‘Easy Serve Espresso’ coffee pods (ESE coffee pods) are designed to make espresso brewing easy. It sounds good, but I was skeptical.
I couldn’t see how a small coffee pod could create a rich, bold espresso that’s anywhere near as good as the real thing, so I decided to take a closer look at ESE coffee pods.
In this guide, I'll tell you everything you need to know about ESE coffee pods. I'll show you how they work and compare to classic espresso and other coffee pods.
What Exactly Are ESE Pods? (How Do They Work?)
ESE coffee pods are Easy Serve Espresso pods of freshly ground coffee that can be used in your espresso machine to brew coffee.
They offer an alternative to the traditional ground coffee used in your espresso machine.
ESE coffee pods are designed to be slotted into your espresso machine. They offer greater convenience, removing the need for grinding, measuring, and tamping beans for a fresh coffee.
All standard ESE pods are made with a 44mm diameter and contain 7 grams of ground coffee beans packed between two sheets of filter paper.
These sizings are regarded as the ‘ESE standard.' They fit in all compatible machines, and there is no real deviation from the standard pod size.
The volume of coffee is just enough for a single espresso shot.
The easiest way to think of ESE coffee pods is like a small tea bag filled with coffee grounds.
They work similarly to the plastic cups used in Keurigs or Nespresso but are softer and have a different shape.
How Do ESE Coffee Pods Work?
ESE pods work as a replacement for regular coffee grounds in an espresso machine. The process is very simple:
- ESE pods are loaded into the machine.
- The portafilter is slotted into the espresso machine.
- The brew cycle starts.
- The ESE coffee pod is thrown away.
Why Do People Use ESE Pods?
ESE pods offer greater convenience. You don't need any experience, prep time, or grinding equipment.
You just put the coffee pods into espresso machines and get a fresh espresso in seconds.
Brief History Of ESE Pods (What's All The Hype?)
ESE coffee pods were invented in 1974 by the Italian coffee specialists Illy.
They were first launched during the peak of espresso popularity, giving an easy way to create espresso at home and building on the idea of coffee pods (invented 13 years earlier).
Illy kept the patent for ESE pods, and it wasn’t until 1989 that it was released as an open design so other brands could create ESE pods.
By this time, home brewing equipment had developed, and there was a real desire for coffee pods that could make authentic espresso at home.
ESE pods have remained popular with those who have espresso machines.
Big brands like Pure Gusto, Illy, Lavazza, and Black Donkey Coffee Roasters have a range of ESE coffee capsules, and the ESE pods are compatible with a wide range of coffee devices.
What Coffee Machines Take ESE Pods?
Almost all modern espresso machines take ESE pods and include an adapter or basket to accommodate them.
However, coffee pod machines will usually not take ESE pods as they are only compatible with specific coffee capsules.
Popular brands that DO take ESE pods:
Brands that DON’T take ESE pods:
Espresso machines that take ESE pods will have an ESE sign on the machine or in the manual. It’s always worth checking compatibility before you buy a pack of ESE pods.
ESE Pods Vs Traditional Espresso Making
There is a divide in the coffee industry about whether ESE paper pods are better than traditional espresso-making with ground coffee.
Here's a breakdown of how they compare in 4 key categories:
1. So Fresh and Consistent!
Winner: ESE Pods
The significant difference between the two brewing methods is the longevity. Each ESE pod is individually wrapped and will give you a consistently fresh brew every time.
Traditional coffee making uses either pre-ground coffee or whole-bean coffee you grind yourself.
These create a fresh espresso with a full-bodied taste, especially if you grind your own coffee beans.
However, pre-ground coffee and whole beans will start to go stale in just a few weeks once opened.
ESE pods contain pre-ground coffee that's vacuum sealed to preserve the freshness.
The whole beans may have been ground a few months before you use the coffee pods in an espresso machine, but they will remain fresh for up to 2 years.
2. It's All About The Flavor & Strength
Winner: Traditional Espresso Making
ESE pods will make tasty espresso, but traditional espresso-making gives you more control. This lets you produce a bolder and more caffeinated espresso coffee packed with flavor.
A shot of espresso should be made with 7-9 grams of coffee.
ESE pods only contain 7 grams of coffee and may brew weaker and less caffeinated espresso.
ESE pods typically have 40-60mg of caffeine in a single shot, whereas a traditional espresso shot will have 60-80mg.
3. Convenience Is Key
Winner: ESE Pods
ESE pods are the more convenient option.
Traditional espresso making (including prep time) can take 5-10 minutes. ESE pods let you make a high-quality espresso in under a minute, with no clean-up afterward.
