Capsules and Pods - yes they are different?

Capsules and pods are popular as a convenient, single-serve portion control (or dose) coffee beverage solution. But it's important to clarify that not all capsules and pods are the same (physically).

Whilst the objectives for a pod or a capsule remains the same - dose and brew coffee within a defined specification, there are in fact many different types of pods and capsules and each type of pod or capsule will not be inter-changeable, or compatible, with other types.

That means owners of pod and capsule machines (devices or appliances) need to carefully understand which specific type of pod of capsule suits their machine.

Otherwise, it can end up a frustrating or expensive experience if the wrong consumables (pods or capsules) are purchased.

So let's try to unpack and help clarify some of these differences as we help inform and educate customers to achieve a better level of enjoyment for their coffee journey.

What's in a name.

After 16 years of manufacturing and selling portion control coffee consumables, by far the most common mistake or misconception we encounter with pod and capsule owners is a basic definition for what is a pod or capsule. The majority think they are all the same, or equal.

We get it, not everyone wants to be a coffee expert and why should it be so difficult to sort through hundreds of different buying options. Can you imagine driving into a petrol station to fill up your car and being confronted with 20 different pumps containing different fuels - don't make that mistake.

The confusion normally begins when buying a coffee appliance from retailers. They all call the equipment simply a "Pod Machine", or "capsule machine" with a manufacturer's brand. DeLonghi capsule machine, etc. Often the consumables needed are relegated to the fine print hiding in specifications if you are lucky.

Straight away, that sets the idea into the buyer or owner's mind they own a "capsule machine" so they need to buy capsules to feed their branded capsule machine. Similarly, the same condition exists with pod machines and owners looking for pods. Customers perform google searches using "capsule" or "pods", hoping to find the correct consumable.

But the terms "pod" and "capsule" don't really do justice in describing the type of consumable required for usage. And it's this generic way folks where the process falls into murky or confusing territory.

It's like saying "Toyota" or "Ford" but not using the model - unfortunately, way too generic and you can't order parts or spares without being more specific.

For owners of pod and capsule machines, we encourage you to learn more about the types of consumable that fit and suit your machine. Sadly, many manufacturers can be rather lazy or vague in their definition for what types of consumables suit their equipment. Often calling it a pod or capsule without specifying what type.

The most important piece of advice we can offer owners of pod and capsule machines is to take the time to learn and understand the correct specifications for consumables used in your equipment. 

Pods and capsules were not invented by Nespresso and there are many different manufacturing specifications currently available in the market not only from Nespresso but also other manufacturers.

With so many different types of equipment offered for sale, some of them are proprietary and designed to "lock-in" owners whereby you can only use the brand's own consumables on their equipment. Essentially, that eliminates 3rd party supply and reduces competition.

America's K-Cup system did not take off in Australia (thankfully).

ESE pods (easy serving espresso) are an open-system using a superior method of coffee brewing compared to original Nespresso systems - a higher dosage and lower carbon footprint.

But whilst ESE remains a popular system in Europe, for the Australian market it has suffered a disappointing decline over the last 10 years due a reluctance by equipment brands (yes, we are looking at you Sunbeam, Breville and DeLonghi) to support the ESE standard.

The rise of Nespresso as a de-facto industry standard

By far the most popular pod or capsule standard in Australia is the original (or sometimes referred to as "classic") Nespresso system. With many millions of machines sold in Australia used in homes or businesses the original Nespresso system remains the default and de-facto standard for single serve coffee pod/capsule options.

There is also a vibrant and competitive market for supply of capsules to suit the original/classic Nespresso-compatible standard. Owners of the original/classic Nespresso machines can choose from a variety of qualities and price points from different coffee roasting brands.

As Nespresso is owned by Nestle, the world's largest ingredients company, Nespresso will continue to develop and implement new systems that prevent cloning or copying so that customers remain locked into Nespresso's own supply channels.

