May 31, 2023 4 min read

You've likely referred to a "coffee capsule" as a "coffee pod," assuming these terms are interchangeable. 

While both coffee pods and coffee capsules (like the K-cup® or a Mystic Monk single-serve coffee cup, also known as Monk shots) contain single-serve portions of coffee and are known for their convenient single-serve brewing, pods and capsules are two entirely different products.

Understanding the difference between coffee pods and coffee capsules isn't just a matter of "semantics." Because coffee pods are incompatible with coffee capsule machines, using coffee pods in a capsule machine could result in equipment malfunction or even permanent damage.

To avoid brewing mishaps, familiarize yourself with what coffee pods are and how they differ from capsules. That way, you'll be able to easily decipher your coffee machine instruction manual, purchase the right coffee essentials, and brew coffee without technical difficulty.

What are coffee pods?

Coffee pods are small, single-serving containers that contain pre-measured amounts of ground coffee.

Coffee pods were introduced in the 1990s as an alternative to traditional coffee brewing methods, such as drip or French press. Acclaimed for their ability to produce consistent results every time, coffee pods have remained a popular choice among coffee drinkers.

Aside from consistency, coffee pods are revered for their convenience, portability, variety, and long shelf life.

Types of coffee pods

Coffee pods come in various strengths, flavors, brands, and types. Some example types of coffee pods include the following:

  1. Soft coffee pods: The most common type of coffee pods, soft coffee pods are made from filter paper or other soft materials. They can be used with various types of coffee machines that have a pod holder.
  2. Hard coffee pods: Made from rigid plastic or other sturdy materials, hard coffee pods are designed to be used with specific machines that puncture the pod to extract the coffee.
  3. ESE (Easy Serving Espresso) pods: ESE pods are standardized espresso pods that meet certain size and weight requirements. ESE pods are compatible with any coffee machine that complies with the ESE standard.
  4. Coffee bags: Coffee bags are similar to tea bags - they contain ground coffee inside a small bag steeped in hot water like a tea bag.

It's important to note that not all pods are compatible with all pod coffee makers. Some manufacturers produce proprietary pods that can only be used with their machines, while others may offer pods compatible with multiple brands.

What are coffee capsules?

Coffee capsules are small, pre-packaged containers filled with ground coffee and sealed with a foil or plastic lid. Designed for use in select coffee machines, coffee capsules are inserted into a compatible machine's chamber.

There's no shortage of options, from espresso coffee capsules to lungo capsules to flavored coffee capsules to single-origin coffee capsules.

Like with pods, certain brands of coffee capsules are only compatible with a select capsule coffee machine. For example, a Nespresso machine's chamber only accommodates Nespresso's proprietary line of espresso capsules.

Coffee pod design vs. coffee capsule design

Traditional coffee pods are typically round and flat with a paper filter, while coffee capsules (often nicknamed "coffee pods" e.g., "Keurig K-Cup pods") are usually more cylindrical and include an aluminum or plastic casing that seals the ground coffee inside.

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Coffee pod extraction vs. coffee capsule extraction

Not only do coffee pods and coffee capsules vary in structure, but their extraction processes do as well.

Coffee pods require machines that use pressure to extract the coffee, while capsule extraction requires a machine that heats water and forces a jet stream of piping hot water through the capsule and the coffee grounds stored within.

Equipment required for coffee pods

Coffee pods require a particular coffee machine, known as a pod coffee maker. Note that not all coffee machines are coffee pod compatible. So, before you purchase any pods, make sure to do your research and confirm compatibility with your specific machine to avoid wasting money on pods that won't work.

Many different pod coffee maker brands are available on the market, sponsored by brands like Senseo and Tassimo.

Coffee pod makers come in various sizes and styles, ranging from small single-serve machines to larger models that can brew multiple cups at once. Coffee pod makers come stocked with features like adjustable brew strength, programmable settings, and built-in frothers perfect for whipping up specialty drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.

Coffee pod makers are not to be mistaken for capsule coffee machines, like Keurig's K-Cup coffee maker or the Nespresso machine, two appliances that have quickly become household names.

Is your coffee machine compatible with coffee pods?

  1. Check the user manual:The first place to look is the user manual that came with your coffee machine, which should provide information on what types of coffee pods and capsules are compatible with your specific model.
  2. Check the pod holder: If your machine has a pod holder or chamber, look closely at it to see if it's designed to accommodate coffee pods. Some machines have a separate pod holder that can be inserted instead of the regular filter basket.
  3. Look for compatibility symbols: Many manufacturers print symbols or logos on their packaging, indicating which types of machines their pods are compatible with. Look for symbols such as "Nespresso Compatible" or "Keurig 2.0 Compatible".

Are coffee pods right for you?

There's no clear winner for single-serve coffee options, as pods and capsules each feature their own unique benefits. While coffee pods have greater cross-machine compatibility and are more eco-friendly, coffee capsules produce a stronger cup of coffee than pods with more crema (the frothy layer that forms on top of espresso shots).

Leaning toward coffee capsules? Check out Mystic Monk's collection of Monk Shot coffee capsules.