So I broke my espresso machine. The baskets handle had already snapped off discouraging its use and the pump decided then to give up the ghost. I looked how expensive a new one, well a new step up new one, was going to be and put it on the back burner, going back to some of the other coffee brewing methods in the back of the cupboard.
The emerging hero from this has been a nice glass V60 (my plastic one was very unloved). I’ve dialled back the fineness on the grinder, got patient with letting the coffee bloom before fully brewing it and been really enjoying it. The smell during the bloom of the coffee of fresh, freshly ground coffee is absolutely great, very different to an espresso, but great. The coffee black or white, smooth and easy going. It’s also very quiet for those early morning starts.
Around then Pact launched their kickstarter for coffee pods. I’ve long been of the “coffee-pods-are-evil”. point of view because
- Vendor lock in
- Lots of additional waste
- Small amounts of coffee in each pod
- Small amounts of very expensive coffee in each pod
- Small amounts of very expensive stale bad coffee in each pod
However I end up in hotel rooms often enough which have one and somehow I seem to go through all the pods. Its mess free, operable regardless of how early it is or how bad you feel, and just so convenient.
So when Pact launched their Kickstarter for Nespresso compatible pods and I read a bit about they were thinking of doing, and still being till without an espresso machine I thought it was worthwhile giving pods a proper try out. So I backed.
The pods turned up recently. Shortly after I got a good deal on a nearly new Krups Pixie Nespresso machine and I’ve been giving it a go.
How many of those five things were addressed?
Vendor lock in
Well the fact that there was a Kickstarter gave hope that there was innovation and change coming to this format. Mainly enabled by Nestle in 2014 agreeing to “lift the barriers to entry and development” after losing a court battle in France. 1 down.
Nespresso official pods are made from coated aluminium material which is difficult to recycle, however they have launched a recycling scheme where you can drop them into 5 shops in the UK or book a collection when you order new ones.
These new ones from Pact are a much stiffer all plastic (polypropylene) pods with an aluminium foil lid. After letting the pod bin fill up it’s not very much hassle to go through five or six in short order using the handle of a handy teaspoon to excise the foil from the pod, scoop out the dead grinds for composting and stick the plastic in the recycling. There are instructions for this in the box. Peeling off the foil properly is a little fiddly. Polypropylene is a recyclable material and several waste management companies near me deal with it. I’m not entirely sure whether in the mixed green bag recycling it will get recycled or not, one of my things on the to-do list to find exactly what happens to that. Pact don’t have a matching return to sender recycling scheme so its very much up to what your local council recycles.
But in either case then, both types of pods can be recycled with a little bit of effort. Better recyclability was part of the brief originally for the Pact pods, I hope it is better, but can’t see definitively it is. Either way you still get a lot of waste with pods, and this is the thing that still most puts me off.
I weighed an Official Nespresso pods and Pact pods on a 0.01g scale and then carefully opened washed and dried it (avoiding losing any aluminium), and had a look at how much coffee was in there.
My measurements were
Nespresso short, 5.1g long 6.3g
Pact pods short, 5.1g long 5.4g
Pact also wrote kindly to confirm that they aim for 5.2g in a short and 5.4g in a long (constrained by the plastic casing). I’ve read online Nespresso go for about 5.0 in a short and 7.0g in a long but couldn’t find a definitive reference.
That’s not a lot of coffee in a pod, when I hand grind espresso or for my V60 I’ll grind and tamp about 16g of coffee for a double espresso.
Pact pods are 14.95 for 40 shorts (single espresso) so 37p a pod
A Pact bag is 6.95 for about 30 single espressos, or about 23p a shot.
So pods work out about 50% more expensive than bags.
On the other hand the Pixie Nespresso machine was £65 second hand, the espresso machines I was looking at around 250-900 second hand. So that pays for quite a lot of pods.
Official Nespresso Single Origin pods are 33p a go, (there are cheaper ones but these seemed the best comparison) so Pact is working out a bit more expensive there as well.
