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The problem with coffee pods

Alex Higham / June 17, 2022
The problem with coffee pods

Why we’ve got a problem with coffee pods

Learn everything you need to know about coffee pods. How they affect the environment, how the taste is affected, and how the health properties of the coffee is impacted.

Author: Alex Higham, co-founder of Exhale Healthy Coffee

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Coffee pods. It’s a bit of a hot-button issue round these parts. And something that’s possibly likely to land me in an argument down the pub.

Ok. I'm saying it. I don’t like pods. Call me controversial. But it’s the truth.

Not podcasts obviously. I love them. Have you listened to The Missing Cryptoqueen? Anyway, I digress.

Obviously, I'm talking about coffee pods. Those little single-use nuggets of convenience.

Things made specifically for convenience are just never as good as the real thing, are they? You’d never choose a microwave dinner over a proper one.

Coffee pods go against all three of our pillars: health, sustainability and taste. These 3 pillars are interwoven through every stage of our process. And, if you ask me, are vitally important in making a coffee that’s good for you, tastes good and does good for the planet too.

And coffee pods? Well. They’re just not going to cut it.

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Let’s break it down...

Coffee pods and sustainability

This is probably the most obvious one. Coffee pods account for 17% of the coffee sales market in the UK (as of 2018), and that equates to a lot of waste. (1).

In fact pods are among the worst forms of human waste for the environment for their long-term damage. Research suggests they take half a millennium to decompose, even longer than plastic bottles! And 29,000 of them end up in landfill every month. 

Yes, some are recyclable. But it involves removing the aluminium lid, rinsing that and the plastic pod, and then figuring out where has the facilities to actually make the recycling happen. Many councils don’t take them with your general household recyclables, and the pick-up/drop-off points aren’t always convenient. (2)

Plus, the transportation involved in getting them somewhere to be recycled contributes to more carbon emissions. And then there’s the resources needed for the recycling processes.

And let’s face it, if you can get a better brew without creating waste that needs to be recycled in the first place—why wouldn’t you?

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 What about compostable coffee pods?

Compostable pods do sound like a step in the right direction. And, if you were to opt for a pod that would biodegrade naturally on a compost heap, that’s one thing.

Here’s the kicker.

A lot of compostable pods are only industrially compostable. Meaning they need heat to decompose. Which requires energy. You can see where I'm going with this.

But above all, I can’t excuse all the energy and resources required to produce the compostable pods in the first place. It does seem wasteful compared to the alternative, which is you expending the energy required to lift a spoon in and out of a pouch of coffee… then having the patience to wait a few minutes!

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Take away: Pods are an environmental disaster. 

Are reusable pods worth a look?

Reusable pods would certainly reduce the waste factor. But they're not a reason to buy a pod machine because they're a pain to use and still don't taste as good as properly brewed coffee. But if you're stuck with a pod machine already, then they're you're best bet.

I refuse to buy a pod machine myself to test them so if you have any good recommendations of reusable pods drop me an email on alex@exhalecoffee.com and I'll look into offering them on our website. 

Coffee pods and taste

Coffee in pods has to be pre ground to get it in the pod. It’s also left on the shelf for who knows how long, before anyone buys it. Where it starts to go stale. Even though you can’t see it happening, coffee starts to go stale from the moment it is roasted, and that process is accelerated after the beans are ground.(3)

With compostable pods this is even more of an issue. Even though they’re better for the environment, they're permeable. Meaning air can get in, and the coffee will go stale faster.

The best tasting coffee is freshly roasted, and freshly ground. Coffee connoisseurs say that coffee tastes it’s best just 3-5 minutes after grinding. After that, the taste starts to degrade.

So, who knows how long the coffee in the pods has been ground for exactly, but we’re betting it’s often closer to 5 weeks or even 5 months, rather than 5 minutes.

Take away: Fresh roasted coffee tastes divine. Always buy freshly roasted, speciality grade coffee and ideally grind yourself for the best tasting cuppa. Pod's aren't this.

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Coffee pods and health

We’re all about keeping as many healthy compounds in coffee as possible. And the sourcing, roasting, and brewing processes all greatly affect the healthiness of your final cup of coffee.

From the moment coffee is roasted the healthy compounds in coffee start slowly degrading. Then, when coffee is ground, it further accelerates their degradation. The coffee used in pods is often roasted and ground months before you use it – meaning a coffee brewed from a coffee pod is less healthy than a coffee brewed with freshly roasted and ground beans.

It’s a similar story with potential contaminants that can find their way into your coffee. Levels of moulds and mycotoxins are at their lowest straight after coffee is roasted.

Oliver Barnett, founder of The London Clinic of Nutrition had this to say:

“The problem with coffee pods is that the coffee in them is often old. Coffee attracts mould which is not good for your health.”

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To read more about why moulds and mycotoxins in your coffee are an issue for your health read our blog:

“The truth about mycotoxins in coffee. Do we really need to avoid them?”

Take away: Pods are likely to have fewer health benefits, and have a higher potential to be contaminated by mould... and nobody wants mouldy coffee.

So, to sum up...

If we were to go down the pods route – it would mean we’d have to bend on all three of our pillars. And we’re not willing to do that. So, sorry pods, it’s just not going to work out.

Al x 

P.S. You can try our healthy, clean, organic coffee online by clicking here

Or click on the smiling face below

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  1. https://reports.mintel.com/display/859349/?__cc=1
  2. https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/coffee-pods/article/recyclable-reusable-and-compostable-coffee-pods-avqKw9u0I0yu#the-problem-with-coffee-pods-and-capsules
  3. https://scanews.coffee/2012/02/15/what-is-the-shelf-life-of-roasted-coffee-a-literature-review-on-coffee-staling/
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