Moving from the uber-convenience of disposable products and choosing to make an environmental commitment can be a period of adjustment.
Coffee capsules are generally weaker in flavour than an espresso from your local coffee shop - this is simply due to the smaller capacity, literally resulting in less coffee. A cafe espresso is brewed using around 11 grams, whilst capsules can range from 5 to 5.8 grams. And unfortunately, while refillable capsules are one of the most environmentally sustainable and affordable coffee pod options on the market, their capacity can be even smaller, as the products are specially designed to be shorter to ensure no damage occurs to the appliance they are used in.
When it comes to filling your own coffee pods, extraction results can vary dependant on which coffee you use, and how you use it. We've compiled our top tips below to help you perfect your brew method.
Start with the machine itself: Water pressure / pump malfunction, mould build up, frequently full drip tray? It's well and truly time for a spring clean. Make sure your coffee capsule machine has been recently cleaned, descaled and is in optimum working condition. “Descaling” is the act of stripping calcium and lime deposits from your machine’s surfaces, assisting the pump to create a pressure build-up that produces a lovely crema to top your brew. If you want to ensure your coffee machine is producing the best flavour and an optimal brew pressure, it should be cleaned once a week and descaled once every three months. Keeping the internal mechanics of your coffee machine in good condition by regularly cleaning it not only extends the life of the appliance, but also ensures the quality of the coffee you brew.
Tip: Don't - Use vinegar! Vinegar doesn't remove coffee oils the way a professionally formulated coffee machine cleaner does. Do - Use a cleaning solution that will remove oils, stains and break down grime.
Invest in some real, fresh coffee: Pre-filled coffee capsules can often contain added flavour enhancers, (think dehydrated powders or concentrates) to give the impression of a "stronger" coffee. There is still some public misconception around flavour intensity and caffeine content - a stronger flavoured pod coffee does not always equate to higher caffeine content.
Nespresso state that they use 95% Arabicas and 5% Robustas in their Grands Crus capsules. Some Italian blends also often contain some Robusta beans – heresy for those brought up to think only arabica is fit for drinking! But a touch of Robusta in a blend gives it that characteristic body. To replicate this flavour intensity, you might like to try a similar blend. We recommend a strong dark roast, or Italian-style roast to achieve a stronger tasting brew, as stronger coffee tends to have a thicker and darker crema.
It's also important to note that during the extraction of coffee, different compounds extract at different rates. Sharper, acidic, fruity flavours tend to come out first, followed by the deep, heavier ones, and lastly the woody, bitter notes. A well extracted cuppa has a balance of these! And remember - fresh is best. Head to your local roaster or cafe to chat about their available blends.
Tip: After some coffee recommendations? Check out our new Bespoke Blend, ground specifically for use with your capsules, and roasted strongly to reveal notes of Dutch cocoa (for a beautiful dark chocolate taste in the cup - what a treat)! We also asked our customers for their favourites. Here are some of the top tips for a great go-to blend - Veneziano Forza, Gigante Black Silk, Genovese Super Brazil, Merlo Forza 5.1, Bellissimo Ultimo, Botero Brass, ONA The Hitman, Mocopan Profondo, Niccolo House Blend, Niccolo Decaf, Industry One Stone Hammer Blend, L'or Espresso Onyx, Republica Sydney Double Shot Crema.
Use the right grind: It's not only the roast that impacts your final brew, you'll find that the correct grind also contributes to the strength of your coffee and quality of crema. In general, a fine grind works best for reusable pods - this means that the water has to work a little harder to get through that ground coffee, creating strong, fuller bodied espresso and a beautiful extraction. Whereas a coarser grind tends to produce gentler flavours and a lighter colour crema. For the majority of our reusable pods, we recommend asking your local cafe or roaster to grind the beans to medium-fine for optimal results.
If you grind at home, using a burr grinder will help you achieve a better brew (blade grinders can create too much dust). Ensure your capsule is tamped firmly, and filled to the top. Head to our article on grind size for a more detailed look at how this effects your brew results.
Tip: A grind that is too fine can be a common cause of a slow extraction. We suggest experimenting with pressure - pack the coffee more loosely with minimal tamp, or simply fill and apply your lid. At the other end of the scale, if your grind size is too coarse you may experience watery coffee, we suggest applying more pressure when tamping.
Pick your pod (Nespresso users): Not all pods are equal! Ensure you are using the right capsule for your needs. Want to go eco but retain a very high brew quality? Bluecup capsules are for you. If sustainability is your number one priority, we suggest WayCap, however for an intense coffee we generally suggest 2 pods per brew with the WayCap system. And for something in between, our SealPod capsules are the perfect all-rounder.
Use the right lid/filter: SealPod and WayCap users might improve their brew by experimenting with their capsule lid. When using SealPod, the Espresso Lid is best for producing a richer coffee and beautiful silky crema. And WayCap users can simply experiment with the interchangeable Steel Filters (each one suited to a particular grind size) - for a very fine grind use a filter with more slots, and for a coarse grind a filter with minimal slots is best.
Tip: If using WayCap, make sure to use only one filter at a time.
Consider your milk to coffee ratio: Did you know baristas increase a shot size based on the amount of milk? You may want to consider the extraction size you are using, or brew a double shot. If you only use a single shot in a large cup, once you fill it with milk, you're going to lose the lovely characteristics of the coffee (flavours and aromas!) as the milk overshadows it.
To achieve a lovely, intense coffee with pods, one foolproof method is to brew double ristretto style: Use two capsules and brew 2 x short shots (approx 25mL per shot). A ristretto will also extract less acidity, so you'll end up with a lovely sweet, rich cup of coffee too. A high intensity coffee roast supports this kind of extraction perfectly.
Note: Brewing a long coffee? To get the absolute best extraction from reusable pods, we strongly recommend using the standard espresso shot (using the short shot button) on your coffee machine. This provides the perfect amount of water to extract the best elements of the coffee (oils, aroma and flavour - yum)!
When brewing a long style coffee, you'll probably notice "blonding". Blonding is the colour transition of a pour from dark brown to a light, uniform pale blond. This normally occurs in the last third of the pull and is a signal to end the pour. This overly-blond portion of the brew is thin, nearly flavourless, and if allowed to continue will dilute the body and taste characteristics of a shot.
Brewing a long shot can adversely affect your extraction. For a better tasting long or mug coffee:
Lungo - use 2 pods each on a 40mL extraction setting
Long black - use the short shot button, and top with boiling water (by running your coffee machine without a pod in it)
The other bonus of brewing this way? You will actually extract less acidity from the coffee, resulting in a less bitter tasting cuppa.