Espresso pods, or, Easy Serving Espresso (E.S.E.) espresso pods, are paper pouches filled with fine-ground coffee and made to the Easy Serving Espresso Consortium standard. The single-serving espresso pod is 45mm in diameter and contains approximately 7 grams of ground, roasted coffee. Espresso pods are produced by all the large roasters in Italy, and even many of the small boutique roasters offer their coffee in pod form. You can find more information on E.S.E. espresso pods at Wikipedia Easy Serving Espresso Pod page.
Will Espresso Pods Fit my Machine?
Almost all non-capsule home espresso machines will work with E.S.E. pods, generally using the machine's "espresso pod filter basket". Many machines are designed specifically to be used with pods, such as the FrancisFrancis! and Breville brands. These machines will produce better results than a machine that simply can use pods. Lastly, there are machines that use only espresso pods and cannot use manually tamped ground coffee. These produce the best results from espresso pods.
Most commercial espresso machines can use espresso pods in the single-shot filter basket. Many machines come with special filter basket for use with espresso pods.
The HandPresso Wild portable espresso maker definitely uses E.S.E. espresso pods.
Please read our Espresso Machine Review in The PODcast Newsletter Issue #24. We discuss Espresso Machines Optimized for Espresso Pods in PODcast Issue #45, and the Search for a Good Espresso Pod Machine in PODcast Issue #55.
Which machines cannot use E.S.E. Espresso Pods?
Espresso machines using proprietary capsules, such as Nespresso, Tassimo, Lavazza Espresso Point, Lavazza Blue, illy iperEspresso, Bennoti, or Comobar 2000 machines cannot use E.S.E. espresso pods. With those machines you are generally limited to the offerings of the company that makes the machine.
Single-serving coffee makers, such as the Senseo or Melita One-One cannot use E.S.E. espresso pods, even though they look very similar to the pods used by those machines. They do not fit. Coffee pods for those machines are much larger in diameter, contain more coffee, and the coffee is loose in the pod — it is not compressed (tamped) as in an E.S.E. espresso pod.
Note: Espresso cannot be made from drip coffee makers. Why not? See What IS Espresso Anyway? in PODcast #18.
There are other espresso machines that for one reason or another cannot use pods, but the great majority of "normal" espresso machines can successfully use pods.
What are the Advantages of Espresso Pods?
Espresso pods make it much easier to get a great cup of espresso. The use of pods allows users without barista (bar tender) skills to get excellent results. Admittedly, the results are generally not quite as good as that produced from a trained and experienced barista using high quality equipment and fresh beans — but do you have a trained barista in your kitchen? And then there's the cleaning issue. If you have never used a grinder and manually tamped your shots, you have no idea how messy it can be. The use of espresso pods just cuts that right out. Espresso pods are clean and neat with very little to clean up. You just use them and then toss into the trash.
Because the coffee is pre-ground and pre-measured, an expensive grinder is not needed, nor is the skill required to operate it. The pod is simply placed into the machine and tamping is not required.
For restaurants, espresso pods allow them to serve their customers excellent espresso drinks without the need to keep trained personnel on hand. In the our experience, most restaurants with an espresso machine serve undrinkable espresso because they simply do not have the trained staff to operate the machine properly. The use of pods greatly improves the quality of the espresso served to the restaurant's customers while reducing the maintenance and cost of providing it.
PODcast Issue #15 gives our opinion on Espresso Pods vs. Fresh Ground Beans.
How do ESE Espresso Pods Compare to Other Pod or Capsule Systems?
There are many systems on the market that are comparable to, or mistaken for, espresso pods. The most popular is the Nespresso Capsule system. Users of Nespresso often mistakenly call their capsules, pods. They are capsules. Nespresso brand machines only take proprietary Nespresso brand capsules. Likewise, Keurig machines only take Keurig manufactured capsules. The illy iperEspresso machines only take illy brand capsules. Getting the picture? ESE espresso pods are made by hundreds of roasters whose reputation and market depend upon the quality of their roasted coffee sold as whole beans, ground coffee, and in pods. When you use ESE espresso pods, you have access to some of the finest gourmet coffee in the world. Nespresso, Keurig, etc. have little motive to improve the quality or range of their products since you are locked into their system.
What are the drawbacks of Espresso Pods?
The drawback of the espresso pod is simply that the very, very best espresso can only be made by the skilled hands of a trained and experienced barista. Fresh beans, a clean, well maintained grinder set to grind just for the espresso machine being used, the proper tamping pressure and technique, a high quality espresso machine, and the skill and experience with the coffee/grinder/machine combination will result in the best espresso possible — a rare luxury. Pods offer what might be considered a B+ cup of espresso at a fraction of the effort. Note: Most people have never had anything over a C+ cup of espresso.