“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” US president Theodore Roosevelt famously said that, presumably while nursing a cup of coffee (it’s reported he drank a gallon of the black stuff every day.) Fellow coffee-lover Monastery roaster Adam Marley disagrees.
When Broadsheet meets Marley at his coffee shop, Intersection, he keenly offers us a cup of his latest release. It’s not some limited-edition boutique micro-lot. It’s brewed from a pod machine and ready with the press of a button.
Monastery’s first batch of Nespresso-compatible coffee capsules hit the market last month. The pods use exactly the same specialty-grade coffees as the company’s seasonal blend (Marley sources the beans ethically – either directly or through partners such as Melbourne Coffee Merchants). He says it delivers a flavour profile of “marzipan, dark chocolate and stone fruit”.
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In developing the product, Marley looked to the end user, and how they would typically enjoy their cup. Pod machines are designed for – above all else – convenience, with affordability a close second. The reason pod coffee can sometimes taste weak is that the process uses a coffee-to-water ratio of around 5.5 grams to 40 millilitres (cafe espresso machines typically use closer to 10 to 12 grams per 40 millilitres).
Domestic units also dispense water at a much cooler temperature than commercial machines (around 80 degrees as opposed to the mid-nineties) which Marley says is actually a boon, reducing the danger of over-extracting or burning the brew. Taking all this into account, he opted for a dark roast to ensure his pods had a full flavour that cut through milk.
The espresso Marley’s little Breville pours looks a tad underdone. It’s pale brown and thin, but tastes smooth and surprisingly sweet. Pods will never deliver the body of a true espresso – the brewing pressure just isn’t there – but this is a totally passable, palatable alternative – especially given the (lack of) effort it took to create.
For now Monastery only offers one blend, but will soon add to its range in the hope of enticing more adventurous coffee drinkers. “In the future we’ll keep with the dark roast, but also offer a light roast single-origin option,” Marley says. The roasted coffee is currently sent to Queensland for “podding”, but he hopes to find a local partner.
Marley’s approach to coffee has always been equally focused on quality and sustainability. Stepping into the easy-brew market means more coffee in customers’ hands, and more money in producers’ pockets. “The way we’re buying coffee … means farmers are probably receiving three times more than what they would get from [big brands], and our pods are about the same price as their most premium option,” Marley says.
Unlike any mainstream brands, Monastery’s pods are also compostable. Marley recommends disposing of used capsules (grounds included) in your home compost, rather than a green-waste bin where they risk being misidentified as the non-degradable type.
Elementary Coffee has also launched Nespresso-compatible and compostable pods. Roaster Brad Nixon wants “to make specialty-grade coffee accessible, convenient and easier to achieve ... all while keeping our impact on the environment at a minimum,” he tells Broadsheet. “Pods are a unique beast, not quite espresso, not quite filter ... [and] a style that will be explored more thoroughly in the coming years, which we’re excited about.”
Currently the pods are made with Elementary's Young Street blend of 50 per cent Brazil Pedra Bonita and 50 per cent Colombia El Penol. Nixon also plans to release a series of "exotic limited-release coffees in pod form" soon.
With specialty-grade capsules and instant coffee now available, there’s little excuse for starting your day with a sub-standard brew. Supermarket instant is often cheaply made and questionably untraceable – which means someone (likely a hardworking coffee grower) isn’t paid fairly. In 2019 we can do and drink better.