Are pods and instant going to become a specialty coffee mainstay?

I’m genuinely curious about everyone’s opinion on this one.

Will they make specialty approachable?
Are they merely a gateway drug, or an end-point for consumers?
Is it the wrong message to send to consumers?

Looking forward to some debate!

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I love that this is something up for discussion on BH!

I’ve been working with some pretty incredible coffee minds over the past 12 months, exploring capsules and experimenting with what we can do with them.

[I haven’t named by business here, because I don’t want this to be about my product. I want it to be about my experience in this realm (plus, I don’t want this to be spammy!). What follows below is just my (rather long-winded) two cents on this topic]

A quick summary with answers to the specific questions raised, if you don’t want to read my full (long) answer:

* Will they make specialty coffee approachable? If this is done right (and I think education is a big, big part of this), then yes - the existing market of capsule drinkers can be exposed to how amazing specialty coffee can be!

* Gateway drug or endpoint? Gateway. Per my point above, if it exposes people to specialty coffee and they enjoy it, capsule machines can just be another one of the brewing methods they use in enjoying the world of specialty coffee. Capsule drinkers still go out to cafes, and if they know to look for specialty coffee, they’re going to enjoy a better coffee!

* Wrong message? Not if it’s done right!

Ok, now read on if you’re interested! :v:

##Big mindset shift

There’s no denying it has been a hard 12 months trying to put specialty coffee into pods. But something really interesting happened the more we explored pod coffee: our mindset shifted from “pods are awful, and that’s the end of it” (something I know many of my fellow baristas believe to be true); to instead realising that ultimately, it is “just another brewing method”.

That mindset shift was huge. It made exploring pod coffee exciting - almost unchartered territory (for specialty coffee at least, with some progressive exceptions).

It meant that we had this amazing opportunity to expose a really big, captive market of pod users to a better product. That is really, really exciting.

Imagine knowing that you can make something millions of people enjoy, better* than they’re used to!

That’s why I’ve been doing what I’m doing.

[*we all know the deal with the term “better” - here, of course, I mean objectively by specialty coffee standards, but that naturally includes flavour profile]

A mainstay?

Now for the hard part - is it going to be a specialty coffee mainstay?
I think it can be, but that will hinge on two really big prerequisites (however big, I do consider both to be achievable)

  1. Pod coffee needs to get better, more environmentally friendly, and explored in great detail;

  2. The specialty Coffee industry needs to be more open to pod coffee, and not dismiss it as ‘convenience over quality’ - when it can be both (in my opinion).

Naturally, Point 2 above (the industry being more open to pod coffee), really requires pod coffee to get better first. But some people (including yours truly) are working hard to make that happen!

#What the people want

As I’ve noted above, I think that before people in the specialty coffee industry explore pods, and get even close to accepting them as a ‘specialty coffee mainstay’, people need to make them better. That’s what I’m trying to do, with some pretty amazing help from others in the industry.

However to make them better takes time, experimentation, and costs money. It’s cost us thousands to get where we are today (and we’ve barely launched). As a business, we need to recoup those costs; we’re (sadly) not funded to explore, research and experiment with pod coffee to make it better
[…although how good would that be?!?]

So, the product has to be one that sells. And who will buy our product? People who already have capsule machines!

We’ve already seen (according to my point above re/ the 2 prerequisites) that sadly, people in the industry aren’t (yet) ready to try capsule coffee to the point that they’ll buy themselves a Nespresso® pixie.

So, we’ve got to sell to people who already have capsule machines first.

We’ve worked tirelessly to develop some pretty amazing roasts over the past 12 months (and some pretty awful ones along the way too!). One thing that’s hit me in the guts has been hearing feedback that our flagship coffee tastes ‘weak’ to many of our customers.

This is a coffee that’s ticking all of the right boxes from a specialty coffee point of view! TDS and extractions figures are close to spot on, and the flavour profile is great even for non-pod coffee! I’m genuinely proud of this coffee. But it’s too weak!?!

It’s because people with capsule machines are, generally, used to an ‘Intensity 10’ or even ‘Intensity 12’ roast that consists of mainly robusta beans, roasted so dark it doesn’t even look like coffee when you crack open one of the pods. If you tasted it, you would almost cry. It is, by our standards, pretty awful.