4. Price Point
Winner: Traditional Espresso Making
ESE pods remove the need for some equipment but are more expensive in the long run. However, they last longer than regular ground coffee, so you can buy in bulk to lower the overall cost.
ESE pods cost roughly $0.40-$0.60, but espresso can cost as little as $0.20 per cup if you purchase the ground coffee in bulk.
However, ESE pods remove the need for supplementary equipment (like grinders), saving you hundreds of dollars in upfront costs.
ESE Pods Vs Other Coffee Capsules
There are lots of single-serve coffee capsules available on the market alongside ESE pods.
The main difference is that traditional coffee pods are often made for specific coffee makers, whereas ESE pods are made to an industry-wide standard (regulated by the ESE Consortium).
That means there is more variety with coffee capsules, but whatever brand you purchase ESE pods from, the espresso coffee should be the same.
Here’s how ESE pods compare to some of the most popular coffee capsules on the market:
K-Cups are Keurig’s own brand of coffee capsules. They are similar to ESE pods because they both make a single high-quality cup of coffee, but K-Cups can only be used in Keurigs.
Size & Strength
K-Cups are bigger than ESE pods (61mm diameter vs. 44mm diameter). K-Cups also contain more coffee than ESE pods (7-12g vs. 7g).
This means that K-Cups are typically stronger and more caffeinated than ESE pods.
K-cups can only be used in a Keurig coffee machine. ESE pods are more versatile.
They can be used in almost every traditional espresso machine (including a manual espresso machine), but they are not compatible with coffee pod machines, like Keurigs.
K-Cups come in a variety of styles and flavors.
Most major coffee brands produce K-Cups, and you can choose from regular coffee, milk-based drink options (like a cappuccino), and even some non-coffee options like K-cups for tea.
ESE pods will only produce espresso coffee and have much less variety.
Most new K-Cups are recyclable, but not all are. Some take a bit of effort to recycle, too. ESE pods are all compostable and are the more environmentally friendly choice.
K-Cups and ESE pods both cost $0.40-$0.60 each. However, there are more budget K-Cup options to choose from.
Both K-Cups and ESE pods offer a convenient way to make coffee shop quality coffee at home.
K-Cups can’t make authentic espresso and are less versatile, but they offer a lot of variety.
If you only want espresso, ESE pods are best. If you prefer a range of coffee drinks, K-Cups are the better choice.
Nespresso pods are single-use coffee pods that can only be used in a Nespresso coffee machine.
They are similar to ESE espresso pods in that they contain ground coffee in a capsule and will brew a single cup of coffee.
Size & Strength
Nespresso pods are typically smaller than ESE pods (37mm diameter vs. 44mm) and contain less ground coffee (5.5g vs. 7g).
This makes ESE pods slightly stronger and more caffeinated than Nespresso pods.
Nespresso capsules can only be used in Nespresso machines. ESE pods are more versatile and can be used in most espresso makers.
Nespresso pods come in a wide range of styles and flavors, and you can pick up a variety pack in most supermarkets.
ESE pods have less variety, though you can choose different blends of coffee beans.
Nespresso capsules are recyclable. Nespresso has developed a recycling scheme to return them, but it’s still limited.
Easy Serving Espresso pods are easy to recycle and are fully compostable.
Nespresso pods typically cost $0.35-$0.50. This makes them slightly cheaper than ESE pods, which typically cost $0.40-$0.60.
Nespresso and ESE pods make home brewing quick, easy, and convenient.
ESE pods are more versatile and make bolder coffee, but there’s less variety. Nespresso gives you a range of options at a lower price.
If you only want espresso, ESE pods are best. If you prefer a range of coffee drinks, I recommend the Nespresso pods.
Pros & Cons of Easy Serve Espresso Pods
Related Easy Serve Espresso Pod Questions
Do ESE coffee pods taste better or worse?
ESE pods typically contain less coffee than you would use for traditional espresso brewing, so they have a slightly weaker flavor.
What's the difference between ESE coffee pods and coffee bags?
Coffee bags are used like a tea bag and placed in hot water to make an instant coffee drink. ESE pods have been developed for use in an espresso machine to create espresso coffee.
Can you use 2 ESE pods at once?
While an espresso machine will only fit one ESE pod, if you want a double shot of espresso, use two ESE pods separately, one after the other.
Are ESE Pods Right For You?
ESE coffee pods offer a simple way to produce espresso without all the mess from grinding and tamping the bean.
They make good quality espresso, but it has a slightly weaker flavor than traditionally brewed espresso.
If you have a busy schedule and value convenience and consistency over perfection, I recommend the ESE pods.
If you're a coffee connoisseur, you'll probably be best sticking to traditional espresso brewing.