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Reusable coffee capsules

It seems that all of a sudden Facebook is being flooded with advertisements for reusable coffee capsules, accompanied by comments (which may well be fake) saying how fantastic they are.

Thinking it was a great idea I bought a pack of two for my Caffitaly machine for a rather generous $80. It wasn’t until I received the tracking details that I saw that the order was coming out of China.

It arrived promptly, but with absolutely no information - just an unprinted carton and no paperwork inside. It’s totally unbranded. To cut a long story short, despite experimenting with quantities, grind size and packing density I can’t get a decent cup of coffee. Usually it’s far too watery, though on one occasion I managed to pack it so tightly that there was no water flow.

The upshot is that it’s been a complete waste of money so far. Has anyone else had any experience of these refillable capsules? Is there a secret to loading them? I even pulled an unused disposable capsule apart to see how it was packed. Nothing obvious with the coffee itself, though this capsule contained a kind of plastic diffuser at the input end which is designed to distribute the water flow over the whole cross-section of the capsule. That component isn’t present in the reusable capsules which leads me to believe that there probably isn’t an evenly-distributed water flow.

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If you have the inclination try to make a ‘shower screen’ like those in espresso machines. As a test it need not be tidy or exact, but will provide evidence of what may improve the pods, or be irrelevant. A piece of appropriately cut screening might do it? All it needs to do is diffuse the water, as you surmise that may be the issue. If it works you can make a proper well crafted one.

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@PhilT. Yes. That’s definitely the secret. It requires some sort of diffuser to spread the water flow across the entire cross-section rather than have it creating one or two flow channels, which I’m now convinced is occurring. These capsules contain a very fine mesh screen, but clearly that doesn’t do the job.
I’ve now pulled a couple of brands of disposable capsule apart, and their screens, as per the photo, contain ridges and channels to control the flow pattern. I am going to try and modify one of them so that it fits the refillable capsule, but one shouldn’t have to do so.

I wonder whether there are refillable capsules out there which are properly designed. Otherwise, these things are a total waste of money and people should be wary of buying them.

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A wild guess - those diffusers are patented…

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@PhilT. Maybe they’re patented, though I do doubt it. There appear to be quite a few manufacturers of the disposable capsules.
Surely, there’s an opportunity out there for an enterprising local manufacturer to sell a proper kit comprising not just a stainless steel refillable capsule with diffuser but also a suitable holding jig and tamper to make the refilling process simple and reproducible.

Concern has been expressed about the volume of coffee capsules going into landfill. This would be of environmental benefit.

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A search confirms the major patents have expired. It is entertaining reading, in a way.

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=coffee+pod+patents

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I bought Blue Cup capsules - there is an Australian distributor. They are not completely reusable, because the pod only lasts about 200 uses and the aluminium cap is single use (but can be retrieved for proper disposal). They work quite well, I think - just need to get the dose and grind right. There are a few brands like this on the market and it is a good thing to at least save something from landfill.

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I bought some for my Aldi machine - Seal Pods I think - and they came with a couple of coffee samples. Using the samples the pods worked fine and the coffee was great. But since then I’ve had no luck, so I’m putting it down to getting the grind just right. My first go was too fine and very little liquid came through, my next was too coarse and the coffee came through too weak. I just need time now to do more experiments with various grinds to find the one that matched the original samples I received. I’m using a Sunbeam burr grinder that has settings from 1 to 20. I suspect the correct grind will be around the 12-15 mark.

We have bought the Blue Cup system too. It is fiddly, we find we need two Espresso shots for a good flat white, so for both of us to enjoy a coffee we use 4 pods. We’ve bought some new beans with a higher intensity, hoping that will change. Cleaning them out, grinding the beans (manual ceramic grinder) and filling the pods takes some time, my husband tries to get what we’ll need for the day done in one go. Haven’t had visitors yet, that’ll be a challenge! May need to buy some more empty pods! The flavour has been really good so far. The new higher intensity beans came out a bit coarser, so will see how that goes, may have to adjust the grinder. An electric ceramic grinder would be great but isn’t in the budget.

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Hi @johnve and @Correa, welcome to the community.

It is possible that the samples contained flavour additives, which can be in some coffee pods. The flavour additives can be dehydrated powder coffee (think instant coffee) or coffee concentrates (like dried essences). Trying to make the same coffee blend using ground beans will not be possible without adding some of these flavour additives.

The capsules will say that they are 100% coffee, which is correct as the dehydrated powders and concentrates are forms of extracted coffee. Knowing that flavour additives have been included, is impossible and it is unlikely that manufacturer will give their secrets away.

