Taste Testing Coffee Capsules from Around the World: Part One

We explore the global coffee community’s take on coffee pods.


Photos courtesy of Tigger Chaturabul

From Nescafé to Nespresso, Nestlé has come a long way to achieve market domination in the domestic home brewing department, encapsulating everything from the humblest of instant coffee preferences to luxuriously branded capsule comforts.

While capsule coffee is often met with skepticism from serious coffee drinkers, you can’t deny the technology’s success over the past two decades. While the overall coffee industry is projected to grow at a rate of 4.22% from 2020-2025, capsule coffee is expected to grow at 7.72% in the same period. 

Since Nespresso’s concept patents started expiring in 2012, more and more independent roasters have entered the capsule market, developing their own capsule-brew roast profiles and packaging them in Nespresso-compatible pods. 

There is enormous potential for capsule coffee technology, and as roasters test out their own range of capsule offerings, I did a taste test to find out how far the range of quality pod coffee can span. I was joined by Hong Kong’s 2015 Cup Tasters Champion Chris Kwong, and we sampled capsules from a variety of roasters from Asia, Europe, and Australia, brewing with one of Nespresso’s most popular machines, the Pixie Espresso Maker, and Bonaqua mineral water. We tried each capsule twice, using both the automatic settings for the espresso and the “lungo” button on the machine.

PPP Coffee is great for those who enjoy citrus-tasting black coffee.

PPP Coffee (Singapore) – Suke Quto Ethiopia Washed

This coffee is described as the quintessential Ethiopian coffee. Overall, the acidity was a little too sharp and the aftertaste too short, but both cups had hints of citrus and black tea flavors. The lungo brew smoothed out the acidity a little but increased bitterness. These capsules would be great for people who like citrus-y black coffee, but there was a plastic-like flavor, even though the pods themselves are 100% plastic-free.

Industry Beans’ pods are completely biodegradable.

Industry Beans (Australia) in partnership with Specialty Coffee Collective – Ethiopia Washed

In both espresso and lungo cups, the smooth coffee had a round body and long aftertaste, but the lungo really brought out the acidity better, highlighting apple and floral notes while reducing the overall oiliness. These pods are 100% compostable and biodegradable, a huge bonus for daily coffee sustainability habits, and would be really enjoyable for people who like their coffee fruity but darker. 

Cupping Room Coffee Roasters (Hong Kong) – Israel Degfa Ethiopia Natural

Pressing the brew button on these capsules instantly released a mouthwatering fruity smell, winning best aroma out of the lot. The lungo setting was definitely better, increasing the body and sweetness for a well-balanced coffee with plum and berry flavors and grape-like acidity. The flavor intensity was on the lighter side, making these capsules more enjoyable as an afternoon coffee rather than as a morning wake-me-up. 

Colonna Coffee was one of the first specialty roasters to hit the pod market.

Colonna Coffee (United Kingdom) – Kenya Washed

Colonna Coffee has been in the capsule market for a while, and they even have their own OPAL One capsule machine specially designed to brew Colonna capsules, though they are also compatible with any Nespresso machine. Their capsule offering is one of the widest among independent roasters and with a single taste, you can tell that they really know what they’re doing.

We were blown away by how structured the Kenyan coffee was—the acidity and body were well-connected, with a great flavor intensity, and both cups were very well-balanced with a long aftertaste. The cranberry and raspberry flavors, with lime acidity and brown sugar sweetness, were very apparent in the cups. The lungo setting brewed a better aroma and sweetness, and rounded out the body more. These capsules truly delivered a specialty-coffee experience even with the average Nespresso machine.

Next week we’ll finish off reviewing more pods by roasters from Denmark, the Philippines, Nespresso themselves, and Starbucks.

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Tigger Chaturabul tried to be a barista for two years until she realized she was better suited behind the business than behind the bar. She now runs her own copywriting and design studio, Curious Typhoon Studio, that serves F&B and other small businesses in Hong Kong. Her free-range creative lifestyle allows her to spend all her time in coffee shops everywhere.

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