But that’s what people with capsule machines are used to, and with 80% of capsule coffee drinkers in Australia enjoying their coffee with milk, it requires some balancing…

It’s a hard balance; we’ve got to make something that appeals to existing capsule customers because we are, after all, a business (and we’re not going to make pods that nobody will even try!). But we’ve got to stick to our guns and make specialty coffee that celebrates the origin, the farmer, the unique flavour profile that each of our coffees can offer us - because that’s what I love about coffee, and that’s what my product has to be.

So what to do? We’re going with a few of strategies:

  1. We’re offering a more ‘accessible’ coffee that’s roasted a little darker than we’d like, but still offers some great complexity and structure (and isn’t baked to the point of tears);

  2. We’re pushing an agenda of education: where we explain where our coffee comes from, what makes it so special, how to enjoy it (maybe try a little less milk!) and why it might not taste exactly like other capsule coffee (and importantly, why that’s a good thing!);

  3. We’re experimenting with more unique, ‘specialty-esque’ roasts that we’ll run on limited release: these will be roasted to what we consider specialty coffee standards. These bad boys will be pretty incredible (judging by what we’ve managed to achieve so far!). They’ll be recommended black and it’ll take a lot of education, but we’re committed to pushing this agenda hard both with our existing customers but also with the potentially new market of specialty coffee lovers.

It’s got a long way to go, there’s no denying that. But there are a few people who are working hard to make an existing product better. That’s what’s exciting me. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning - to expose capsule coffee drinkers to specialty coffee and - eventually - make capsule coffee something that is considered just another brewing method, even in the specialty sphere!

(And just quickly - Regarding the environmental matters, because I mentioned it above - many capsules are either biodegradable or made of fully recyclable plastic. Some companies are now developing fully compostable pods which, once they’re commercially viable, will be pretty cool -they’d be so beneficial for the compost bin that I could almost see some people buying them for the compost and not even drinking the coffee! :joy:)


I’m interested in their usage in restaurants in the UK. I run a couple and it’s so difficult to introduce speciality coffee when you have so many transient staff that need to be able to serve coffee quickly. Many michelin starred restaurants serve nespresso for this reason, so I’m in good company. For a casual dining restaurant, a modest investment in a few £100 pod machines and c.40pence per capsule can deliver consistent, tasty, top drawer coffee. I’m going to experiment with Maxwell’s venture and am very excited to be able to do this.

I remember reading on another coffee forum that part of the problem was the pod machines - water temp and pressure is generally too low to get a good extraction.

Given that delicious and transparent coffee is the goal, I would love for pods/instants to become mainstays if it can achieve true coffee clarity. The less variables juggled on the path is always desirable. If, with pods/instants, the variability of staleness and grind inconsistency can be eliminated, it will be a win.

However, I don’t see how instants and pods can account for inherent variability in the coffee itself. There is such a wide spectrum within the coffee medium with regard to origin, density, roast level, solubility, etc…that it will be hard to achieve the highest level of specialty coffee via something scalable and replicable like pods/instant.

So in the end, I’d say it’s a coin toss between the blue pill and the red pill. However, if the marketers of these products would have their way, it’s more likely going to be an end point rather than a rabbit hole.

Either way, as a coffee consumer, I’d like to see this technology achieve great, consistent coffee.

  • The quality of grading Speciality Coffee happens at the farm. The bad coffees that are graded out, are sold to companies like Nescafe, to make instant coffee. I believe this is only way to keep Speciality Coffee at a affordable price. I could be wrong, but it’s just a though. It will stay.

  • Coffee Pods are better quality coffees than instant coffee, but the sustainability of the plastic pods are the main concern. I read somewhere that it was banned in parts of Germany. The other problem with these Coffee Pods, is that the quality of the coffee is lower compared to Speciality Coffee. Yet the consumers are paying more per cup. Pods need to go!

Will they make specialty approachable?
They are already making coffee approachable for millions of customers. Specialty companies can participate, or not participate. But pods/k-cups/single-serves/frac-packs/Flavia-packs etc. are not going anywhere and specialty pods can make it very easy to have a pretty-good cup of specialty coffee.