This is possibly one of the challenges using reusable coffee pods. While one can try different ground bean mixes, it is likely that they won’t have the same strength, depth of flavour or characteristics of bought pods. One possibly shouldn’t compare with single use pods, but try and use ground beans (inc. mixtures) which tries to satisfy one’s own taste.

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I have been refilling my Nespresso Vertuo pods for 18 months so far. No issues at all, I emptied the original pods, refilled with my own ground coffee, and replaced the foil with ones I purchased from AliBaba , So I recycle the same capsules over and over and the cost of the foils was $35 for 400. Getting the grind right took a couple of attempts, too fine and the machine objects, too coarse and the water flows thru too quickly. No need to send the used pods back to Nespresso for recycling.
The big advantage of the Vertuo pods is they come in four different sizes. The previous Nespresso pods and all the brands that have copied them have one size only so maybe good for Espresso but no real variation. possible. I have a sunbeam grinder (1 -25) 9 -10 works perfectly for me…

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@johnve. The impression I got from my unsuccessful experiments with reusable pods is that the secret is in the water flow. I pulled a couple of disposable pods apart and they contain a moulded plastic filter which disperses the water flow across the full cross-section of the pod. The reusable pods which I bought merely contained a fine mesh filter.

Maybe there are other models which are better but the first 20ml or so coming out of my machine was really dark but then the rest of the flow was almost colourless, indicating that the water was channelling rather than spreading across the entire cross-section.

Obviously fineness of the grind and the packing density are important factors too, but it seems to me that the flow pattern is the major factor.

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The flow pattern or possibly more correctly how the surface of the grounds comes into contact with the flowing water and the time of contact.

Finer grains will reduce the required contact time as the surface area per millilitre of grounds is large (coffee extraction will be quicker)…and the inverse with larger grinds. Finer grounds will reduce permeability thus increasing contact time…and inverse of larger grounds.

The sweet spot will be the perfect ground size that matches your pod machine flow rates, pressure and temperature. Replicating this from pod to pod will be very challenging unless one can sieve and standardise the ground size…a lot of effort and mucking around. It is worth noting in my days at university, we used to achieve this with soils with a lot of preparation and specialised equipment…replicating this at home will be daunting for the home coffee pod maker.

While coffee can be produced using reusable pods, it is likely to be different to the single use pods…for one of the reasons outlined above. Is it better to use a traditional extraction technique of one plans to use one’s own grounds or accept what one can best achieve using basic home kitchen preparation methods?

We bought 2 podstar reusable pods for our caffitally machine. Company were great to deal with and pods are great. We fill with whatever coffee we fancy and it makes a great cup. Had a problem with a lid coming off in the machine and podstar replaced it. Great to deal with.

Welcome to the community @threemonkeys

We use both a capsule machine and a high pressure espresso machine - manual.

I’ve not considered using reusable capsules. With all the effort required in cleaning and refilling it sounds as much effort as running a few cups through the espresso machine. We recycle used capsules to Nestle.

Relative benefit of each - Convenience vs versatility?
A manual machine is widely adjustable to to suit the coffee and pour. The steamer also produces a much better outcome than the hands off whizzer.

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Mark, cleaning is no issue. 30 seconds under a running tap or for these pods, in the dishwasher!!

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I’m sorry but it sounds like too much hassle for me. I use the disposable aluminium pods and then empty out the coffee grounds for my Bokashi compost. The empty capsule goes into the recycling bin.

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Thanks for the thread, I didn’t realise you could buy these but googled of course and bought some reusable pods for my dolce gusto machine. I went for Waycap as it comes with an assortment of filters.

Anyone got a recommendation for a coffee grinder - looks like the critical item!

Cheers skip

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They are often under-appreciated in how important they are.

While Choice was not a fan I have a Eureka Mignon. The original appeal was an infinitely variable (stepless) grind setting rather than ‘notches’. Some see that as a drawback because if one uses many different beans one cannot go from one to the other so easily as with notches and numeric referenced grind settings.

The Mignon is also built to commercial standards. The video I linked has a number of ‘tricks’ applicable to any grinder and is worth watching for that alone.

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Yes it is possible, though I didn’t notice anything unusual about the samples. Additives could explain the taste, although as the samples were small, they could’ve been some of their best coffee too. The flow was just right when I packed the pod according to directions so I don’t know if the additives could’ve had something to do with the flow. You’d think that if they were powdery they would be more likely to clog up the outlet holes. Oh, a correction to my first post, they are PodStar reusable pods not Sealpods.

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