Post By JimmyDean
An adventure into ESE coffee pods in search of my coffee nexus
Let me preface the following by saying that I am no expert or connoisseur of coffee. I enjoy drinking it - specifically espresso based milk drinks. Over the years of drinking coffee, I have slowly reduced the milk to coffee ratio I consume - large cappuccinos with two sugars, to now drinking piccolo lattes with none. I've spent the last five years working in the heart of Perth CBD, close to many cafes and have made myself a regular at several popular coffee spots. I like to think that in that time I've developed a sharp enough taste, such that I can confidently differentiate a terrible cup from something that is of good quality. But in doing so - like many of you - I've looked at the expense of the habit and decided that compromises must be made, and thus a search for my coffee nexus began.
By coffee nexus, I refer to what I consider to be the three aspects of coffee consumption, "Convenience", "Quality" and "Expense" (for purposes of comparison, I refer to Expense as the lack thereof). You essentially choose two to the exclusion of the third. A cup of Nescafe Blend 43 prepared at home is both very convenient and cheap, but sacrifices quality. A very convenient and high-quality cup of coffee can be obtained at a good cafe, but you incur a price premium. Lastly, a high-quality coffee can be produced quite cheaply on a per cup basis at home with the right equipment, but at the expense of convenience. Of course, your own personal modifiers to the equation such as skill and patience make the analysis unique for each individual. So do your views on what constitutes quality, convenient and cheap. But I don't possess the requisite skills to produce a quality cup of coffee on a manual machine, nor the patience to learn or apply such skills on a daily basis to either the brewing process or the maintenance aspect of using the high-quality coffee equipment. I also don't purport to be an originator of a unique and new concept with the "coffee nexus" as I've put it, it's just a thought I arrived at during my coffee ponderings.
At this point, I feel that I may be starting to lose the interest of the "coffee snobs" for which the forum is named. I'm sure many of you feel that what I refer to as inconvenience is what makes the consumption of the coffee you produce all the better. It's a ritual. But it was a process that I could not abide. I've had a Rancilio Silvia machine, obtained through a sale listing on this forum, for the better part of a year and used it sparingly. Granted, it was not paired with its recommended partner - a quality grinder - but I know without a doubt that the extra steps and sacrifice of bench real estate would have only driven me to onsell the equipment sooner. I too have tried to embrace the daily ritual of preparing coffee in a Bialetti Moka Pot, but again faced obstacles in my own frustration and impatience.
And so like many common coffee drinkers, I've looked to what the pod and capsule side of coffee can offer me. Can I find the right mix of all three aspects to satisfy myself and reach my ideal coffee nexus in this oft-scorned realm of coffee making equipment and consumables? An Espressotoria Capino capsule coffee machine currently graces the countertop in my kitchen. While they retail for $99 at Woolworths, they can often be had for half that on sale or in conjunction with bulk purchases of coffee pods. A Vittoria capsule containing a stated 6.5g of preground coffee is put into this machine at least once daily by my partner. The machine has two brewing buttons, a Short Cup (50mL) and Large Cup (100mL), of which my partner selects the latter to drink to start her day. At any option, I find the coffee to be... unsatisfactory. While the buttons can be reprogrammed to deliver the desired volume, it would involve playing around with the settings she has grown used to. I am also not convinced I would see a marked increase in my enjoyment of the final product.
Nespresso is certainly the most obvious alternative solution in this end of the market. Call me cynical, but I dislike the faux-luxury (cult)ure that Nestle has cultivated around its consumption, as well as the expensive and seemingly poorly built machinery required to brew it. I look at Lavazza's A Modo Mio line of capsules, perhaps ignorantly, as the severely outgunned second fiddle playing in the capsule concerto, offering even less variety of choice on equally as cheap and disposable machinery. Ditto illy's iperEspresso line.
