Today’s New York Times Magazine published an article on the declining design aesthetic of the espresso machine: The Pod People – New York Times. As the author puts it, “Cape Canaveralesque control centers that have replaced those great machines.” And she blames the meteoric popularity of Starbucks, which inspired a great wave of ensuing greed by machine manufacturers and roasters targeting the home market.

In particular, she points out the design demise from the espresso pod and pod machine market — citing its inherent packaging wastefulness, the ugliness of the new wave of pod-friendly machines, and the irritation of over-designed machines that only work with a select kind of overpriced coffee pod. (The last phenomenon being so bad that there is a market for “ghetto pods” — echoing the days of do-it-yourself inkjet printer cartridge refills.)

Coffee pod freshness

If poor design were their only drawback. The author takes a pass on criticizing espresso pod quality, stating, “Admittedly, Nespresso and E.S.E. do taste rather good. (The premeasured grounds are fresh, thanks to the hermetically sealed capsules.)”

It’s clear the author is a designer and not necessarily a coffee geek, but this is an old soapbox topic for us. Virtually all the coffee you purchase today comes in some sort of hermetically and/or vacuum-sealed container — including Folger’s and Maxwell House. (Even setting aside that pre-ground coffee is far more unstable than whole bean.) If that were necessary and sufficient to keep coffee supplies fresh, there would be little advantage to home roasting or purchasing roast-dated coffee from the likes of Blue Bottle, etc.

But the truth is that freshness matters a lot, and it matters immensely when it comes to espresso. No matter how well you mummify pre-ground, roasted coffee for shipment around the world and storage in warehouses, it is always more stale than local, recently roasted supplies. In espresso, it always produces a thinner, lighter, less healthy looking crema. I’ve never encountered a single exception to this rule. Just look at the photos and ratings from our Nespresso tests. So unless she’s comparing these pod machines to the home Krups models of the 1990s, coffee freshness remains a negative for these new machines/systems.

New York espresso redux

Also in today’s New York Times Travel section is an update on a familiar topic: where to get a decent espresso among Gotham City’s terrible standards: Weeknd in New York – Coffee Bars – Travel – New York Times. In addition to some of the usual suspects, they also mention Zibetto Espresso Bar — a relative newcomer of note.