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Of Beans & Machines: A beginner’s guide to capsule coffee

The same way die-hard sports car fanatics will argue that electric hypercars can’t compete with age-old gas-powered cars, a similar battle between fresh roast versus capsule coffee lovers ensues. Yet the wheels of time and grind are spinning fast, as capsule coffee machines are popping up everywhere, from homes and offices to luxury hotels and even Michelin-starred restaurants.

So sit back and enjoy a cup, and let us guide you through our introductory course to capsule coffee — from a concise science to a selection of our favourites. Like a quick espresso shot before your 9am meeting, we’ve got it all for you here.

The lowdown: Is capsule coffee even real coffee?

A step up from instant coffee sachets, capsule coffee presents a quick and convenient way to get your caffeine fix. It’s ‘real’ coffee in the sense that it consists of real coffee beans, which have been sealed and packaged immediately after grinding and roasting; that is, when the coffee is at its freshest. Compare this to the opened and forgotten bag of moist and oxidised coffee beans in your kitchen corner, capsule coffee is certainly the fresher choice. Arguably, there is no way it can be just as fresh as a coffee prepared by a barista before your own eyes. But consider this: with its rising popularity, the market for capsule coffee is constantly expanding, which means preservation techniques, quality control, and flavour developments are evolving quickly too. It’s not traditional, but it’s definitely more than just a passing trend. 

What’s inside the little things, and how do they work?

Whilst precise colour and designs vary between coffee companies, coffee capsules generally consist of a small aluminium or plastic sealed capsule, filled with a pre-portioned, pre-tamped serving of ground coffee. The exact contents depend on the type of bean, its origins, roasting method, and intensity of flavour desired, and it is important to note that a capsule coffee is different from a regular packet of coffee beans or instant powder. After all, capsules are designed to be compatible with the machine they are used with.

Speaking of machines, these are available from a wide selection of coffee makers, which run in intriguing mechanics, aside from looking indisputably cool. After filling its tank with water, the machine heats and adds pressure to the liquid, before pumping it through the ground coffee inside the pod to release its flavour. From here, the coffee drips down into the cup, with the coffee ground strained by a filter at the bottom of the capsule. It’s a bit like an automatic mini filter coffee, minus the mess, and plus a whole lot of cool tech points.

A few insider tips to get the best results? Always load the machine correctly (be firm), keep it clean and descaled, always use filtered water, and warm your machine and cup before every use.

What are the benefits of capsule coffee?

Nespresso capsule coffee machine

Out of all the ways to make coffee, capsule coffee is undeniably the most foolproof. In fact, you can get a hot cup within a few minutes, all at the press of a single button. Capsule coffee doesn’t require a lot of attention from you on a hectic Monday morning. Capsule coffee understands.

Yet besides it’s hassle-free ease of use, this new way to consume hot beverages presents a number of other benefits. First and foremost, the choice and level of personalisation is huge, as there are many easily-purchasable capsule coffee providers, a vast variety of flavours, and a number of intensities to choose from. Whilst Keurig and Nespresso reign supreme as the main machine manufacturers, several other companies offer compatible capsules that work with them.

Understandably, a small espresso maker cannot compete with the old school charm of a big Italian coffee machine with many adjustable nibs and knobs, yet it’s nice knowing that we have an option of creating something near similar from the comfort of our homes. Also, waking up to wafts of rich coffee aroma oozing from the kitchen counter all through your house? A dream.

How to choose the right capsule coffee for your taste

Nespresso Italian iced coffee

Perhaps the most overwhelming thing about capsule coffee is the vast variety to choose from. As a general rule, coffee companies tend to class their capsules and pods into categories depending on aromatic profile, intensity, or range – think: espresso, lungo, cappuccino, or decaf coffee.

Starbucks fair trade capsule coffee is differentiated by origin of coffee bean, so if you’re a die-hard Starbucks fan and can’t resist that Colombian Espresso, it’s definitely worth a try. Real Coffee offers a wider selection of flavoured coffees, including vanilla or caramel, whereas British manufacturer Mugpods creates a fine range of hot chocolate capsules, including a sugar-free alternative. The most beautiful packaging and unique coffee flavour definitely belongs to Taylors of Harrogate, yet for the most exclusive capsule coffee experience, Coffee Hat is a must-drink. The award-winning coffee farmers focus on delivering premium coffee quality in capsules, and are mindful to provide a wholesome coffee experience through the creation of add-ons such as a foamy milk capsule. Keurig has the most fun selection, with many exclusive coffee collabs, such as Krispy Kreme coffee or a Kahlua light roast capsule.

Yet if you’re a fresh recruit and have no idea where to begin, Nespresso is definitely your best bet. With the widest range to choose from, their capsule coffee caters to every taste. A delicious tip? Check out their recently launched Italian Salentina and Shakerato capsules. Poured over ice as a refreshing summer’s drink, they’re the perfect beverage to ease you into the capsule coffee cult. Last but not least, lest we forget — George Clooney digs their capsule coffee, so we’re pretty sold.

Hero image credit: Martia Punts/iStock; Feature image credit: Instagram

Lisa Gries
Creative Content Director, Bangkok
Lisa loves to travel, and is always on the lookout for the world’s best nap spots. She’s a serious Asian art history nerd, and has a knack for languages and coffee table books. She hopes to publish her own novels one day, one of which will likely be called ‘All The Great Conversations I Had In A Bangkok Speakeasy.’ It’s a work in progress.
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