In defence of the ESE POD?

We receive a lot of calls every week from people searching for an improved POD to use on their coffee equipment.

Most people are calling because they are dissatisfied with the limited range, bland flavour, high cost or alleged poor state of freshness from the PODS they have purchased previously.

A common misunderstanding is that a POD is a POD and a POD is a capsule or a capsule is a POD, e.g. they are all the same.

Unfortunately, this is not the case and owners of coffee equipment using single-serve capsules or PODS need to ensure they are searching and dealing with the correct product that suits their equipment.

The term POD is sometimes confused with capsule and mostly in our experience it is the owners of Nespresso/DeLonghi equipment who are seeking alternatives.

We deal only with ESE (Easy-Serving-Espresso) industry standard PODS. This product is the de-facto “OPEN” standard used throughout Europe and other continents.

Nespresso and quite a few other manufacturers (such as Philips Senseo, Lavazza Blue, MAP, etc.) of POD or Capsule coffee appliances (equipment) specifically designed their systems with a proprietary lock-in so that owners can only use consumable products (pods or capsules) that are compatible with their machines. Some 3rd-party companies have attempted to create clone consumables (as an example Nespresso capsules) and ended up being taken to court by large multi-national companies threatening massive legal penalties for patent infringement. Others have tried to develop re-fill type capsules but utlimately these are quite fiddly to manage in a practical sense.

The European coffee market has evolved and developed to provide a different type of beverage to what Australians typically consume. As an example, the Italians prefer short-black espresso versus the Australian preference for large mugs of milk-based coffee.

For this reason, most ESE POD equipment has been designed to suit the 7g ESE POD – suitable for short espresso. When using a 7g ESE POD in Australia, we tend to find this is inadequate in dosage (7g too small) to prepare a large mug with milk as the 7g coffee POD extraction is essentially “lost” in the milk, unless the 7g POD was created from harsh, bitter, extremely strong coffee beans such as many types of robusta used in the Italian market.

You can now see the challenge ahead of us………overseas equipment, a general standard that caters for short-black extraction and Australian customers turning up their noses at the resultant cup from an ESE POD machine because it does not taste the same as the latte or cappuccino from their favourite local Australian cafe. Add to this the constant barrage from self-appointed coffee experts populating internet forums with information that POD are all made from stale, low-grade coffee and it will NEVER be as good as their freshly-ground extraction from the $3,000 worth of espresso machine and grinder sitting on their kitchen bench.

Now, to correct a few misconceptions……..

  1. All ESE PODS are stale. This is incorrect and quite frankly crap. We roast our PODS every month, seal in bulk bags with degas valves, express freight overnight to the specialist converter and we have our new stock of fresh, individually sealed ESE PODS back in our store within a few days. Quality coffee needs a good 7-10 days of development. Our PODS are converted and back in our store before that timeframe.
  2. Roasters use low-grade, cheap, robusta-laden beans in their POD blends. A large proportion of the ESE PODS sold in Australia are imported from Italy. Unfortunately, this myth could be true when it applies to the imported ESE PODS. In general, Australian roasters dislike the use of Robusta as it may detract from the cup character. Robusta is not a bad, evil coffee bean and quality robusta can cost the same as the arabica equivalent. Too much emphasis on robusta = bad versus arabica = good has taken hold of the mindset in Australian coffee industry marketing. Our ESE PODS do not contain robusta – that’s our personal choice and preference. Our ESE PODS contain our highest quality and most expensive arabica beans not because we want to brag about it, but because we realize that the limitations of a 7g dosage mean we have to punch a lot harder with the blend so that coffee flavour works with milk without being “lost”.
  3. You can never create a great cup of coffee using a POD. Again, utter nonsense. POD machines are a lot simpler and thus less prone to grind, dose, tamp and extraction errors experienced by 95% of baristas. The irony is a large proportion of people who own coffee machines and grinders in their own home really have little idea how to set the grinder correctly, dose, tamp and then extract (performing cooling flushes, etc. on low-end equipment to avoid scalding the coffee). With ESE PODs, the most common mistakes of grind and dose are eliminated.
  4. POD coffee is weak. Well, we have to partially concede some ground on this one. It is all relative actually. Almost all cafes use 16 gram, 18 gram or larger baskets in their commercial espresso machines. Comparing that to a 7g ESE POD is a little unfair. Australians also tend to want giant coffee-flavoured milkshakes which of course dilutes the flavor.

There are 14g ESE PODS available, but most of the equipment designed to use these larger PODs is commercial, not domestic.

The 10g ESE POD is emerging as a competitive offering – capable of producing a great cup at a reasonable price point. We are working towards introducing this new standard and encourage the local machine makers (Breville and Sunbeam) to embrace this standard as a superior method to Nespresso capsule. Unfortunately, both Breville and Sunbeam have been sitting on their hands for the last 3 years when it came to ESE POD (yes, they released filter baskets, but did little else to market the benefits) and both have been infatuated with capturing the home espresso machine and grinder market without understanding they have a wonderful opportunity to release appliances that can beat Nespresso-type solutions.

ESE PODS are a perfect solution for the workplace where the care and attention of automatic coffee machines is unlikely to be reliable. ESE PODS require a smaller footprint, have lower overall running costs (when you factor in maintenance, cleaning and service repairs), they are cleaner and simpler.

ESE PODS are perfect for the home – the machines heat up quickly and there is no wastage trying to dial in the perfect grind and dose setting. You can have your coffee quickly and then dispose of the used POD conveniently.