My search brought me to ESE pods. The open coffee pod system that is purportedly a standard for many cafes and hotels throughout Europe I found intriguing. I have consumed this coffee before, as it was deployed at my workplace in each location across the group as a solution for both staff and client consumption, but my memory of the quality is vague at best. Not long after I started with the business did our machine pack it in and go without replacement by the powers that be. It offers the same claimed benefits that capsule coffee does - a consistently delivered quality of espresso that is quick and convenient to brew. An added benefit is that the coffee pod itself can be disposed of in the bin without guilt as it's wrapped in paper, although the sealed wrapper for each cannot be recycled. What I also liked is that most of the dedicated ESE equipment I could find was of commercial quality, as opposed to the distasteful plastic lumps that other systems utilize.
There were some glaring downsides to this option that stood out to me. Firstly, while the dedicated equipment options I found seemed to be of high quality, suitable for catering/cafe use, it was quite expensive. So too are they quite heavy, not exactly as "designer" in its appearance as some of its consumers focused counterparts. Second, availability of compatible pods here in Australia is poor. Certainly, with online ordering and delivery, it is not beyond anyone's grasp, but they can't be picked up in any old supermarket - at least not anywhere near me. And lastly, my go-to resource for coffee wisdom - Coffee Snobs - was very quiet on the matter. I trawled through the few threads that made mention of them and found little but disparaging and poorly detailed descriptions of what it really had to offer. Worse, most of what I could find predated the meteoric rise of the Nespresso pod system. Is this because it truly is a rubbish option for any self-respecting coffee drinker? Or is it simply because it is a coffee brew method that simply has failed to gain any real traction in this part of the world? Not only was this forum quiet on it, but so seemingly was the rest of the internet. I can find masses of information on virtually all other conceivable methods of making coffee in articles, forums and online videos, but ESE pods? Nope. Was it that the discussion regarding this coffee standard that I was after was in languages other than English and out of my reach?
I was spurred on by the many, mostly positive, reviews for certain ESE pods on Amazon. Many claimed to have consistently enjoyed consuming coffee from ESE pods. In saying that, many people enjoy drinking a hot cup of International Roast from a styrofoam cup in their work's tea room. Horses for courses. And so I maintained a certain level of scepticism to balance out my optimism. So too was I encouraged by the thought of customers around the globe happily paying for coffee in this format at cafes, restaurants and hotels. I reached out to a retailer based in Perth who stocks roasted coffee - as well as options for many different pod systems - for an opinion as to which pod system would deliver the most comparable outcome to true espresso coffee. And while he made clear that properly ground and brewed coffee on a quality machine would not be beaten by any pod/capsule system, in his opinion ESE pods were the best available option in that space. This mirrored his opinion included in an article on the topic of coffee in The Australian some years ago. But what got me over the line was a super deal on a dedicated ESE pod machine.
The machine in question is the LaPiccola Sara Vapore, purchased from Lucaffe Australia. A solid stainless steel unit with two separate boilers, one each for hot water/coffee and steam. Coffee is brewed exclusively through the use of ESE pods in the specifically designed group head, with the duration of the pull and steam controlled each through the push of a dedicated button. At the time of writing, a variant of the machine was being offered for a very limited time in limited numbers at approximately half its original price, and so I thought to myself, why the hell not? And so it, along with a sampler pack of pods, are currently on their way across the country to me and my kitchen. Will I find my coffee nexus - the balance between convenience, price and quality that will suit my needs, wants and taste? Only time will tell.
Once delivered and tested, I will post to this thread my honest review of the machine and the pods. I'm currently trying to source pods from another supplier to hopefully add further depth to this review. More detail to come as my adventure continues. My aim in recording all of this is to add to the very limited body of discussion around the ESE pod system currently available on the internet. Hopefully, my views and experiences will help to inform others in a similar position to myself and make them better able in more confident in whatever avenues to coffee they should choose to take.
This post has been anything but brief and concise, and so I was unsure where best to put it. Its scope once completed on my part will include reviews on aspects of the machine, as well as different coffee available to consume which complicated it for me further. My apologies in advance should this be in the wrong area. If you've made it this far, congratulations!
A worthwhile endeavour, looking forward to reading your findings.
Before I was into coffee I used to have a Briel thermoblock machine and its pressurised double basket took ESE pods as well as ground coffee. I don't recall them being worse than pre-ground supermarket, definitely cleaner and easier. I always had some decaf pods for guests.
