It's hard to imagine a world where k-cups and Nespresso pods don't exist. For some people, they are the only way to drink coffee, and it's understandable. They're extremely convenient and allow people to get premium coffee shop-level coffee from the comfort of their homes. They also allow people to sample different types of coffee without wasting too much money.
It's estimated that around 25% of all US households own a single-serve coffee machine and coffee pods have never been more popular. But very few people know about their inception. For instance, did you know that Keurig capsules were first meant to be used in offices? Or that Keurig wasn't the first to patent the idea? If you want to learn more about how coffee pods and k-cups were born, here's a brief history lesson.
How it All Started
The whole story of single-serve coffee pods as we know them today started in 1975 with a young engineer by the name of Eric Favre. Favre was hired by Nestlé to come up with an affordable way for people to enjoy espresso. Until then, people had no choice but to pay a premium to have the single-shot coffee prepared by professionals using expensive equipment. His goal was to create a home coffee machine that could recreate the Italian coffee shop experience as closely as possible.
While the idea of single-use coffee cups sounds great in hindsight, the demand for this type of product wasn't clear at that moment. Back then, coffee drinkers fell into two camps.
You had those who liked their coffee the traditional way, and others who preferred instant coffee. Roasted ground coffee offered the best quality but was laborious and inconvenient, while instant coffee was faster, but didn’t taste as good. And it didn’t seem like the two sectors could even overlap.
Favre was familiar with the espresso culture and headed to Rome to learn how expressos were made in closer detail. While he was wandering around Rome’s city center, he noticed that people were lining up outside of a particular coffee shop. He went inside to see what the fuss was about and noticed that the coffee shop used the same machine as everyone else.
He asked one of the baristas why their coffee was more popular, and they answered that operators at other coffee shops only pumped their pistons once while they pumped it multiple times. They said that their method created more oxidation, which drew more flavor from the beans. It also had the effect of increasing the amount of crema, which is the foam that forms on top of a quality cup of espresso. Favre took notes.
He then immediately went back to Nestlé’s Switzerland headquarters and started working on a prototype that could replicate the same process. He and his team knew that the idea of a single-serve machine had been around since the 50s, but no one made serious efforts to make it happen.
Favre started thinking of how he could bring affordable espresso machines to households and came up with the idea for coffee pods. He would make pods that would not only hold enough grounds to make a single cup, but that would also keep the coffee fresh. This was a very tough proposition at the time since ground coffee loses its freshness very quickly.
He then came up with a cup that would maximize aeration to increase oxidation and replicate what operators were doing at the Rome coffee shop he visited. He also created a machine that would pierce the top of the container and shoot hot water through the needle. The machine would push the cup against a spiked plate forcing the coffee out of the cup and through a spout. And this is how the Nespresso machine and capsules as we know them today were born.
Keurig Comes into Play
Keurig came much later into the game and created their machines and k-cups about 25 years after Nespresso created theirs. And, while the two systems look similar at first glance, they were developed independently.
The history of the k-cup started when Peter Dragone and John Sylvan, two college roommates, wanted to make the process of making coffee in offices more convenient and less wasteful. They also didn't like the quality of coffee office coffee machines produced. Coffee produced in large batches tended to become bitter, dense, and stale after a while, and the two friends wanted to change that.
Sylvan started working on a prototype of a single cup brewing machine that could be used in offices all over the country. He then brought in Dragone, who was working as a finance director at Chiquita, to draft a business plan and come in as a partner. They then founded Keurig in 1992. The inspiration for the name came after Sylvan looked up the word for “excellence” in the Dutch language.
The first prototypes they created didn't work out too well, however, and were largely inefficient. This is when they started looking for venture capital and found a partner in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. They also were able to get $50,000 in venture capital funding from a Minneapolis food-based venture capital firm. A Cambridge-based venture capital firm by the name of MDT Adviser then pumped $1,000,000 into the project.
Unfortunately, things didn't work out between Sylvan and the new investors, and he ended up selling his stake for the company for $50,000. Dragone also decided to step down but kept his stake in the company. The remaining investors were then able to fast-track the project and released their first k-cup and machine in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
Nespresso vs Keurig - Which One is Better?
Now comes the tough question: which one of these capsules are better? Well, it depends on what you're looking for. Both of them produce high-quality espresso pods and their espresso capsules are around the same. Coffee pods price will usually depend on the quality, but other factors will affect it.
If you want to know how much are Nespresso pods, the Nespresso pods cost will depend on things like the strength of the coffee and the provenance of the beans. Nespresso pods price will also vary depending on the cup line.
Nespresso capsules price for their Nespresso original pods is around $0.70 per pod while you can expect to pay anywhere between $0.90-$1.25 for Vertuo Nespresso machine pods. Keurig pods, on the other hand, will usually be under the $0.60 mark. So, that’s one point in favor of Keurig.
But does Keurig stack up when it comes to variety and quality? Well, the jury is still divided on this one.
One thing you should know is that there are fewer pods for Nespresso, and you’ll have a harder time finding them at your local grocery store. However, most experts will agree that Nespresso offers the best coffee. You should also note that Keurig machines cannot make espresso and that most Nespresso machines allow you to brew coffee traditionally. So, if you want more versatility and better coffee, we suggest you go with Nespresso.
What About Nescafé?
You should know that Nescafé has its own line of capsules too. You will need to get a Nescafé capsule machine to use them, however. Their capsules are made exclusively for their Dolce Gusto machine, so don't buy coffee pods for Nespresso thinking that they will work in their machine. Make sure that you look very closely at the packaging so that you don't make the mistake.
How to Use a Nespresso Pod Machine
If you want to know how to use Nespresso pods and their machines, the process is pretty simple. All you have to do is plug in the machine and fill in the water or milk. Put a cup under the spout. Put the capsule into the designated area and set the machine on the setting you want. Close the lid and you will either need to press a button for the process to start or it will start automatically. Your coffee should be ready in about a minute.
How to Use Nespresso Capsules without Machine
You should also know that you don't necessarily need a machine to enjoy your Nespresso capsules. You can cut the capsule open, pour out the content, and steep the grounds using a French press. And, if you have a compostable capsule, you can make coffee by taking the capsule out of its packaging, dunking it in hot water for a few minutes, then fishing the capsule out of the cup.
Also, you don't necessarily need to buy disposable pods for Nespresso. You can make your coffee capsules with the grounds of your choice using reusable capsules. You can find those on Amazon, and they could allow you to save money in the long run.
Coffee capsules have changed the world of coffee forever and they could be a great choice for anyone who likes a nice fresh cup of coffee fast. If you don’t own a capsule machine yet, we suggest you take a look at a few of them and consider the option.