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What Type of Coffee Should I Use With an Espresso Machine?

Knowing which coffee type to use with an espresso machine is obviously the key factor in making a good espresso, especially for coffee lovers. But you’ll quickly notice that different manual espresso machines work with the same coffee format. Some machines will extract the coffee from soft pods, others from ESE pods but the majority from ground coffee. This coffee can either be ground by you using a built-in or separate grinder or by your favourite roaster.

The Type of Coffee and its Varieties

Of course, the variety of coffee will also play a key role. For the coffee beans, the arabica beans will be lighter in terms of flavour, especially for an espresso. Generally, we recommend a mix of arabica/robusta for drinks with milk such as white coffee (adding hot milk to the espresso), cappuccino, and flat white (and all other drinks with milk foam). But today we’ll focus on the type of coffee and formats. What actually are the differences? Is one coffee format better to all the others?

The Soft Pod (or PAD)

Type of coffee for an espresso machine

What is the PAD?

The principle behind the soft pod is fairly simple. It is simply two 70mm round pieces of paper that are sealed together to contain a precise amount of ground coffee. Even though it is a simple way to extract coffee, the soft pod is not intended to be used with a manual espresso machine. However, these pods are still popular with some consumers.

The end result of this type of coffee

In terms of the final result, the pods will satisfy people who love long and light coffees. If you are looking for a “filtered coffee”, with more hot water, the PAD will be perfect for you.

However, if you are only looking for the characteristic taste of an espresso it is not for you! The result will be more similar to a brewed coffee than a strong and intense espresso.

PADs are not really suitable for a manual espresso machine. I recommend that you use a filtered coffee machine for this type of drink.


The ESE Pod (or POD)

ese pods

What is it?

The ESE pod (acronym for “Easy Serving Espresso”) is also called POD.

Unlike the soft pod, the ESE pod is a type of coffee that is suitable for manual espresso machines.

Visually, the ESE pod is distinguished by its characteristic shape which is smaller and wider than a classic pod. The ground coffee is compressed, i.e. packed like an espresso.


The advantages and limits of this type of coffee

Obviously the coffee isn’t freshly ground. The quality of the espresso will not be the same as that of an espresso made using freshly ground beans. But the ESE pod is still a good alternative for starting out in the world of the manual machine. It also allows you to occasionally make a decaf coffee.

Compatible machines

The manual espresso machines that are compatible with ESE pods are generally made to make the most of this coffee format. Some are better than others. So, if you’re leaning towards this type of machine, look at models such as the Delonghi Scultura, Ascaso Basic Plus or Delonghi ECP35.31.

Pre-ground Coffee

Ground coffee and pressurised filter

By combining a pressurised filter and an excellent quality pre-ground coffee, you can get something close to an espresso served in a bar. Your coffee will have body, a generous and creamy crema and a balanced flavour. Unfortunately, this type of pre-ground coffee for an espresso machine (or universal grind) rarely lives up to expectations. But why?  

The type of pre-ground coffee

It’s actually fairly simple to understand. There are two factors that influence the quality of your coffee: oxidisation and adaptation.

  • Without going into the scientific details of the phenomenon, the oxidisation of your ground coffee will cause the grind to lose the intensity of its precious aroma. And this phenomenon only increases over time: the freshness of the grind is essential.
  • The adaptation is simply the fact that your grind won’t be perfectly suited to your machine. Although this may seem a little bit exaggerated, you’ll soon understand how it affects your coffee in practice!

A barista’s opinion on pre-ground coffee

As a barista, I think that pre-ground coffee doesn’t necessarily allow you to extract real espressi. However, by using a manual machine with a pressurised filter (which naturally compensates for the problems of the fineness of the grind) you may be as surprised as I was! Here are 2 models that I was pleasantly surprised by: the lovely Lelit PL41e and the affordable Delonghi Dedica.

The Type of Coffee to Favour: The Coffee Beans

top 10: best decaf coffee

The type of coffee beans to grind “minute”

In order to use coffee beans, you will absolutely need a manual or electric coffee grinder. This can either be built-in in your machine or separate. To be sure (and just to have some fun) we tried to extract a coffee from whole beans. The conclusion: we wasted beans… for nothing!   On a serious note: obviously, a grinder is an additional cost. But the coffee bean is the type of coffee that:

  • is the cheapest (even in the short term)
  • is the most ecological (coffee grounds can be composted)
  • offers the widest choice.

Artisanal roasters can introduce you to some real caffeine gems that you were previously unaware of.

The taste benefits of the bean

As a barista, my advice is very simple and unanimous. The type of coffee that I recommend above all is the coffee bean. If you want to dive into the world of the espresso, it’s a prerequisite. A freshly ground coffee bean is the best way to get the most out of your coffee. Here you’ll find body, complexity, strong aromas and personality.

Which coffee machines are best for coffee beans?

As with grinders, there are manual espresso machines to fit all budgets. If I had to recommend 3 machines for coffee beans I would choose the Rocket Appartamento, Lelit PL91T and the well-known Nuova Simonelli Oscar.

What Type of Coffee to Choose?

For me, I think that a coffee format should be an opportunity more than a goal. You should opt for a machine that evolves with you, at your pace. Machines such as the Lelit PL41e and l’Ascaso Basic Plus are perfect for starting out with pods. You can switch to a different type of coffee later on. Discover ground coffee by using pressurised filters. Eventually you can upgrade to a coffee grinder and coffee beans. So, choose an upgradable machine! It’s the best way to work towards a homemade espresso while enjoying yourself.

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