Bonnie: In general, I’ve never really been a fan of “pod” single-cup beverage machines for many reasons. For some (Senseo), the resulting coffee is too weak and watery for me, where you almost see the bottom of the cup.
My one exception was my Nespresso machine that always makes a good cup of espresso. Its pods — that look like a foil-sealed, half-and-half creamer found in diners — are well sealed, keeping the coffee fresh. And, the maker of the brew controls the amount of liquid in the cup, and thus the strength.
I must, though, first back up to May 2005 when at FMI (the supermarket industry convention) Pat Riso (then a Kraft spokesperson) demonstrated their new beverage-making machine to me. According to Pat, you could “experience your own coffeehouse at home with Tassimo, the first one-cup, on-demand, appliance to prepare beverages with the touch of button.”
Tassimo, in fact, was a pretty smart machine. It read the barcode on their “pods” (disposable T-discs) and then knew the right temperature and amount of water to brew either cappuccino, espresso, latte, hot chocolate, coffee or tea.
The proof would, of course, be in the results. Pat dutifully brewed me a cup of coffee.
“It’s weak,” I said.
She reached for another disc and tried again.
Again she tried, stopping the water flow manually to make a stronger cup.
I shook my head. I was not at all impressed.
“Great concept,” I said to her, “that is, if the machine would only brew a decent cup of coffee.”
A few months later I received an email from her explaining that the system was so new in the U.S. that “we were sampling an early test version of the product and that the amount of coffee in the discs was not right. The final product will absolutely be much stronger than what you tasted.”
Trying to be fair to the coffee and the machine, I tried it again. It was much better, but still not a cup of coffee that I’d drink. Yes, I am that fussy about my brew. And then I received samples of these new Starbucks T-discs.
Not only was the coffee delicious, it was a full mug full, not a half cup like most of their other discs brewed. If I closed my eyes while sipping I could imagine sitting in Starbucks drinking coffee, only my coffee cost under a buck.
So funny, that I must share. In researching to write this Bite, I found an old Supermarket Sampler column (1.09.05) where I pleaded to Maxwell House-coffee maker Kraft, “You also distribute Starbucks coffee to supermarkets. How about Starbucks coffee pods for strong-coffee lovers like me?”
That plea was for their Maxwell House Cafe Collection for pod machines, long before Kraft joined forces with Braun to make Tassimo. But I’m still glad they were listening.
Bryan: Do any of you remember those drug commercials from the 80’s: “I learned it by watching you, Dad!” I learned much from this ad and tactfully avoided my mother’s vicious coffee addiction. Bonnie needs a full pot of strong brew to get going in the morning. This fact was driven home to me on a trip to Brussels long ago. Staying at my aunt’s home, we woke to breakfast and coffee in the mornings. For the first two days Bonnie felt terrible, thinking it was prolonged jet lag, before realizing that Aunt Meredith bizarrely brewed decaf. A quick POT of real coffee later an addiction was quelled, Bonnie was better and I vowed never to need coffee in that way.
While not crazily drawn to the beverage, I actually do enjoy coffee, a divine drink when properly brewed and served. I have mixed feelings about the “pod” style brewing machines. On one hand, I would never brew a whole pot just for myself, so the ability to have a single cup of quality coffee is a really great thing. The problem for me is always that I run out of the pods and inevitably can’t find them or forget to buy them. The Tassimo machine and the Starbucks pods really do make a great cup of joe. When the Starbucks pods just showed up at my door without me having to go anywhere, I thought “now this is how it should be done, maybe I can get used to pods (please just keep sending them to my door!). Any coffee that’s gotten the Bonnie seal of approval is truly ready for any level aficionado, but I’ll let you know, as a casual enjoyer (I enjoy coffee best after dinner, with dessert).. these are really great. Since Bonnie somehow got her request fulfilled, and Maxwell House finally began distributing Starbucks pods, I have a request from my girlfriend to please release Starbucks soy chai pods. Well, I’ve asked. In the meantime, everyone should enjoy these treats.
Eric: I nearly laughed out loud after reading my brother’s recollection of our trip to Brussels and the withdrawal my mother went through with her “decaf episode.” It is amazing that coffee is not considered a soft drug or, for that matter, that caffeine itself is not recognized as just as an addictive substance as nicotine. Working in the hospitality industry you start to depend on coffee not just as a drink after dessert, but as a start to the morning and a pick-me-up in the afternoon. Fortunately, for myself, I can control the addiction and, unlike my mother, I can survive a day or two without the brew. One of the funnier things I think about when writing about a single-serving coffee machine being sold in the US is the fact that US coffee consumers probably don’t even know what a single serving of coffee looks like; most of the time a small coffee sold anywhere in the US comes close to nearly a pint of coffee….
Nonetheless, Tassimo/Starbucks has done a good thing; they’ve taken an idea brought mainstream by the Senseo product and enhanced it to offer a tasteful cup of coffee that most Europeans would find appealing. And, as my brother pointed out, if my mother has jeopardized one of her mornings for this coffee and has actually chosen to write about it as one of her preferred products, then take our words to heart; it is something worth trying.