Are they merely a gateway drug, or an end-point for consumers?
I think specialty pods could be an highway exit off the commercial highway leading to a tasty specialty detour. But in a mature environment we have to emotionally prepare ourselves for customers that drink a variety of coffee products. Commercial brewed at home, and then specialty pods at work on workday and then specialty brewed at home and then commercial brewed at a restaurant on a Sunday. People may not be as inflexible or focused on coffee choices as we think: slight_smile:

Is it the wrong message to send to consumers?
I’m not sure what the message is, but I’d love to hear it.


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If the quality is there, instant coffee is intriquing as an alternative to batchbrew during slower hours when brewing a whole pot means you might discard most of it. It could be offered alongside pourovers during those times so that somebody who just wants a “quick cup of joe” doesn’t have to wait 5 minutes and you don’t have to waste pots of coffee.

As far as pods go, what about a 58.5mm 18g pod that you open, place into a portafilter, tamp, and brew in your normal espresso machine? Could be very fast! Another business venture for us @Michael_Cameron ? :slight_smile:

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Will they make specialty approachable? – Of course.

Are they merely a gateway drug, or an end-point for consumers? – Gateway and part-solution.

Is it the wrong message to send to consumers? – Not at all.


This question about instant and coffee pods making specialty approachable is pretty silly. Of course it will. There is absolutely no knowledge or skill set required to make instant coffee or a pod. Especially instant. Consumers are no longer required to study up on brew guides and coffee chemistry before even coming close to enjoying their Chemex. Just add water – or just pop the pod in. These non-brewing methods allow you to get back to what’s important; delicious coffee, represented with transparency from farm to cup, how it’s supposed to be and how it’s supposed to taste.

It’s mind-boggling how coffee professionals don’t see that when you sell a bag of beans to a customer in a shop, you have no clue how they are going to make it. Half of the customers are probably going home, putting it in a french press, and plunging the hell out of it to “get all the flavor out”.

Instant and pods allow you to control all the variables with the exception of water.

The more important word to use here is accessibility. Never before has specially coffee been so easy to make. You don’t have to pack around your gooseneck, your scale, your hand grinder, your Aeropress, your filters, your bag of beans, etc. which leads right into the second question.

Are they merely a gateway drug, or an end-point for consumers?:

Coffee pods and instant will not only be a gateway, they will also be a solution for everyone who drinks coffee.

If you have ever traveled or camped, and either brought all of your brewing equipment, or settled for whatever coffee you could get your hands on, then 100% you are more than willing to buy instant next time end of story.

Sorry #milehighAeropressclub

Is it the wrong message to send to consumers?:

Consumers are the market. The market makes the decisions, not baristas, not SCAA, the market.

It’s the same reason that specialty coffee is underpriced. It’s because consumers have decided that Starbucks pricing is what they are willing to pay across the board. The only reason that specialty coffee exists, is because a portion of the market decided that the quality was worth supporting.

What specialty instant coffee, and specialty coffee pods do, is tell the market: hey, it’s okay to want your coffee to be hassle free and easy to make while tasting amazing.

The majority of consumers, at least in America, are still afraid to ask what half of the items are on a specially coffee shop’s menu. Think it’s okay if we introduce the mass-market to specialty in a very accessible way. It’s a win win for everyone. After all, more than half the world already consumes instant coffee every day.

If instant and pods save time, our most valuable resource, then why not make it last great too?

  • Please take everything said with the context that I am most likely very biased due to the fact that I am launching a specialty instant coffee company in a few months. *
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I certainly class capsule coffee as “just another brewing method”. The key is educating pod coffee users; teaching them how to achieve the best possible coffee with the tools they’ve chosen to use.

(Also on board with not sharing business names and admitting to probable bias), my partner and I have recently introduced a reusable capsule to the market, as the environmental impact of capsule coffee has for a long time been something we were keen to tackle. Recyclable capsules aren’t necessarily being recycled, and we feel that “reuse” is ideal where possible.

Of course, when it comes to packing your own capsules, the quality of the final cup is (literally) in the hands of the consumer. However we do our best to provide recommendations and direction where possible, as well as encouraging our customers to buy local specialty coffee.

Whether consumers are buying pre-packed specialty coffee pods or packing their own, their options have certainly improved!

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I think for it to work, it definitely needs to be properly explained. I humoured nespresso at the world of coffee in Dublin because I was in a good mood. They asked me what I’d like and then recommended Guatemalan coffee which intrigued me.