Many years ago, (pre Nespresso style pod era), I had a domestic Illy marketed ESE pod style Espresso machine, which was obviously suited for Illy ESE Pods. The pods came, (and I believe they still supply them), in a sealed tin which contained some appropriate gas that kept the Oxygen out and kept the pods "fresh". Of course Illy coffee is imported, so you are unaware of the roast/packaging dates, and you do not know how long they had been on the local shelf.
My experience was when you broke the seal, you got a wonderful aroma of fresh coffee, and the 1st few shots were great, bearing in mind they are pre-ground etc. It went downhill very quickly from there, as you would expect once exposed to air, and it was not long before I started looking for a replacement porta filter for the machine that could take fresh ground coffee. But of course the pods were really convenient, and there was much less mess.
Having said that I believe there are local Ozzy roasters that produce ESE pods and seal them in std valve bags, so you could be more aware of the Roast/Packing dates etc.
I would suggest that in a commercial environment, once the packaging seals were broken, the pods would be rapidly consumed before the freshness deteriorated, while in a domestic environment this is usually not possible. If the pods were able to be individually sealed with inert gas etc, this could maybe help, but no doubt that would blow out the costs significantly, and the bottom line is they are still pre-ground, so convenience & less mess would need to be the driver.
Some other aspects to take into account:
- At that time the only available size/weight were single shots (7g no doubt), which would no longer fly for me. (However I have read recently of an Ozzy ESE supplier who has addressed this aspect, although you would need a compatible porta filter)
- The coffee was not cheap, being both imported and Illy branded
- You are restricted to what is available in ESE pods, so not a lot of room for experimenting with different Origins/Blends etc
- It's still pre-ground coffee, so usually not a CSs preference
I've read the (epic) post with a little interest, though not for myself personally but for my workplace. My workplace has had a Lavazza Blue Pod machine loaned to us on the condition that we purchase a minimum number of pods per month. Through poor record-keeping on the part Lavazza, they've deemed that we haven't purchased pods for a year now and are threatening to remove the machine. Whilst I know that the claim isn't accurate as we've had quite a number of pods being purchased and used, technically we're probably not meeting the minimum number of pods required to keep the machine. (I personally don't buy any being a bona-fide coffeesnob). The idea of ESE came up in the discussion because of they were considered as a greener alternative to pods which go into the landfill.
Finding a local ESE supplier seems difficult (local meaning easy drive to get the pods as Lavazza was just around the corner to us) so the other option I toyed with was making our own ESE pods. That too, had very little info compared to DIY Nespresso pods for which the blank pods are readily available. So I'm keeping an eye on this thread to see if anything suitable may come out of it for us.
I've seen these illy pods packed in the way you've mentioned, but from what I've found to be readily available this is more of an exception rather than the rule. Various ESE pods that are fairly easy to source online in Australia such as Lucaffe and Caffe Borbone offer their ESE pods individually packaged and sealed in a nitrogen environment to theoretically prevent the deterioration of the ground coffee by oxidisation. Claimed shelf life once packaged is a couple of years. Maybe your results may have varied had you had access to different pods?
Originally Posted by GrahamK
This I have also much concern over. A single shot does not particularly fit with my coffee consumption habits, and having to run two pods to create enough raw espresso adds considerable time when my overall goal is to minimise my level of input. Despite this, I've still ordered a sample pack of 7g pods from Lucaffe Australia who are also sending me the machine I've purchased. They offer a fair number of different blends that I can try.
Originally Posted by GrahamK
The Aussie ESE pod producer you're speaking of may be Gourmet Gold in Sydney. They have developed ESE pods in 7g, 10g and 14g doses. A fairly recent blog post indicates they are close to launching an 18g dose pod. I've sought advice from them as to whether the larger dosed pods would be compatible with the group head on my machine and have advised that it ought to take both the 7g and 14g pods, and so some of each are also on their way. Is the 14g pod the answer? I'm pretty excited to give them a shot.
