Single-Serve Coffee System Reviews by Kenneth Davids - April 2011 | CoffeeReview.com

April 2011

Single-Serve System Reviews 2011
by Kenneth Davids with Ted Stachura

Normally, Coffee Review evaluates roasted coffees using a traditional direct-infusion cupping protocol. Resulting ratings and reviews are independent of the brewing method chosen by the consumer. If we are assessing a coffee specifically for espresso brewing, we taste coffee that has been brewed on a carefully calibrated espresso machine following brewing protocols established by the World Barista Championship.

However, for the April article, we reviewed coffees that were brewed using pods or capsules in one of five well-established single-serve coffee systems. Unlike other cuppings, the coffee being evaluated is directly linked to a particular brewing device. In some cases, the capsules are specially designed to fit only one specific brewer.

So, this month, in addition to reviewing brewed coffees, we evaluated the single-serve brewing equipment that produced the coffees. We tested the Keurig system and its K-cups, the Bunn My Café and its paper pods, the Senseo and its paper pods, the espresso-oriented Nespresso system, and the complex, multi-beverage Tassimo and its hi-tech T Discs.

We did not attempt to provide numerical ratings of the devices, nor did we specifically recommend particular machines. Below, you will find a summary of the pros and cons of each brewer, followed by a chart that compares the key features of each brewer and its matching pods. Summaries appear in alphabetical order. For evaluations of the general quality of the coffee produced by each system and reviews of a selection of specific coffees produced on each, click on the link below.


Read April Article and Coffee Reviews

Bunn My Café

The Bunn My Café uses paper pods, the same dimension pods as the Senseo brewer. Bunn only brands the brewing units; it does not sell Bunn-branded coffee and no license is required to produce Bunn-compatible paper pods. This hands-off, open format approach makes the Bunn program unique among single-serve systems.


Pros:

  • Pour-over system; the volume of water you pour into the top of the unit displaces (after the brew button is pressed) the same volume of brewing water through the pod and into the cup.
  • Sophisticated brewing procedure, with pre-infusion and a pulse brew option that mildly intensifies intensity and bitterness, characteristics which some coffee drinkers enjoy and celebrate. Generally obtains a good extraction from paper pods.

Cons:

  • At this writing a relatively limited number of coffees are available in compatible pods, and based on our tests the quality (and distinction) of these coffees is not particularly impressive.
  • The unit we tested produced very mildly off-tasting water, probably from contact with plastic parts, but this off-taste was never pronounced enough to adversely affect the flavor of the final beverage.

Notes:

  • Designed to produce an American-style brewed coffee: no espresso or hot chocolate capabilities. Produces tea from compatible pods.
  • Compatible paper pods and their spent grounds are completely compostable, but the protective packaging for the pods is not.


Keurig

Uses only K-Cups, a proprietary capsule design. Other capsules or pods cannot be used in Keurig brewers, and K-Cups cannot be used in other designs of single-serve brewers.


Pros:

  • A very large and growing range of coffees is available in K-Cups, and the quality of these coffees is generally good to very good, considerably better than the quality of coffees available for all other tested systems except the Nespresso.
  • Generous-sized water reservoir.

Cons:

  • The unit we tested produced very mildly off-tasting water, probably from contact with plastic parts, although the off taste never appeared pronounced enough to adversely affect the flavor of the final beverage.

Notes:

  • Designed to produce an American-style brewed coffee. No espresso capability, although K-Cup versions of tea and hot chocolate beverages are available.
  • K-Cups are not recyclable.


Nespresso

For this month’s reviews we tested Nespresso capsules ONLY in the context of American-style coffee, in this case the 4-ounce beverage Nespresso calls “lungo.” Uses Nespresso “Grands Crus” capsules. Other capsules or pods cannot be used in Nespresso units, and Nespresso capsules cannot be used in other designs of single-serve brewers.


Pros:

  • The sixteen Nespresso “Grands Cru” blends are distinctive in character and high in quality. On the other hand, there are only sixteen, and only four are designed for “lungo,” a 4-ounce black coffee, though the other eight, designed for espresso brewing, make plausible short black coffees as well, particularly the three origin-specific blends from Colombia, Brazil and India.
  • The Nespresso produced virtually no off taste in the brewing water, even when run straight out of the box.
  • The Nespresso produces quite attractive espresso beverages; see our reviews at Convenience First: Espresso Pods and Capsules.

