Brewing espresso at home has never been easier than it is now, mostly mess and hassle free with the use of pods & capsules. For the true espresso geek nothing beats getting in there grinding the coffee, preparing it and watching that golden goodness come from the spouts of the coffee machine. However, what if you aren't interested in learning all there is to know about the world of coffee and you just want to enjoy it? Well fear not there are espresso machines designed just for you too.
The first style of mess & hassle free coffee we will look at are known as pods. Pods are essentially a pre ground coffee which are packaged into a tea bag like material in the shape of a disk. These are designed to fit neatly into a porta-filter of a home espresso machine, it is important to note here that you will need to ensure that you machine is capable of using pods as not all machines are. The concept behind them is the fact that they provide a clean and mess free way of brewing espresso, no grinder mess, measuring and cleanup is easy. Simply throw it away like you would a tea bag.
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So in looking at some of the benefits, there are also a few downsides. The biggest one for me is the fact that you are using pre-ground coffee, this is going to mean that you may not be getting the freshest coffee. Grinding immediately before you need it is always going to provide you with a better result. The other main downside here is that your machine needs to be capable of brewing these, so if you are shopping for a new machine you may want to factor this into your checklist and ensure it is pod capable. If you already have a machine that isn't capable you are stuck doing it the old fashioned way or you may need to purchase an adaptor or new porta-filter from the manufacturer to allow you to do this.
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One other drawback is that you may be limited in the selection of coffee that you can use. The variety and range of pods available is going to be eclipsed by the number of whole bean varieties that are out there. So if you like to try new styles and brews often than this may limit you. However if you are willing to put a little time and effort in you can certainly make your own pods - ineedcoffee.com has a rundown on how to do this here: http://www.ineedcoffee.com/04/coffeepods/
Capsules work very much along the same concept as pods in that they are pre-packaged, measured doses of coffee. They are contained within a 'capsule' that once used you simply dispose of leaving you with no messy coffee grinds to clean up. The difference here though is that where pods are made by many different coffee companies to be used in a range of machines, capsules are generally a proprietary system made available by the manufacturer - you need to have one of their machines to use them.
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So the pros and cons of these are quite similar to pods. There is no messing about with measuring, grinding or cleaning up afterwards. One of the major benefits that I see in these is that they are designed to work flawlessly each and every time so it will always deliver a consistent coffee, the footprint of these machines are usually quite small as well which will mean that these are great for applications such as camping and RV's, or even apartments or small kitchens. The other nice thing is that capsules are usually a sealed aluminium container so the argument could be made that the coffee may stay fresher for longer than pods.
Once again however there is the drawbacks to be considered. Being that these are often a proprietary system you are more restricted for choice, the big manufacturer in this space is Nespresso. Luckily however they do have a wide range of machines for all different price groups, and a very large range of coffee styles to choose from. However they provide their own coffee so you are not free to use the beans from your own local roaster. The other thing that is a little restrictive is that a large quantity of these machines do not include a way to heat/steam milk - this is not the case even on some of the cheapest home espresso machines, this leaves you kind of needing to purchase other Nespresso components to prepare steamed milk.
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So to conclude what does this mean for you? Well if you are looking for hassle free coffee brewing and are in the market to purchase a machine, then you would probably be well looked after by a capsule style system. This is especially the case if you have no desire to get more in-depth with your coffee brewing in the future. These machines are especially good in small footprint areas, so if you are planning camping or caravanning trips you may like one of these so you can still get your quality coffee when 'roughing it'.
I feel that pods are more well suited to those people who still have the desire to learn more and develop their coffee skills however in the day to day running of things don't have time to mess around with grinding coffee. A pod alternative would be great for this as it still allows you to use your machine as a standard espresso machine for the flexibility of other coffee from time to time, but during the business of the daily grind you can cheat a little bit and make life just that bit easier.