. There are of course differences, but synthetic erasers from the top manufacturers in Japan or Europe are usually excellent, and the motivation to review them is diminished.


The Technik is the lightest.

The Caran d’Ache block erasers are interesting because of the shared dimensions, but differing appearances and stated functions. Caran d’Ache is also regarded as a leader in art supplies, and these products come with a reputation to uphold.

The three erasers are:

Artist 0173.420. Description: “Graphite and charcoal extra soft plastic eraser.” Green.

Design 0172.420. Description: “Graphite and colour pencil eraser.” White.

Technik 0171.420. Description: “Non-abrasive pencil eraser, does not remove ink.” Slightly translucent.

Years ago I sometimes set up very complex erasure tests, and there is indeed a complex pencil/paper/eraser/environmental factors relationship, but I wanted to keep this simpler – these erasers tested with one pencil and one test paper. I though a Caran d’Ache Swiss Wood pencil (freshly sharpened in an El Casco) would be appropriate, and decided that the Biella Index Card would be a nice companion.


All three are much harder than erasers from Tombow, Seed, etc. They also produce fine granular residue, particularly the green Artist. The Technik probably did the best job at complete erasure, and the Design is the one that most veered towards aggregation of the residue in clumps.

Caran d'Ache Block Erasers

The erasers are good, but I don’t find them compelling when there are so many outstanding offerings available today. Of course, these are from Caran d’Ache.

Paint it Blue: The Caran d’Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

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In late 2020, Caran d’Ache announced a limited product line featuring the very special colour International Klein Blue.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

According to The Secret Life of Color by Kasia St. Clair, the artist Yves Klein loved the intensity of ultramarine pigment, but was disappointed with the paint it created. He worked alongside a chemist to create a resin that exposed more of the pigment’s lustre. (Klein sadly passed away at 34. He patented Klein Blue at age 32.)

Patenting a colour is an interesting notion. Rights to a colour are typically only applicable in a context. Klein’s patent is apparently for his process, not literally for the colour.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

The original International Klein Blue is still only made by Klein’s original collaborator and available at the very same art store that served Klein in Paris: Adam Montmartre.

Caran d’Ache announced the adaptation of seven of their products as Klein tributes: At the very high end, Leman fountain and ballpoint pens. And at more accessible price points, a Sharpening Machine, Fixpencil, 849 ballpoint, and two woodcase pencils.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

The Fixpencil and Leman Fountain Pen are differentiated in the offering by possessing the ability to write in ultramarine – the Fixpencil has water soluble ultramarine leads, and the Leman a limited edition ultramarine ink. Given the use of Klein’s name and the “®” symbol throughout the advertising and packaging, it is presumed that the Klein pigment isn’t in the ink or lead as this claim isn’t made. All the products share the use of ultramarine surfaces or highlights, and Klein’s signature.

The Fixpencil is an iconic writing instrument, honoured by a Swiss stamp and familiar withing writing culture. It has been mentioned at pencil talk in 2008 and 2017.

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

This particular model is distinguished by the surface colouring, and comes in a metal case. It ships with a 2mm B grapite lead, and a tube with three ultramarine water soluble leads. One of the leads in my tube arrived broken in half. The blue leads are just a few mm shorter than the graphite lead.

On some very special mulberry bark paper from Hanaduri, I tried the pencils and the blue lead, wet and dry:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

I also tried them on writing paper that I regularly use, Rhodia R:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

It isn’t really the colour depth or reaction I expected.

I am not happy that there appears to be no refill available. The blue lead seems like a very special accessory, and though the leadholder will continue to function with graphite, this ultramarine lead enhances the association with Klein.

The 849 is another classic. I don’t have a lot to say about it. I think ballpoint cartridges may be receiving small incremental improvements over the years – they may have been pretty awful some years ago, but this one does not skip or dispense lumps of ink. The Caran d’Ache Goliath refill generally has a excellent reputation.

A smear of the blue on HP photocopy paper:

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

Two pencils have been released. First, the MAXI is a jumbo sized hexagonal pencil with a very thich 4.5mm graphite lead. The pencil is matte and a deep ultramarire – truly striking. The cap is a very slight dome, unfinished.

Second, a set of four pencils simply called “Set of 4 Graphite Pencils”. These are a notch larger than most standard pencils, and possess a 2.5mm HB core. They are about one third coated in ultramarine, and the remainder in clear lacquer. The four pencil box packaging appears to reprise the Exotic Woods packaging.

Both pencils are made of “FSC Mix” cedar. The regular pencil is said to be of 8 plys, and the maxi of 6 plys. Official pencil standards tell us that this refers to the number of pencils produced by the pencil sandwich. Probably not interesting to most consumers, but it piqued my interest.

The MAXI lead seems a little smoother and richer than the regular lead. I wish the MAXI’s lead was also in the regular pencil.