Then they served me the coffee and it was what could have been a lovely coffee, I’ll never know because they added 10 ounces of plastic tasting foam to it.

I was less then impressed and could palate maybe 2 sips at most.

I think they had an opportunity to impress many people at such s huge event, but I was really disappointed.

I’m not sure about any of the above questions … But I sure hope so and I think this matter needs to be addressed first, educate the educator.

On a similar note, recently I tasted a single origin instant coffee from a Kickstarter that a colleague of mine bought. To my surprise it was really really palatable, even quite tasty. I believe that it could trick many baristas into thinking it was brewed with a v60.

However it was 15 euro for two test tubes of instant coffee. That’s two coffees for 15 euro. Of instant coffee, let’s just say my colleague is more frivolous/brave/trustworthy than me haha

If this was the case, we would not have specialty coffee shops?

I would say Starbucks is overpriced which has allowed the price freedoms for specialty coffee to exist.

Will they make specialty approachable?

Can, yes. “Will” that is the issue. Brand protection is so critical, a specialty coffee in a pod that fails? Brand damage, opening up to charges of “selling out”. Quite unfair, but still a risk to be managed.

Are they merely a gateway drug, or an end-point for consumers?

Pods for specialty coffee should only be considered as a gateway drug, to drive in-store sales and brand loyalty. End point, would mean the eventual commoditization of what differentiates the specialty coffee experience. Bookstores anyone?

Is it the wrong message to send to consumers?

No. But stay within what Pods can offer given existing technology and lack of ability to brew to an individual’s taste.

There is a tacit assumption that there is a brew profile for coffee that is “it”, there is not. I can brew coffee with varying emphasis on taste profiles dependent on all the variables including which dripper seems to work best. There are almost endless possibilities to brew the same coffee bean, same roast, emphasizing different flavor profiles that the bean can express.

Technically, there is no reason why a pod machine can’t do this. But as stated earlier, the investment to do this, is unfeasible. The large coffee conglomerates that could do this, absolutely, will not. Ever. It undermines their brand and over-roasted flavor profiles which have gained common acceptance.

Nespresso is good enough, particularly in a hurry, a few pods are even worth having when not in a hurry. Very successful company, so yes pod business model can be good and applicable for specialty coffee shops. Just have to be very, very careful. Margin for error is thin.

Just set expectations for pods appropriately with customer base. Or don’t bother, and just hire George Clooney I suppose. Or Bose marketing department, the Starbucks of audio. Same approach.

I reserve the right to be not entirely uncorrect.

First, excellent thread thus far and some strong points made.

Will they make specialty coffee approachable? I personally believe it’s less about the nature of the product itself translating an approachable industry than it is about us as individuals/leaders discussing it (or any other method/coffee/etc) in a way that makes specialty coffee approachable.

A seperate topic…but the idea of it all drives me to wonder if specialty items, at least to some extent, should seem intimidating - lending to a bit of mysticism and consumer curiousity that drives sales for a specific market?

Gateway or end-point? I’d say both. I personally don’t support pod use for the environmental concern. I do, however, have a subscription to Kalle’s Sudden. The packaging itself seems minimalistic and more environmentally conscious. This product doesn’t alter my typical coffee consumption. But it comes in handy when I’m in a coffee bind. It has also served the purpose of an educational tool for friends and family (maybe strangers, if I’m “brewing” :wink: while I’m out in public). I can quickly introduce information about specialty beans/people/companies using the product while still feeling proud of the product I’m sharing. If anything, I think it is a gateway in the sense that we can use the topic to keep us thinking, talking, and growing as a community.

Wrong message? Agreed, Not if approached correctly.

Hey all,

Is there a possibility of using Pods in competitions? is it too early to start thinking of Pod only competitions? can it be used in conjunction for the signature drink?

I fully back pods for non-commercial use, I think it is the best way to get people to experience specialty coffee, not everyone can hack an aeropress or a v60 or a stovetop, i think this venture is a positive one for specialty coffee, i don’t know the economics of it all but I can assume companies that do subscription services will love it! they will be able to reach a whole new demographic.

Commercially however, I’m not for it, I don’t like automisation, I feel like it negates the training and dedication we Barista’s have put into becoming better. I didn’t give my self an RSI learning how to tamp for no reason! (I’m aware pods would prevent such injury, but my point holds true)