For years busy Americans turned to Starbucks and its ilk for quick coffee and espresso drinks before work. The convenience of an assembly line of baristas cranking out lattes, macchiatos, granitas or other elaborate coffee drinks seemed to outweigh the prices.
These days many coffee drinkers find it more convenient to get their caffeine fixes at home. One of the fastest growing segments of the coffee market is one-cup brewers, which use sealed capsules (or "pods") filled with ground coffee to produce single servings.
"Capsule (coffee makers) appeal to people who like different types and different flavors of coffee frequently," says Antoinette Theriot-Heim of Nordic Kitchens & Baths (4437 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 888-2300; www.nordickitchens.com). Indeed, with capsules available in many types of roasts and flavors — even big names like Gloria Jean's and Emeril Lagasse have issued their brands and recipes via capsules — the single-cup systems seem ideal for coffee drinkers who appreciate variety, or for households that can't agree on a coffee type.
The machines vary in how they function, but they generally work by puncturing the top of the capsule. Smaller holes are then perforated in the bottom of the capsule, allowing the hot water coursing through the hole in the top to brew the grinds and come out of the bottom.
Nordic carries the Ferrari of capsule coffee makers. Nespresso teamed up with high-end kitchen appliance company Miele to create a capsule system that can be built into kitchen cabinets. The sleek appliance also features a milk frother, a hot water dispenser and a carousel that can hold 20 capsules at a time.
"For (people) that are renovating kitchens, that ends up being the piece that's kind of 'All right, I have everything I need, but this is what I want," Theriot-Heim says, adding that some clients have had the Miele system installed in their bedrooms.
The price tag for the Miele system is hefty — the basic system is $2,199 — but there are more affordable options. There are models from Keurig, Senseo, Krups and a growing number of other brands for less than $200, with some smaller models costing as little as $50-$100. Boxes of capsules cost between $10 and $15, and include 18 pods. Both the machines and the capsules can be found at stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, Williams-Sonoma, Dillard's, Macy's and on websites. For some systems, such as Nespresso, capsules have to be ordered directly from the company. Some brands also offer subscription programs.
One of the most popular brands is the Keurig, which local musician Jonathan Pretus and his family use at home. Pretus, who was formerly a guitarist in the local rock band Cowboy Mouth and currently is in the band The Breton Sound, received the machine as a Christmas gift and appreciates its convenience.
"It beats having ... to make a pot of coffee, and fish out enough to fill up the one cup I have before I leave the house. With this I can pop it in, make one (cup) and go," he says. "(The taste) is not really comparable to a fresh brewed or French press cup of coffee, but I think it's made more for the convenience factor."
While convenient, single-cup brewers have drawn criticism for producing waste with their disposable capsules. Nespresso has instituted recycling drop-offs for its aluminum capsules, but only in some parts of Europe. And while the Internet is filled with YouTube videos and other how-tos demonstrating D.I.Y. ways to recycle other brands of capsules, none of the brands endorse an official way to recycle used pods. Keurig, however, sells a reusable filter called the My-K Cup that can be filled with the user's own coffee grounds.
But convenience seems to be the biggest draw for single-cup coffee brewers. In the long run, the cost of even the more expensive models like the Nespresso is comparable to a daily purchase at a coffee shop.
"Although (the Miele system) is cost prohibitive, if you give up your daily Starbucks habit it pays for itself within two years," Theriot-Heim says.