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Espresso vs. The Capsule

6/4/2015
We spent a really interesting morning at the Ace Hotel, in Shoreditch, London, with Alessandro Vettoretti from Caffe Milani. Amongst many other subjects, we discussed the relative merits of true espresso, and the espresso capsule.

Here are a few interesting points that we shared…

There is a vast range of capsules available, using predominantly Arabica beans, with the occasional touch of a Robusta. But what is the true quality of the bean being roasted? There are exotic origins and blends, there are flavours and Grand Crus, but can the large scale industrial harvest and processing offer the same experience, attention to detail and finesse as a true artisan roaster?

There is significantly less coffee in a capsule. A capsule carries 5-6g of coffee, whereas a typical espresso shot will use 7-9g of coffee. What does this mean? Instinctively and without a truly scientific measure, this suggests there is less overall flavour to extract. However, this is not the only factor.

Capsule machines typically work at such higher pressures (around double that of a standard espresso machine). Does this mean a capsule machine ‘forces’ more out of the coffee? Perhaps.

We also need to look at the grind. I have prised open a coffee capsule and what is obvious is that it uses a super fine grind, so that it is almost a powder. This would suggest that there is a greater surface area for coffee and water to interact. 

What could all these differences mean? In our opinion, these differences are academic. The only valid difference is in the flavour.

Later, I carried out a simple test, comparing the flavour of the capsule coffee with a true espresso. 

The capsule coffee was very drinkable and I have certainly had worse. However, it lacked depth, it was a ‘thin’ experience . Without all of the tasting jargon, which I do not consider myself qualified to use I can only describe it as ‘thin’. It tasted of something with a coffee flavour rather than coffee itself. 

It is impossible to overlook the convenience and consistency offered by coffee capsules, and for this reason it looks like coffee capsules are here to stay. But maybe, on a Sunday morning, when you really want to treat yourself, and you are not dashing off anywhere you can treat yourself to a real espresso experience, in the classic Italian style.