Expense is what has driven me to this as a potential solution in the first place. If I can find a saving against my cafe bought coffees, I think I'll have had a win. In saying that, I think it's worth comparing the price of these pods against other similar options in the market. I've looked at a few prices online right now, not factoring in costs associated with shipping or specials/sales, so these would need to be factored in. I haven't gone to any effort to make sure I've found the best available price on these products and I'm sure they are subject to change.
Originally Posted by GrahamK
Nespresso Original - Arpeggio
5.3g per capsule - Available in sleeves of 10
69c per capsule
Nespresso Vertuo - Altissio
6.5g per capsule - Available in sleeves of 10
80c per capsule
illy iperEspresso - Medium Roast
7g per capsule - Available in tins of 21
$1 per capsule
Lavazza A Modo Mio - Passionale
7.5g per capsule - Available in boxes of 16
75c per capsule
Lucaffe - Classic
7g per pod - Available in lots of 18, 50 and 150
72c/68c/59c per pod depending on quantity purchased
Caffe Borbone - ORO Gold Blend
7g per pod - Available in lots of 150
60.5c per pod
Gourmet Gold - Jumpstart Blend (Sydney based)
7g per pod - Available in lots of 150
41c per pod
Gourmet Gold - Jumpstart Blend (Sydney based)
14g per pod - Available in lots of 100
80c per pod
May I ask why you didn't consider a fully automatic machine that uses fresh beans (of your own choice) and grind and brew on demand? is it due to the cost of the machines? or some other consideration?
It's a good question. My limited experience with fully automatics have left a lot to be desired. I'm left with the idea that if I had to go that way I'd have to invest a lot of money into it if I was to have any hope to achieve the kind of drink that I like.
Originally Posted by justacuppa
My partner's parents have a fully automatic machine that costs several times more than what I've just purchased. I often pass when offered a coffee from it. It's also needed semi-regular repairs/servicing. It has a lot of fancy electronic bits, small moving plastic parts. By comparison my new machine has very few parts to it, cleaning is very basic. Other than a regular descale I hope to have much less maintenance responsibilities.
I have no experience of 'fully automatic' machines, nor do I know anyone who has one, but I often wonder what their ongoing 'standard' is like.
Anyone enlighten me?
My experience came from back in university day when I was tutoring and had access to staff common room, where they had setup a full-auto machine (Saeco i believe), where they used to charge voluntary 50 cents for a coffee and 10c extra if you used milk. There is an automatic frothing attachment ,so making a milk-based drink was pretty easy too. Granted, I wasn't much a coffee snob back then, but I used to think the machine produced some nice coffee, probably not as good as the campus cafe's , but for 50 cents it was pretty good.
My friend also purchased a Delonghi SB22110 full-auto just before he got his first born child,, he wanted the convenience of having a nice cuppa without all the hassle. I have had perhap just 1 or 2 cup of coffee while I was visiting, I don't remember how it tasted.. so it probably wasn't the greatest. But I don't think he was using good fresh beans and I am a bit of a snob now..haha...but main thing is that he is happy with it and it helped him survived being a new dad. He has had it for about 2 years, cleans daily and descale every 6 months.. and to my surprise it only costed $560 and he bought extended 5 year warranty to cover any issues.
Perhaps I will make a visit again soon and give him some fresh roasted beans and report back on the taste
The people with Breville Oracle's seem quite enamoured with them from the thread in the $3000+ forum, but I guess at those prices you'd expect something pretty drinkable.
Originally Posted by Rocky
I once got a free Bosch fully automatic with some kitchen stuff I bought. As I have arthritis, making coffee is becoming (literally) more and more of a pain, so I was tempted. Considered putting it on eBay unopened, but decided to try it. Long story short, it went on eBay after a week of use.
I have read someone that the REALLY expensive ones are quite good, but even if I had that much money, I would want to be given a test drive before even considering it.
Choice magazine (FWIW) gave a good review to the Caffitaly pod machines, and Woolworths had a good sale, so I bought one. Even my son (not nearly as bad a Coffee Snob as I am - uses a moka pot quite happily) doesn't approve. I have tried all the different pods available for it (not as large a choice as nescafe has) and (it is quite annoying that one can't buy samples, have to buy a pack of 10. Mind you, as I always use two pods at a time, they don't last that long ) yet to find one I like.
