Espresso pods are probably one of the easiest and best ways to enjoy an espresso beverage with consistent crema and flavor profile. An espresso pod is like a round tea bag. Imagine a round tea bag that is filled with ground dark roasted coffee beans that has been vacuumed sealed. Although not really vacuum sealed, because the filter is porous, the idea is that espresso pods are tightly packed, just as you would tamp ground espresso beans into a portafilter, so they are tightly packed in the pod.
As in most of the articles I write, I’d like to give you a little history as to the development of espresso pods and how they came to be. From there we’ll go into the pros and cons and other factors that make brewing a great espresso or espresso based beverage not always as easy as it might seem.
The common espresso pods
The most common espresso pod available nowadays is the ESE pod or E.S.E. espresso pod. E.S.E. stands for Easy Serving Espresso pod. The ESE pod as discussed earlier is a tightly packed disc of espresso inside of a paper enclosure or filter. The ESE espresso pod has attempted to become the defacto choice in espresso pods for espresso machines and in fact you’ll find that most espresso machines that are manual espresso machines will take both the ESE pod and ground beans. E.S.E. pods come in 7 gram single serving and 14 gram double serving sizes and they are typically in 44mm to 45mm diameters. This is about 1 and 3/4 inches in diameter.
The original patent that was granted for espresso pods was done so in 1959, and the idea behind the development was to alleviate the time and tedium of brewing espresso for office staff in Italy. Naturally, from there it was promoted outside of commercial use and into the household market.
The ESE pod has a much more recent history. It was developed by the coffee manufacturer illy in 1998 as a way to promote the easy sale of espresso machines and espresso products into the home market. ESE was developed as you can imagine as an open design that was standardized to encourage the wide use by many manufacturers of coffee machines, cappuccino machines and espresso beans. You could say that the success has been reasonably successful. Starbucks’ espresso pods for example are usable in ESE machines and many of the espresso machines that they sold would take both ESE pods and regular ground espresso.
The quality of espresso pods compared to beans
Now coffee snobs and espresso aficionados will tell you that the quality and flavor of espresso from espresso pods is sub par and not as good as it is from using a barista or even yourself to tamp ground espresso beans into a portafilter. And they’d be right to a point.
Though I’ve had espresso and lattes and cappuccinos from espresso pods and found it to be quite tasty. Though of course, I prefer to make my espresso at home the old fashioned way with ground espresso beans that I tamp into the portafilter myself. However, as with coffee beverages generally, there is a wide array of factors that affect the taste of coffee. The beans, the roast, the water, the soil, the filter etc, etc. One could go on. What I’m saying is that I have noticed that there is variety in flavor amongst the espresso pods just as there is when I use different espresso roasts or dark roasts in my espresso machine.
For most home based espresso beverages and consumers, I’d suggest that the espresso pods offer an easy, hassle free way to enjoy espresso or lattes or cappuccinos in the comfort of your home. There is very little waste, no mess and a consistency that you can count and that would take some time in developing if you were using ground coffee beans. My best recommendation would be to experiment with a variety of different espresso pods that are available and see which brand or roasts you prefer.
There are Lavazza pods and Senseo pods and of course illy pods for your espresso machine. In Europe they call espresso pods espresso pads but they are really the same thing. You can also get organic espresso pods and a well known brand name in this field is the Baronet Coffee Fair Trade Organic Espresso pods that are ESE fitted. Remember DeLonghi espresso pods will fit all ESE pod capable machines. Don’t be hung up so much on the brand of your espresso machine as finding a machine that will take ESE espresso pods.