Thursday, 4 September 2014

coffee pods

I happen to be a coffee aficionado (or snob, depending on your view) and have made espresso myself with my reliable old Sunbeam for quite some years. I've had this espresso machine just over 10 years, had others before it and used a variety of other methods over the decades too. Personally I've settled on espresso as being the best for speed and quality.

Ages ago Pod machines started to appear and I laughed at them.You couldn't see what your coffee was like, you couldn't smell the ground beans and you didn't know how well packed it was (or should I say "tamped"). You had no way to guage if it was going to be good quality coffee or poor quality coffee for the major inputs (sight and smell) were removed. But it was sexy looking packaging

even if you can't see or smell the coffee that you wake up to ...

Initially I felt that they were for those who were:
  • too helpless / silly to know how to make coffee or
  • too important to have the time to learn or
  • too wealthy to care (which usually is the above two rolled into one)
Recently Pods have become much cheaper with Aldi selling them now for $6 for a pack of pods being about the cheapest I've seen yet.

Now personally I think pods are acceptable in an office environment when no one will own up to cleaning or maintaining the machine as well as for people who are occasional coffee drinkers (read, don't drink coffee much but offer it to guests), but for anyone who likes their coffee and has any sort of capacity to do anything themselves they just don't make sense. I don't mind the whole scene, as its got its purpose.

However I too freqently have people telling me (or hear them telling others) how good pod coffee is and how they can't tell it from the coffee they get in a Coffee Shop. Well don't say that in hearing range of the barista is all I can say. To me such admissions are tantamount to saying
  • "I can't tell crap from quality" or 
  • "I haven't got taste buds or a functional olfactory system".
again, either is fine by me. So for those who have never had a coffee machine (only a pod one) I thought I'd show you some differences.

Smell the Coffee

The first thing you notice (well if you're used to handling coffee) is that with the pods you don't get to smell the coffee, because its sealed inside a pod. Below is a picture of a typical pod beside a relatively standard sized coffee basket (the bit in the handle which holds the coffee)

I think its pretty clear that the pod is much smaller than the basket is ... but its not just about that point either (although size does matter).

An important step in making a good coffee is the right level of "tamp" on the coffee so that it provides the right level of resistance to the water and facilitating the extraction of the coffee in fractions (IE different parts come out at different times). When you cut the plastic cap off the tightly sealed pod you notice two things:
  1. you finally get to smell the coffee and it does not have a good aroma
  2. its very loosely packed

Here is how I pack my basket beside the pod (where you get it as it happens to be)

As you can see there is room for more in there and if I tamped it down (which is not possible) it would  perhaps cause a problem for the coffee maker. At least the grind seemed appropriate. However with that poor a tamp its unlikely you'll get a good crema (and gosh lookie there you don't).

To see how different the amounts of coffee are lets tip it onto a plate.

basically its about double (well as the size of containers would suggest).

According to the back of the box the pod will give:
  • a 25ml ristretto
  • a 40ml espresso
  • a 110ml lungo
For those who have never actually measured it, a typical demitasse (like you'd get at a coffee shop) is about 60 ~ 90ml. Mine comfortably holds 60ml, but I normally only put 40ml into it.

This means that given the volumes of grounds I'm drinking a ristretto and I you actually put only 25ml from your pod into a demitasse I'm sure you'd think I was ripping you off.


On that subject lets look at costs: the pods cost about $6 and you get 16 capsules and a total of 128g of coffee. Sure for the maths challenged that's only 37c a cup, but looking at it another way that's $46/Kg for coffee. Other brands are as high as $98/Kg. I buy my coffee at one of the good roasters of coffee in my area (read its an up-market place with high prices and my friends will say that its expensive), and my coffee (ground for me by them) costs $22/Kg. So basically the pod costs from a bit more than double what I pay for coffee to up to5 times more.

Of course its clear that I use more coffee (you could always use a smaller basket, but shit, why waste your life on weak coffee?), nearly double what's in a pod, so the economics could also be viewed that I pay the same (than the cheapest pods) or less than half for the others - but for a better coffee.

Lastly (and why would anyone care?) using Pods generates heaps more packaging waste ... but like I said ... why would anyone care about that?

By Royale Appointment

So to me it seems that if your argument is pods are for convenience ... well I guess ... but so too is drip filter coffee, and you get to smell the coffee too. If you consider you are getting poor quality for twice the price then I really don't see why you'd do it.

If after this you still argue that the pods are as good as the coffee shop, then either change coffee shop or admit that you really are devoid of the capacity to taste or smell and you should stick to tea bags or instant coffee.

I expect that many from the Kingdom of Wang will just poo hoo this post and say how good their pods are. I mean after all, the Emperors clothes really are fine.



Noons said...

Hehehe! Indeed...
I must admit I grew up with Mum roasting the coffee inhouse, then grinding it to perfection and using one of those old double glass baloon machines with an alcohol burner to make the resulting coffee.
It was nothing short of fantastic (Kopi Luak from East Timor, and others).
Never forgot what it tasted like. Worlds apart from anything else I've drunk since although I've now been back and tried some very close ones!
And it didn't make us stay awake either!

Charles Maclauchlan said...

well I won't attempt to disagree with your love of good espresso but will offer an opinion from one who loves a good cup o joe. I'll start by saying I lost my sense of smell about 6 or 7 years ago so the smell thing...not as important for me as for others. I like HOT drip coffee. I don't care for espresso. I don't care for what is called an "Americano" here, espresso and hot water. If I liked espresso I would drink it the way I drank single malt back when I drank...neat.
The trick for me is getting a HOT cup of coffee. Darn near impossible without "nuking." I bought an expensive coffee maker, reputed to be very wasn't. I noticed the hot water tube ran through the water reservoir so I filled it with very hot water...nope, still needed a minute in the microwave. I also will drink 3 or even 4 cups throughout the day. Making a pot and drinking it all day is a great way to save money and drink lousy coffee. A friend made me a cup one day from a Keurig machine and it wasn't half bad. Also, at 192 degrees, while not HOT is right on the cusp and I can drink it. I've found a few "specialty" coffees that I like and with careful shopping get a decent cup of Almost HOT coffee for about 38 cents...and there's no mess. It's easily as good as drip coffee from the coffee houses. Is it as good as the 3 bean a year triple fairy dust Jamaican Blue? No; but it's 38 cents a cup, not 38 dollars.
Just sayin'