Coffee capsules

With demand for these convenient capsules on the rise, we put Nespresso and its competitors to the test.
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02.Convenience vs waste

The cost of conveniencecoffee-pod

The attraction of coffee capsules is the simplicity and consistency of taste. And it certainly costs less than an espresso from a cafe, which sets you back about $3.50, whereas the cost of a capsule can vary from 37c for Aldi Expressi to 68c for Nespresso. 

However, you’ll pay a lot less per kilogram for your coffee if you make it at home on a manual coffee machine. Piazza D’Oro coffee beans are $34.63/kg, and its ground coffee is $49.10/kg - but its coffee capsules work out at $118.27/kg from Coles Online in Sydney.

The environmental cost

When it comes to the packaging of coffee capsules, the boxes they come in are recyclable – no surprises there, since they’re made of paper. 

The capsules, however, leave a much bigger environmental footprint. For a start, aluminium is an energy-hungry product, requiring nine times more energy to manufacture than steel. In Australia, Nespresso capsules have to be taken to one of the 11 boutiques for recycling. But how many are actually being recycled? 

In 2012 Nespresso said it reached its “75% recycling capacity commitment”. But while it may have the ability to recycle 75% of the capsules, it has not yet revealed if that many capsules have been recycled. Nespresso has sold an estimated 28 billion capsules worldwide – that’s about 28 million kilograms of aluminum, much of which may be sitting in landfill. 

However, Nespresso and other brands of capsules – which are mostly plastic rather than aluminum – generally can’t be thrown into domestic recycling bins. They’re too small for the machines at recycling plants to separate from other rubbish and simply drop through sieves into general waste. Piazza D’Oro and Caffè Vergnano also have an extra layer of plastic wrapping around their capsules. 

It is possible to produce a more environmentally friendly capsule. The Ethical Coffee Company has created a vegetable-based biodegradable coffee capsule that is Nespresso-compatible and can be thrown straight into the compost. They aren’t sold directly in Australia yet, but we found them on eBay. However, the company says they should be available in Australian shops in May 2013.

Compatibility issues

With the speedy growth of the market in Australia, there has been a proliferation of capsule machines and suppliers in supermarkets and online. As the vigorous discussions on online forums demonstrate, consumers can be very confused about which capsules fit which machines. For instance, the Aldi Expressi accepts Map and Woolworths Select capsules, but Aldi capsules don’t work with the Map or the Woolworths Caffitaly machines. 

Mixing and matching different brands of capsules in one machine can be problematic as each has a slightly different design, which can affect the coffee-making process and hence the taste. 

If you don’t like your barista’s coffee you can go somewhere else, but once you’ve bought a coffee capsule machine you’re stuck with the flavours compatible with that machine. If you can, try the coffee flavours in store before you buy. Non-authorised Nespresso compatible capsules are slightly different to the authorised Nespresso products, presumably to skirt around the patents. If you’ve forked out a few hundred dollars for your machine, be aware that, according to Nespresso, if a non-genuine capsule damages the machine or causes a malfunction, the machine’s warranty won’t be valid.


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