Some Final Impressions

This is a thoughtful and properly licensed commercial product created in association with the estate of a major twentieth century artist. The work involved in acquiring the rights to use Klein’s signature likely rivalled the amount of work involved in production. I salute Caran d’Ache for doing this, and hope there will be more. May I humbly suggest Le Corbusier as someone who might be worthy of similar treatment?

Caran d'Ache Yves Klein Blue Collection

My critiques are minor. The pencils, at their price and given Caran d’Ache’s environmental and social commitments, should be 100% certified, not just “FSC Mix”. FSC certification includes human rights criteria, not just tree ecology, and I think that’s important. The MAXI pencil is probably the standout product to me. If the end was dipped in the same colour, it would be slightly nicer. The regular pencil could have a smoother and darker lead. And the Fixpencil should ship with more than three blue leads, or have refills for sale.

Overall, I feel a delight at seeing this rich deep blue in a time of grey.

Caran d’Ache Pencil Peeler

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Caran d'Ache Pencil Peeler

It is not a vegetable peeler, nor a magnet. It is a curiosity, a design object created by Oriol Gener. It claims to be able to sharpen a pencil.

Caran d'Ache Pencil Peeler

It is fun, and surprisingly miniature – from photos, I imagined a full-sized kitchen vegetable peeler – but it is comparable to the size and weight of a large coin.

The packaging has instructional photos that I don’t find helpful.

Caran d'Ache Pencil Peeler

As one would imagine, you peel away at the pencil with the peeler’s blade.

Caran d'Ache Pencil Peeler

(An MD pencil.)

Caran d'Ache Pencil Peeler

I’m quite ambiguous in my reaction. It just can’t be as consistent as a quality regular sharpener. It costs roughly $USD25. It benefits from softer woods. But it is a lot of fun.

Caran d'Ache Pencil Peeler

What do you think?

Caran d’Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

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2015 was the 100th anniversary of famed pencil maker Caran d’Ache. We’re a little late noting this, but belatedly wish them congratulations! For the anniversary, a few commemorative items were offered, including a special version of their famed Fixpencil.

The Fixpencil, which we looked at in 2008, is arguably one of the most iconic writing instruments around, having been recognized in a Swiss stamp.

Some of the other items (e.g. fancy fountain pens) weren’t really my cup of tea, and the pencil commemoration (for the Technograph) just seemed to be four standard pencils in a cardboard box. Fortunately, this special Fixpencil seemed appealing, and came without an outrageous price.

Caran d'Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

The pencil is a standard 2mm Fixpencil, but with a special design – silver colouring, a 10cm ruler, and colour leads:

Caran d'Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

Caran d'Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

Of special interest is a multilingual brochure that outlines the stories of Caran d’Ache products. The text is light on facts, but the illustrations are great!

Caran d'Ache 100th Anniversary Fixpencil

Did you buy any of the Caran d’Ache 100th anniversary products?

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 6

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Caran d’Ache has continued their “crayons de la maison” series with a sixth edition. The pencils are a visual delight, and a bit of a construction mystery.

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 6

The appeal is obvious – rich, amazing wood patterns from exotic species. They echo the 1990s Colleen Woods Pencils that are quite admired.

This set is somewhat monotone and features:

Western Hemlock
White Oak
Silver Teak
White Ash

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 6

I wish the individual pencils had a small numeral or marking to note which pencil is which.

The pencils come in a sliding cardboard box, and an external sticker indicates:

Caran d’Ache 0361 414
Bar Code: 7 630002 334990
Made in Switzerland
FSC Mix wood from responsible sources FSC C005365

We can look up the FSC number. Nothing too interesting here. Sometimes we can discover a manufacturer or subcontractor’s name by looking up this code.

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 6

A second sticker says, “Crayons Parfumés Par Mizensir”. In other words, these are scented pencils.

The scent is strong! In contrast with Viarco’s scented pencils, which require me to approach them closely before any olfactory warnings start signalling, I can detect the Mizensir scent from several feet away. Fortunately, it does seem to dissipate with time. (Mizensir is a Geneva perfumer.)

Since last featured, we know much more about this pencil series, and the vendor’s own description has been updated. Particularly informative are the comments at a 2014 post at Lexikaliker.

The pencil box notes that these pencils are made from “reconstituted wood” which they also call “essences”. ALPI is the manufacturer, and are a specialty firm in wood tasks such as creating an oak look from the woodchips of another species.

Les Crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 6

The pencils are not made from the represented exotic woods. I think even using the word “essence” is going too far – ALPI is clear that they use Poplar, Limewood, or Ayous. There is no Hemlock, Oak, Teak, or Ash in these pencils. And they weren’t made from glued together pencil slats. It is some other process, perhaps extrusion, that constructed the pencils.

Yet, they’re nice, they are innovative, and they distinguish themselves quite well from ordinary pencils. It is also quite amazing that Caran d’Ache has continued the series over three years – there is obviously a market for innovation in pencils.

See also:

Les crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache

Les crayons de la maison Caran d’Ache, Edition No. 2