Before You Buy an Automatic Single Serve Coffee Brewer by Karen Paterson
Single serve coffee brewers have eclipsed traditional automatic drip brewers. Instead of an automatic drip coffee brewer, more and more families make coffee using a single serve pod or capsule. Pod and capsule brewers typically make better tasting coffee than drip coffee brewers but are not as good as french press or manual pour over brewers.
In an April 2015 article Ken Davids points out why pod and capsule machines do not produce top quality gourmet coffee: poor quality coffee, staling of the grounds after packing and over extraction in the machine. “The State of the Capsule 2015” Davids Roast Magazine, May-June 2015
Automatic single serve brewers are coming onto the market so quickly now that any review of a particular machine will be obsolete in 30 days. However, if you don’t have a single serve brewer, here are some of the issues you need to consider in making your choice.
How They Work Automatic single serve brewers use metal and plastic capsules or paper pods filled with ground coffee. The coffee is brewed in the capsule or in a container with the pod. Both pods and capsules are sealed by the manufacturer against outside air and some are flushed with nitrogen before sealing. The capsules are placed in the machine and then pierced by the brewer. The paper pods have to be opened and then placed in the machine. Some machines use a pressure pump to push the water through the grounds, others rely on gravity.
Convenience Pod and capsule brewers are incredibly convenient. The biggest benefit of a pod brewer is that they are fast. At 6 am on the way out the door you can push a button and get a pretty good cup of coffee in your travel mug in a few seconds. In the world of instant gratification, single serve automatic coffee makers are supreme. You just put in the capsule or pod and push a button. Seconds later you have a hot cup of coffee. The brewers eliminate the need to grind coffee beans, insert filters and clean up grounds afterwards.The per pound price of the coffee is high but compared to brewing an entire pot and then throwing half of it out it is not unreasonable.
Extraction Time Great coffee requires a three to four minute extraction time. Coffee brewed for less than three to four minutes tends to be thin and sour. Pod and capsule makers try to get around the extraction time by using a larger dose of coffee and very finely ground coffee. More finely-ground coffee helps but it doesn’t create a perfect cup. Freshly roasted, freshly ground coffee brewed correctly is going to give a more complex and pleasant tasting coffee.
Limited output. Pods and capsules are designed to make one quick cup of coffee. If the user wants a second cup, the brew time is much longer. Also the definition of a cup varies in different brewers from 5 ounces to 8 ounces. Davids pojnts out in his article that the correct brew strength on a capsule machine is for a six ounce cup even though the machine may offer bigger cups. A single serve capsule is not going to fill up a road warrior’s 16 ounce travel mug in one shot.(Some machines will make a 12 ounce cup but the coffee is thin and weak because the coffee capsule is designed for a 5 to 8 ounce cup.)
Temperature Great coffee is brewed between 195 and 205 degrees F. Almost all of the single serve machines brew at 192 or less. However, we found one machine that brewed at 198 F. There may be more. Check the highest brew temperature on the machine.
Also most single serve brewers use a thermocouple to shut off the water heater. Thermocouples wear out quickly, so periodically stick a meat thermometer into the water stream to check your brew temperature. If you can’t get to the water supply or water stream, check the temperature of the freshly brewed coffee, it should be at least 185 F.
Quality of the Coffee Obviously, the quality of the coffee in the pod or capsule is critical. There are hundreds of pods on the market. A quick review shows that much of the coffee is average or below. In his article Davids cupped pod and capsule coffees, He found that coffee for coffee pod and capsule coffee scored below the same whole bean coffees.
Flavored coffee pods are very popular. (Be aware that one way coffee roasters hide their mistakes is by flavoring the coffee.)
The price per pound of capsule and pod coffee is $50 and up. Make sure you are getting gourmet coffee for that price.
Reviews Before buying a machine look at the reviews. There are a large number of complaints about the pressure pumps and the circuit boards in the machines. Also the machines seem to only work for about two years. Some horror stories have people returning three or more machines in a row. One thing is obvious in the reviews, the more bells and whistles, the more likely the machine is to break – avoid clocks, alarms, frothers, radios, etc.
Guarantees Finely, check the guarantee. If the machine doesn’t work and it costs $40 dollars in shipping fees to return it, you bought a bad deal. First, check the store guarantee. Will the store take it back so you so do not have to send it? Most large stores will take back merchandise for the first 30 days after purchase. Second, check the manufacturer’s guarantee. Will the manufacturer replace the item for free and provide two-way free shipping for 12 months or more? If not, and you have to pay a return fee plus two way FedEx shipping you might as well throw the machine in the trash and buy another brand.
Karen Jue Paterson is the owner of Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, a 33 acre coffee farm in Kona, Hawaii. She is a member of the Hawaii Coffee Association, the Kona Coffee Council, the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, the Holualoa Village Association and the Specialty Coffee Association of America. She is also the author of a number of articles on Kona Coffee including: Kona Coffee Farmers at a Crossroad https://www.huladaddy.com/?p=696 How Typica is Your Kona Coffee? https://www.huladaddy.com/?p=710 ; Are Roasters Eroding the Kona Coffee Brand?https://www.huladaddy.com/?p=952; Coffee Cupping Competitions – Real or Random Chance? https://www.huladaddy.com/?p=1670 ; Seven Easy Steps to Become a Gourmet Coffee Taster https://www.huladaddy.com/?p=1785 How to Brew Coffee Using a Pour Over Filter https://www.huladaddy.com/?p=1754 You can email her at email@example.com