by making my preferences known: I like espresso pods.
During my tenure as a gourmet coffee specialist with two large
corporate firms specializing in foodservice accounts, pods were
recommended for use in restaurants, and I personally use pods when
preparing espresso at home.
Although the per pod cost is higher than a similar serving of
whole bean espresso, my opinion is the labor, equipment, and waste
cost of grinding, portioning, and packing the espresso in a portafilter
makes the cost of whole bean espresso per serving approximately
the same as a pod. In addition, quality control issues such as
beverage consistency, freshness, and appropriate grind are much
easier to control.
Allow me to state another opinion: I do not think espresso pods
will ever replace whole bean espresso and the services of a well-
trained barista. I do, however, think espresso pods are an
underutilized resource in bringing a positive espresso experience to
the fast paced world of foodservice.
Pods Designed for Foodservice Convenience
Cyrus Melikian’s of Automatic Brewers and Coffee Devices, Inc.
(ABCD), states, “We as a company, always tried to think of how coffee
could be a value-added beverage rather than a commodity.” With
that idea in mind, ABCD designed and built America’s first coffee
vending machine in 1948 and introduced pods for coffee in 1959.
ABCD packages roasted coffee into pods and offers several
options in the number of pods it can package into a pouch. The norm
in packaging espresso pods for foodservice is one pod per pouch. The
single wrapped pods are then put into cases and the case size varies
according to the needs of the customer.
According to Melikian, his company can package anywhere
from one to six espresso pods to a pouch. He considers the larger
number of pods per pouch to be an added convenience to the
foodservice customer both in savings in packaging materials and a
better quality espresso. He notes the preparation process is slowed
down when a server is making several espresso drinks and must
open a package containing a single pod for each beverage. By the
time the last one is prepared, the first one has cooled down.
Once packed, several factors can effect the shelf life of espresso
pods says Lilly Sturm, account manager at CanPod Espresso Pod
Packaging. “The shelf life for our pods is 8 to 12 months.” Some of the
factors include the type of paper used and if the package holding the
pod is nitrogen flushed. Sturm explains, “Foil paper is the best way to
go if you want a longer shelf life. Pods packaged in metalized paper
will yield a shelf life of about 3 months, a big difference from foil,
which gives an 8 to 12 month shelf life. Metalized paper is less
expensive than foil and more readily available than foil paper. Foil
paper is a specialty paper in North America but commonly used in
Italy for coffee.” Although some companies guarantee a longer shelf
life, Sturm’s opinion is the most realistic shelf life you’ll get is 8 to 12
months if the pod is packaged in foil and nitrogen flushed.
Pods are a special product, and Mr. Luigi and Mrs. Gigliola
Russignan, owners of Torrefazione Barzula & Importing Ltd., shed
some light on the process. “The pod is a disk of roasted, ground,
measured, and compressed coffee, enclosed between two sheets of
food-grade filter paper and sealed in a foil pouch that has been
flushed with nitrogen, an inert gas. If these pods are not used in an
espresso pod machine, an adapter would be required.” Their
company produces pods in two sizes, 7 grams and 14 grams for 1 and
2 servings respectively.
The pod portafilter is shaped like a pod and holds the pod
tightly against the head of the espresso machine. The purpose is to
hold the pod, which is tightly packed with coffee, in place so water
goes through the pod and not around it. Some companies make a soft
espresso pod developed to eliminate the need for a special adapter or
portafilter, but several industry specialists do not think the
extraction is as good as with a tight pod.
The Evolution of the Expresso Pod
The technology of E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) or pods was
introduced by illycaffé more than 15 years ago according to Myra
Fiori, public relations director, illycaffé North America, Inc. According
to Fiori, the purpose was to “simplify espresso preparation, and
guarantee a consistent level of quality.” Today the company has
placed this technology at the disposal of the market, offering patent
concessions free-of-charge to espresso machine manufacturers and
coffee producers who agree to respect the industry standard, thereby
ensuring the quality guaranteed by the E.S.E. trademark.
Fiori elaborates, “Independent controlling organizations ensure
not only that the technical standards of the E.S.E. system are
respected, but also that the quality of the prepared product, which
must be taste-tested by a panel of experts, is consistently high. With
the E.S.E. system, the four key elements required to transform a
simple coffee into a superior espresso are present.” These key
elements are a high quality coffee blend, a perfect grind, a clean and
efficient machine and, most importamtly, its correct use.
