July 22nd, 2005

default, pepper

The nuclear-powered coffee maker

No, not really, although that’s what an office mate dubbed it.

I’ve been making my own coffee at my cubicle off and on for a while; when I (a) have good coffee at the house, (b) remember to grind enough for a couple days in the morning, (c) have remembered to actually bring the little ground coffee container back from the office so I can grind some in the morning, and (d) have the time to go through all this in the first place, it all works out well.

But those are a lot of conditions for a pretty scatterbrained guy to have, so after months of waffling, I decided to risk getting a single-serve coffee maker.

These are a bit of a fad right now: they use coffee “pods,” filter packs of preground coffee. After a bit of research, I chose the Philips Senseo maker, as it’s got the best reputation of the not-too-expensive machines. (The one everyone really likes is the Bunn My Cafe machine, but it’s hard to find a My Cafe for under $200!) I’d been spurred to this by coming across another machine from Melitta that was half the cost of the Senseo, but from what I can tell, Melitta is on the losing end of the pod war; everyone else has more or less standardized around the pod size the Senseo uses. (There’s another competing “consortium” called Home Café but their pods are close enough to be interchangeable, despite the protests of manufacturers. And, as a tech geek, it’s wryly amusing that coffee makers are having format standard wars.)

The Senseo’s a bit unusual in that it’s a cafe crema maker—it actually pumps water under pressure through the coffee pod, and creates espresso-like foam on top of the coffee. It actually creates a lot of foam, and it’s a markedly different density than a true espresso, but it’s an amusing gimmick. Given the speed at which these machines brew, I think only this trick or the classic Bunn “showerhead” speed brew system have a hope of really getting good coffee out.

Of course, to get good coffee out, you have to put good coffee in, and that’s what I was most worried about—the problem with preground filter packs is that ground coffee goes stale very quickly, on the order of one day after exposure to air! And, so far, pods are even worse than I feared. Senseo makes a great deal of noise about being partnered with Douwe Egberts, a coffee roaster from the Netherlands. Judging by the sad brown water the Senseo ejects into my cup, these guys are the European equivalent of Maxwell House. No, that’s not fair—to Maxwell House. I’m trying the only other widely available brand of pods for this thing, Yuban, which is made by Maxwell House. Yuban is a great improvement—it’s mediocre, but you can recognize that it’s mediocre coffee.

But, all may not be lost. There’s a few mail-order companies out there that are trying to make better pods; the one I chose to get a sampler pack from is called, straightforwardly enough, BetterPods. More coffee in each one, better coffee in each one, individually sealed immediately after grinding. I’ll find out next week.

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