To make the experience of enjoying a great cup of coffee easier, and saving you the trouble of scooping coffee powder from a tin and putting it into your espresso coffee maker, prepackaged, pre-portioned pods and capsules are now available along with special machines to brew these packaged coffee servings. They’re known in the trade as an ESE for easy serve espresso, or a single-serve coffee system.
It’s similar to the concept of a tea bag, where a pre-portioned, processed serving of tea is placed in a paper filter good for one serving of tea.
Coffee pods are a serving of roasted and ground coffee powder (about 7 grams) placed in between two circular pieces of filter paper.
Most espresso machines that accept fresh ground powder can also be used with these pods. Instead of scooping powder into the filter basket, a smaller filter sieve is used where you place a coffee pod instead.
PROS: convenient, if you find it a major chore to scoop coffee powder out from a tin. Also, it is good for commercial establishments for inventory control.
CONS: to maintain freshness of the coffee powder and keep the flavours and aroma intact, the ideal packaging is to pack each pod individually in nitrogen flushed flexible packaging. However, these stringent rules are not followed by most coffee pod brands, therefore abandoning the three F rule of a great cup of coffee- Freshly roasted, freshly ground and freshly brewed. Even for the brands that do, the coffee experience is not as good as that of fresh powder.
Coffee capsules are small containers made of aluminum or plastic containing a single serving of coffee powder (7 grams). They are nitrogen flushed to preserve freshness. A special capsule espresso coffee maker is needed to use these capsules. This machine consists of a chamber where the capsule is placed and punched with holes on both sides: one single hole on one side to allow the hot water to enter the capsule and several tiny holes on the other side to act as a filter. The rest of the mechanism is the same as a regular pump espresso coffee maker.
A special mention for the team at Nestle, Switzerland that is credited for developing the now world famous ‘Nespresso’ coffee capsule system. A product or rather a system devised to bring Nestle out of the shadows of a poorly perceived ‘instant coffee’ brand (Nescafe) to a must-have, uber cool addition to your living room mantlepiece. The marketing strategy of the Nespresso system, nothing short of genius, is now taught in top business schools across the globe.
PROS: convenient and consistent, the Nespresso system is a great substitute for the casual coffee drinker who prefers the convenience and is willing to pay the price.
CONS: expensive and restrictive, compared to freshly roasted coffee powder from your neighbourhood roastery. Each serving can cost up to 3 to 6 times more than fresh coffee powder.
Restrictive, because, your coffee experience is limited to the offering of the capsule manufacturer. You may lose out on that great coffee powder you picked up from one of your trips abroad or the offering of a unique harvest from your local roastery.
Further, ever since the expiry of the Nespresso system, several manufacturers entered the foray into manufacturing the capsules and corresponding machines. But, none of these brands has been able to match the coffee experience that Nespresso has to offer.
Having said that, the best coffee experience is still attributed to that from freshly roasted and ground coffee beans.
Any coffee connoisseur will vouch for that.
Also, of late, single serve aluminium coffee capsules have caused a stir among environmentalists for the large scale disposal in landfills. Not the most environment-friendly end to your daily cuppa.
Both pods and capsules are much more expensive than buying regular, fresh coffee powder because of the convenience and the packaging they offer.
In terms of flavour, as mentioned above, most pre-packaged single-serve solutions lack the full-bodied experience of regular coffee powder, and if you are only an occasional coffee drinker then this might be a better option since the nitrogen flushed packaging preserves the freshness for longer.
Finally, as the name suggests, single-serve coffee machines will prepare one espresso at a time, unlike regular pump espresso machines that generally can prepare two shots of espresso at a time.