The E.S.E. pod system sets the standard, but Philippe Godemert,
new project director at 1, 2, 3 Spresso has created a second-
generation pod. He considers his new and improved pod to be as easy
to use as “one, two, three,” offering several major advantages. The 1,
2, 3 Spresso pod Godemert explains has an “exclusive, patented
cardboard ring, [which] provides the rigidity to the pod, so we can
use the gravity to eject the pot at each cup. [We use] 100% natural
filterpaper, without any polyethylene to preserve the full, fresh
coffee flavor. The cardboard ring functions as a disposable gasket
inside the brewing chamber, avoiding a lot of serving problems, and
the pod is biodegradable.” Malongo, coffee roasters since 1932 and
part of the Rombouts Group, produce these new pods, packed singlely
or in packs of ten.
COST OF ESPRESSO PODS VS. WHOLE BEAN ESPRESSO
Tom Martin is executive vice president and c.o.o. of Pod Pack
International Ltd. He thinks “Pods are value-added. They have been
pre-ground, pre-dosed and pre-tamped. This eliminates at least
these three variables in the espresso preparation process.” He adds
that restaurants are purchasing pods for $.30 to $.35 per single
serving and 14 gram double pods for around $.50 each.
Martin further comments: “The restaurant, in turn, sells a drink
for $1.50 to $3.50 depending on the size and whether the espresso is
converted into a latte, cappuccino or other specialty drinks. There is
definitely a significant margin here for the restaurant operator.” Pod
Pack has prepared the following table showing the daily, monthly
and yearly profits that can be achieved by the restaurant owner,
depending on volume and pricing.
Mr. and Mrs. Russignan list just a few of what they consider the
“advantages to be realized in using the espresso pod, which in the
long run may result in a lower cost per serving”:
Ara Minassian, export manager of La Maison du Café Trottet
S.A., considers pods much better than whole bean espresso because
they “stay fresh, taste good, and the machines are kept clean.”
- Eliminates the need for a coffee grinder.
- Eliminates the need for the knock box.
- Eliminates coffee waste.
- Reduced the costly maintenance of the espresso machine as a
result of loose grounds no longer being allowed to travel into the
- Eliminates brewing inconsistencies always resulting in a perfect
cup of coffee.
- Offers operators exact cost and inventory control, a key
Cyrus Melikian explains a bit more about the importance of
freshness. “You open the pouch to brew and you have the best and
freshest coffee.” He points out that is especially true in decaffeinated
coffee. “It is very difficult, if not impossible, to get a truly fresh
decaffeinated espresso in the foodservice environment without using
espresso pods. The foodservice operators’ first objective is to sell the
best and freshest of ingredients. [Given that] coffee is the last
impression of the foodservice establishment, it must be the best
quality and fresh. That is worth everything of value to the
If you serve espresso and buy whole bean espresso, you need
two grinders - one for the regular espresso and one for decaffeinated
espresso. Grinding the coffee and adjusting the grinders to brew at
the correct flow rate is not a simple task and trying to keep the
grinder adjusted results in wasted coffee. Tom Martin points out
other finite savings that offset the cost difference of espresso pods
and roasted beans.
- The restaurant owner does not have to purchase a grinder
($500 to $750 each) or two grinders, if the restaurant also sells
decaffeinated coffee. If the cost of two grinders ($1,250) is amortized
over 5,000 drinks, this equates to $.25 per serving.
- Labor savings will be realized by using pods. Restaurant
operators do not want to hire an expensive barista at each of its
locations to make espresso the old fashioned way. The other option is
to train the wait staff, which is virtually impossible and because of
the high turnover rates, it can be a waste of time. Suppose you spend
100 hours per year training your wait staff. At $6.00 per hour and
2,500 drinks per year, then this could equate to $.24 per serving
(100 x $6/2,500). Pods on the other hand, require little or no training
to use them successfully.
PODS CAN INCREASE ESPRESSO SALES
Lilly Sturm definitely thinks use of espresso pods can increase
sales of espresso beverages in restaurants. She thinks the wait staff
“can be intimidated by the machine and will often tell the customer
that the machine is broken, getting out of having to make an
espresso or cappuccino. With pods, the end result is always
consistent. You always get the same espresso.” She thinks with beans,
there are many other factors effecting the taste of the espresso and
unless a seasoned barista is making the beverage, it will be bitter.
“I’m sure more waiters and waitresses would recommend an
espresso or cappuccino if the machine they were making it with uses
pods. Confidence and a great tasting product is the end result when
Shea Sturdivant Terracin is a past officer of the Specialty Coffee
Association, a partner in The Coffee Associates, an international
consulting firm bringing coffee solutions to the marketplace, and on
the Business Administration faculty at Bauder College in Atlanta,
Georgia. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.