Anyway, given up on the Caffitaly, back to my Breville dual boiler
So, I, too, am following this thread with great interest
Well, that too is not "fully automatic" as the automatic part is that it grinds and tamps the coffee for you, but you still have to put it in the group and pull the shot manually. So, it certainly wouldn't be as quick or convenient as a capsule or pod machine. I have heard that the Jura is pretty good and fully automatic, but never tasted it
Originally Posted by Rockford
The machine has arrived! See below for some photos as a reference.
It's definitely bulkier than your typical pod machine, but then I think this comes with the territory as indicated in the manual, "This coffee machines is for commercial use." The English translation is full of these little errors, but is otherwise very understandable and straight forward.
Height - 305mm
Width - 210mm
Depth - 270mm
Weight - 8.5kg
Rated output - 1650W
Tank Capacity - 3L
My first impressions - good. It seems to be very well built, as you would expect from a machine with commercial applications in mind (from memory, this machine should be able to produce a little over 50 coffees an hour). In saying that, it's not "luxurious". By that I mean, the well folded and formed steel exterior is a bit rough on the edges - not sharp - but also not receiving an extra effort to finish super smooth. It looks the part, and completely opposite to the pretty, designer plastic pod machines you would be used to seeing from department stores.
It is a fingerprint magnet, however. This particular model is stainless all round save for the level knob and the black plastic drip tray, and it has a mirror finish. I keep a cloth on hand to purge and wipe down your steam wand, and I expect it'll get double duties as a polishing cloth for the exterior. Oddly, the steel on the pod holder lever is not finished, it's very dull, like on a piece of machinery. It's no big deal.
I filled up the reservoir and turned both the water and steam boilers on at the same time. The light went off on the water boiler at just over 50 secs. The light went off on the steam boiler after another 1 minute. I thought this was very reasonable.
As well as the unit, it came with a quick start guide, user manual, menu of available blends and tasting notes (pictured), coffee recipe chart, small milk jug, and two additional o-rings for the group with instructions on how to replace them. I also ordered a sampler pack which included four of each blend, but only 2 of the Decaffeinato and 1 of the Lucacao.
Yesterday I had a friend come over to try out the machine. His mum is looking to purchase a machine and is seriously considering something from the Nespresso system. He is an alum of a well-respected cafe with some award-winning baristas and has spent several years in fast-paced hospitality pulling shots and serving coffees so I was looking forward to his opinion on the machine and on the coffee that it produced.
His opinions of the machine build echoed mine in that it seemed very solidly built. He was surprised at the amount of steam it produced and the speed at which it came out, as well as how quickly it warmed up ready for use. Compared to the pictures that I had shown him, it was a little smaller overall than he had thought.
For the moment, I'm working on the assumption that each has been roasted, ground and dosed to deliver the intended taste after a 30mL extraction, and so I've been pulling into a measured shot glass until 30mL is reached, at whatever time. So far, depending on which blend I've used, I've observed, anywhere from 12 seconds to 22 seconds. I have not yet timed any two pods of the same blend yet, so it is yet to be seen if these are inconsistencies between individual pods or particular blends. I will update.
The first coffee that I made as a single shot from the Mr. Exclusive 100% Arabica blend coffee pod from Lucaffe. From memory, I pulled 30mL in 15 seconds. He was surprised at the amount of crema produced, which was about 5mm thick across the top. On taste, very impressed given how little effort went into producing it.
I made another using the Mamma Lucia blend and he used the steam wand to prepare some milk to make a latte. We filled a 230mL cup using the single shot and the steamed milk and the consensus was that it was weak. Ultimately, any coffee at that size from a cafe has a double shot in it. We agreed that either two pods would need to be used for a coffee that suited our taste at that size, or much smaller cup would need to be used, such as a 150mL or even 200mL cup. My preference would be for the former.