Cons:

  • Coffee lovers have only sixteen options from which to choose, although they are excellent options.
  • Nespresso brewing units are relatively expensive.

Notes:

  • The Nespresso system is specifically designed to produce only espresso beverages and short, European-style black coffee.
  • The metal Nespresso capsules are not recyclable, although capsule recycling collection programs have been developed for eight countries, so far all in Europe, with the intention of extending these programs to additional countries.


Senseo

The Senseo is designed to use its own line of paper pods, though pods that fit the Bunn My Café also fit the Senseo.


Pros:

  • Least costly single-serve system, both for brewers and the Senseo brand pods.
  • Incorporates an adaptor that permits use of two stacked pods to produce taller (8-ounce) beverage sizes.

Cons:

  • At this writing only a relatively limited number of coffees are available in Senseo-compatible pods, and the quality (and distinction) of these coffees is only fair.
  • Small water reservoir
  • The tested unit produced off-tasting water, even after repeated use. The water quality adversely affected the flavor of several of the tested coffees.

Notes:

  • Designed to produce an American-style brewed coffee. Tea pods and a special tea-pod adaptor are also available. No espresso or hot chocolate capabilities.
  • Compatible paper pods and their spent grounds are completely compostable, although the bulk packaging for the pods is neither compostable nor recyclable. Nevertheless, the combination of completely compostable spent pods and low-waste bulk packaging arguably makes the Senseo program the most environmentally friendly of the single-serve systems at point of brewing.


Tassimo

Uses only Tassimo brand T Discs. Other single-serve capsules or pods cannot be used in Tassimo units, and Tassimo T Discs cannot be used in other brands of single-serve brewers.


Pros:

  • Most versatile of single-serve units (produces brewed coffee, espresso beverages, teas, and a hot chocolate), although the newly introduced Nestlé Dolce Gusto system is designed to match the Tassimo in its all-purpose, beverage-center ambitions.
  • Little to no off-taste in the brewing water of the tested unit.

Cons:

  • At this writing a very limited number of coffees are available in compatible T Discs. Furthermore, aside from the Starbucks blends, the quality (and distinction) of these coffees is generally low. To add to this discouraging picture, the Starbucks offerings almost certainly will disappear from the Tassimo repertoire soon, given that Starbucks has dissolved its relationship with Kraft, the owner of the Tassimo brand. At that point the only available coffees for the Tassimo will be Kraft brands, with the Starbucks blends replaced by presumably similar style blends from the Kraft unit Gevalia.

Notes:

  • So far as we could determine from a search of the Tassimo website, T Discs are not recyclable.


Single-Serve Coffee Systems
Comparison Chart
April 2011

Features & Specifications Keurig Nespresso Tassimo Bunn Senseo
Brewers:
 
Brewer cost $80 to $249 $199 to $799 $130 to $200 $99 to $439 $70 to $140
Model tested B70 Platinum CitiZ Tassimo home brewer My Café MC Senseo (base model)
Serving size options 6 to 12 ounces 1.25 to 4 ounces 4 to 8 ounces Up to 16 ounces 4 to 8 ounces
Serving size tested 6 ounces 4 ounces 4 to 6 ounces 6 ounces 5 ounces
Pressure-assisted extraction? Slight Yes Yes Yes Yes
Produces espresso? No Yes Yes No No
Heats/froths milk? No Available Yes No No
 
Pods:
 
Pod Review Scores:
- High 89 89 87 88 85
- Average 87 87 84 80 81
- Low 84 85 79 72 76
 
List price per pod $0.62 to $0.81 $0.55 to $0.62 $0.38 to $0.92 $0.56 to $0.62 $0.29 to $0.34
Range of coffees Very large 16 blends Limited Limited Limited
Proprietary pod? Yes Yes Yes No No
Ground coffee/serving 9 - 12 grams ~ 6 grams 7 to 14 grams 10 - 12 grams 7 grams
Refillable pods available? Yes No No Yes Yes