Nespresso don't really make machines or equipment - they develop the intellectual property for licensing to 3rd party equipment manufacturers. There is no real money to be made flogging machines as it requires huge support networks and risks.

The main game of Nespresso is supply of consumables to their customer base. Just like printer manufacturers, sell the device under or at cost then make the far richer profits on ink and toner cartridges.

No surprises then where Nespresso are heading in the future. A world with less competition on the consumable side as customers are forced to purchase from Nespresso, or their price-controlled affiliate retailers.

The newer capsule systems like Vertuo are proprietary. This means that the consumables are not available from sellers who make their own products and instead have to buy the consumables from Nespresso.

As you can see, this creates a lock-in system with no competitive pressures to keep prices down and quality high.

What about the others

Dolce Gusto, Aldi, some of the Illy and Lavazza systems are also proprietary and require owners to carefully scrutinize the consumables before deciding to purchase.

Dolce Gusto has become popular secondary standard to Nespresso original/classic, especially in parts of Asia as the system allows a greater flexibility in the use of different ingredients such as milk powders for brewing a complete coffee beverage.

Interestingly, with the Dolce Gusto system it is possible to mix both ground coffee and milk powder within a single capsule for greater user convenience, however, the results are mediocre at best. That suits parts of Asia where the availability of fresh milk is limited.

Non-coffee additives seem to be a big attraction for Dolce Gusto systems, e.g. dairy powders, chai, chocolate, etc. Even artificial flavorings such as caramel, vanilla and hazelnut seem to be popular attractions.

Dolce Gusto uses a higher dosage system so the payload in total coffee is greater and that means taste will be richer or stronger in flavor compared to the original/classic Nespresso system.

Other niche systems like Illy and Lavazza may eventually disappear over time as market support wanes. It is also worth noting that both Illy and Lavazza offer a Nespresso-compatible original/classic product so they can continue to provide coffee across the broader market.

Coffee drinkers want great cafe taste but simple preparation

Not everyone wants to be a skilled barista at home.

Freshly ground coffee beans and espresso extraction require expensive equipment, considerable invest in time to develop the skills and it can result in a messy environment (although skilled users can keep it clean).

The resources required to produce cafe quality coffee at home are not lost on those who don't want to fork out big money for equipment or who are impatient, time-poor and don't want the mess when making freshly ground espresso coffees.

Coffee is a journey like most life experiences.

You start with instant, move on to pods and capsules, then automatic bean to cup and finally a series of manual espresso machines and grinders. That lifecycle is pretty typical for most lovers of good coffee.

So what happens when the basic capsule or pod just doesn't float your boat anymore ?

Enter the automatic espresso machine - think Jura, DeLonghi, Breville or Sunbeam, etc.

The solution involves trying to build a device that can dose, grind, tamp, extract and foam milk in a fully automated way that eliminated tasks of a skilled barista.

BUT.....wait, there's more we need to include here for a quality coffee in the home. It must also have a small footprint, low noise, fast heat-up, no mess and remain ultra reliable at all times without breaking down. Oh yeah, the coffee should be as good or better than the cafe around the corner. Sounds impossible ?.

Automatic espresso machines for the domestic market reached their peak in popularity between 2009 and 2018. Whilst automatic machines are certainly not cheap, they are also not entirely reliable and end up being expensive to service or repair.

Automatic espresso machines contain a lot of plastic components (instead of more durable metal) and these plastic parts wear or break sooner than expected. Automatic espresso machine need plenty of regular cleaning, especially the milk lines that can easily clog or be contaminated.

The grinders and brew systems designed for these small automatic machines use a lower quality design compared to standalone manual systems. It's no secret these automatic coffee machines can only achieve about 85% of the cup quality compared to a decent manual espresso machine and grinder in the hands of a good operator. 

This trade-off in convenience for many customers are entirely worthwhile. It suits a market segment that places simplicity over quality.