For the moment, the coffees that I have been drinking have been a 30mL shot into a 100mL demi mug and topped off with foamed milk. I get a lot of coffee flavour at this ratio while still being a warm and thick milk drink that I like. Because of the volume of milk I need, I've been microwaving a small amount of milk and using a frothing wand, the type with the little whisk, to foam and thicken it before pouring it into the mug. I had initially had my eye on a machine from the same manufacturer that did only the coffee with no steaming function, that would have also required less space on the bench. But the limited time sale on the machine I have made it even cheaper than the smaller unit - the added functionality despite being unlikely to use it was a bonus and presents no problem by being there.
My friend found it difficult to create the whirlpool or roll you need to properly incorporate the foam and the milk together. The steaming wand is not like those found on a large scale commercial machine. Pictured below, I've pulled the steel sheath off of the plastic inner to provide a better view of the steam wand end, and have also pictured the plastic inner. It just slides on and seats firmly with some tension at the top as it comes home. From what we can tell, the two holes above the tip are for drawing air down and through the end as the steam is on. This fits with my friend's assessment in that it produces a lot of froth very quickly, and would be great if you were making cappuccinos. Some practice and fine-tuning of technique seems to be required though to achieve proper incorporation of the foam into the milk. Consequentially, he didn't achieve any latte art when pouring the aforementioned latte, however, he did have to say that the crema produced was much better and more suitable for art making than that produced by the Nespresso machine we used at work. At work, we have a Nespresso Creatista machine, which retails for $699. In his experience, when trying to pour for a latte on the espresso that machine in particular produced, the crema would push right aside and separate completely from the milk going in. I've no experience with doing this myself.
My machine is what they're calling a "special buy", and not part of the ordinary line up of machines they ordinarily offer through the distributorship here in Australia. The ordinary version that has less stainless steel in the body of it appears to have a different steaming system attached. I'm currently in the process of finding out what the differences between the two are and if there are any advantages to the other system. I'll update if I get a response.
The last blend we tried was the Colombia single origin coffee pod. I had tried this previously and my feedback to my friend was that I found it a bit harsh, perhaps you could say cutting, and bitter, and left a lingering taste in my mouth that I didn't find that pleasant, even through a milk drink. His assessment of the taste of it with milk was that he could see where I was coming from, but that he liked it. Horses for courses.
Overall, he was very impressed, that the coffee produced was very good all things considered, and that it was much easier and cheaper to set up than a fully manual setup - something his mother does not want the fuss of having to use. He enjoyed the coffee it made, and he too spends quite a bit of money on coffee while at work. He said that he would be happy having his morning coffee off of the machine and that it would represent a real saving if he did not then buy coffees while out, and would put it to his mum as a good option, rather than a Nespresso machine for a similar price.
At the time of writing, I've been able to purchase this and ship it for $450, which is only for a limited time. At retail, it's $985. At full whack, it opens you up to a lot of other options, and you need to reassess the value proposition and your alternatives. Within the real of pods and capsules, the Nespresso Creatista, for example, will steam the milk for you at a touch of a button and offers more in terms of variety of blends and is cheaper. Your experiences on whether the quality of the coffee is the same, worse or better may vary but we both agreed that what we tried was better, and at $450 is incredible value for the build quality. It is over-engineered and much more capable in terms of output and longevity than what is required for the purposes of home duties alone, but the feeling of using it suits me just fine.
Do keep in mind that all my views on this machine are done so with ease-of-use and consistency of result is paramount, and where manual operations have been ruled out.
Some questions still remain unanswered so far as to the consistency of each shot, and time taken to extract. I don't know yet if each blend has its own consistent extraction time. I will update further as I continue to test. I will also take some photos of the espresso shot fresh off of the machine, to show the crema produced.
Where this may fall short in an office setting compared to the Lavazza Blue Pod machine you had is that any steaming of milk is completely manual on any dedicated ESE pod machine that I am aware of. At least from the manufacturer of my machine. So either the staff in your office would need to get used to steaming their milk on their own, use an appliance frother, or a handheld battery type frothing wand in conjunction with a microwave if they want a milk-based drink.
Originally Posted by NewToEspresso
As stated before, I am only using a little bit of milk, a piccolo latte is my drink of choice as of right now, and so a quick microwave and spin up with the wand is more than adequate for my tastes. However, it's not as one touch as you may be used to or desire.
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