Exploring the phenomenal rise of specialty coffee capsules

Peter Lancashire
January 11, 2022
recyclable coffee pods

Slick, convenient, and increasingly sustainable, coffee capsules have taken the industry by storm in recent years.

What were once widely considered “glorified instant coffees” have undergone a transformation, with numerous specialty brands now launching their own compatible pods.

Today, the global coffee capsule market is valued at more than $4bn and is expected to continue growing over the next few years. For specialty roasters, this offers an exciting opportunity to increase revenue streams and diversify their customer base.

To find out more about the impressive growth of specialty coffee capsules, I spoke with head of production at The Gentlemen Baristas, Roosa Jalonen.

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coffee capsules

How are coffee capsules perceived in the specialty market?

Coffee capsules have been riding a wave of popularity over the last few years.

Their quick and convenient format make them an attractive prospect for at-home coffee consumers, bolstered in no small part by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the widespread closure of coffee shops.

Recent data estimates that the coffee capsule market will continue to grow over the next five years at a rate of around 7% CAGR. As well as domestic use, this is based on the reopening of offices, where capsule machines are also favoured.

The astonishing resurgence of coffee capsules has naturally turned heads in the specialty market. Brands associated with high-quality coffee such as Roastworks, Colonna, and Sendero have taken to offering their own capsules, as they look to steal a share of what has become a highly lucrative market.

But some within the sector remain sceptical. Roosa works as head of production at The Gentlemen Baristas, a chain of specialty coffee based in London that has recently its own range of capsules.

She says the history of the coffee capsule is one of the biggest reasons that there is still a stigma attached.

“I think that the stigma around coffee capsules comes from the origin of the idea,” she explains. “The company that first started producing them is not generally known as a company that drives high-quality products.

“Many people in the specialty market think that coffee capsules can’t be good or don’t belong.”

espresso shot

A question of quality

One of the questions that continues to hang over the concept of coffee capsules is whether they have the potential to offer the same quality as freshly ground whole bean.

Some claim the nature of the capsules and the machines used to brew them are incapable of highlighting the same subtle characteristics as filter and espresso techniques.

Espresso, for example, is generally known for its full body and intense concentration of flavours, whereas pour-over (or filter) tends to produce a more delicate and acidic cup.

However, Roosa explains that rather than seeing them in binary terms, capsules should be viewed in their own right.

“Traditionally, specialty coffee has been served as either an espresso or as a filter brew,” she says. “So it takes time for people to get used to the idea of having it in capsules.

“But they’re different to traditional brewing methods and are supposed to taste different. I think this is something people often forget.”

One of the biggest factors that play a part in the quality of the coffee is the bean itself. While traditional brew methods produce a higher drink quality, producing something worthwhile without good raw ingredients is difficult.

Roosa has found that with this new way of preparing coffee, it would be wrong to rate the quality of coffee based on brewing alone.

“There are a lot of companies globally who have produced capsules with high-quality coffee, and the products are great quality,” she says. “There are even companies who use 90+ coffee for the capsules that almost ‘automatically’ make them great products.”

The quality of a coffee served in cafés can also vary depending on the training of a barista. Without the knowledge or skillset to get the most out of high-quality coffee, there is a fine line between good and bad.

But as capsule brewing has created a foolproof, standardised method, the variables that play a big part in a coffee’s quality is minimised. As such, it is often easier to produce a consistent cup of coffee.

coffee capsules

Are capsules a good way for roasters to diversify?

As a specialty roaster, it’s important to always be on the lookout for ways of opening up revenue streams and standing out from the competition.

Roosa tells me that capsules are a good way for businesses to appeal to a different type of coffee consumer.

“I think capsules are a great option for roasters looking to diversify their product line because people often already have a capsule machine at home and want better quality coffee beans.

“At The Gentlemen Baristas, we are just now getting our first line of capsules done as we thought that many of our clients were looking into brewing better quality coffee, but don’t necessarily have the right equipment at home.”

When someone wants a quick and efficient way of making a cup, offering a higher quality product in a way that uses equipment they already have, roasters may entice them into trying new and exciting coffees.

However, for those looking into creating their own coffee capsules, it’s also important to consider how this will affect the approach to roasting.

“As many capsules on the market only hold between 5g and 6g of coffee, the beans need to be roasted slightly darker for the coffee to extract within a shorter time,” Roosa explains.

This is because the longer the roast, the more soluble the coffee becomes. As capsule machines tend to work similarly to espresso machines, they rely on a high rate of extraction in a short period of time. As such, grind size also plays a part.

“There are different grind settings for capsules depending on the roast level and origin of the beans,” Roosa adds. “But, commonly, they are ground relatively fine.”

roasted coffee beans in recyclable coffee bags

With so many households now equipped with a capsule machine on their kitchen counter, a new side of the market has emerged for specialty roasters.

While you may not reach the quality of a perfectly dialled espresso shot or a pour-over, giving coffee drinkers easy access to higher quality coffee can help break down the stigma attached to coffee capsules. This is especially true thanks to the improvements made to the materials that the capsules are made from.

At MTPak Coffee, we also have a close eye on environmental sustainability. Our range of recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable coffee bags can be fully customised with your branding and additional components, from degassing valves to resesalable zippers.

For information on our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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