So one of the things I was really interested in was getting fresh coffee in pods. Pact confirmed that like the bags “the pods are sealed within 7 days of roasting the beans at Pact HQ. The coffee is then left to degas for 3 days (this helps reduce the acidity in the coffee) before being ground at the last moment and sealed in the casing.” The pods are produced in small batches, and sold in 40 pod units.
Opening up some Nespresso and pact pods you could really tell the difference in the smell. The coffee also has a nice grind and the usual not-too-dark roast from Pact.
Left to Right Nespresso Dulsao Short Pod, Nespresso Vivalto Lungo, Pact Short Pod, Pact Long Pod.
Long pods or Lungo
So when using the ‘long’ extraction on my machine I didn’t think were up to much using the Pact or Nespresso long pods. There was a very long extraction in not a lot of coffee. It still got a crema, but then I wasn’t sure that was what I wanted in that sort of coffee. It certainly wasn’t a patch on a bit of time with the V60 or Chemex for a long black coffee, and definitely not for an espresso machine for a double espresso.
Pact, to be fair, do recommend for a double espresso using two single short pods into the same cup one after each other, this works Ok, but the bottom one has stood around for a while. I tended just to have two shorts in quick succession, in fact this turned out to be generally the way I drank things from the pod machine.
Trying the longs as shorts and the shorts at longs didn’t seem to make a significant difference in either extraction mode.
In short, the Pact short pods were surprisingly good.
As a baseline I cycled through a bunch of the Nespresso ones that came in the taster pack (the machine I bought was a customer return, it came with all of the trials unused). They do definitely taste different from each other according to their labelled flavour but generally feel a bit artificial, a bit flat and with no way of telling how old they were. The single origin (slightly more expensive) Nespressos were noticeable better, the Brazil and Columbian espresso tasting recognisably like I’d expect them to. Some of the others I was really not keen on.
The pact ones are definitely better. They made a coffee that smelt fresher brewing, a lot more individual, and had a very nice smooth finish.
With either I found I tend to chain two, but then the machine made that very easy.
So not a replacement for an espresso machine for me, but with the Pact pods still a coffee you could be pretty proud to serve anyone who came to the house. We had a play date with 4 parents, and a double short with water and milk went down to good compliments. It was also really easy, which is the killer feature…
Oh, this is too easy. It’s almost impossible to make a mess. Compared, for instance, to the number of times I’ve forgotten to put the paper filter in an Aeropress and flooded the worktop. The footprint is also tiny – so easy to fit in a kitchen. I think a lot of these will go to small flats. The clean-up is easy. The repeatability and consistency is good, even if you are really bleary eyed your coffee isn’t going to be noticeably worse. In fact everyone of my (extended) family has long since refused to try and make me coffee (this is fine with me), but now with this, anyone can do it. Even my 2 year old made me one (it was under supervision).
So that’s about it. I think that with the Pact pods it comes into an acceptable range of quality with a much cheaper machine entry. I think they are going to be very successful. I still think though it’s a lot of waste and not convinced how many will get recycled.
A couple of things I think would improve the Pact offer, these would be my suggested tweaks.
40 Pack is too big
Unlike the great packaging on the Pact bags, this is very long (40cm) and may well struggle to come through your door. It is a nice thing to open, but if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit (it doesn’t fit through our door or parcel box).
It also means there are too many pods in there. A normal pack of coffee is about 30 coffees, these are more like 40 and last me more than 3 weeks. Really I want coffee fresher and more often than that.
If they came in 20s, these fit in the same size bag as previous, would cost approximately the same, and I’d be able to order about as regularly. Here is an example of 20 pods put into the standard size bag.
Shorts and Longs
Currently the pods are identical externally, Pact are working on having printing on the foil to fix this. Internally though they are very similar. I can’t really tell much of a difference
Really convenient, a fresh as the bags and generally a good cup of coffee
More difficult to get delivered than the bags, and still a really expensive way to buy and make coffee.
Still a worrying amount of waste.
(I am aslo now looking for the smallest footprint espresso high quality machine possible. I really did love how small the Pixie was)