A dose of reality: how much coffee is in every cup?

Espresso vs capsules

You walk into your favourite café and hear the buzz of grinders burring, milk frothing, and people chattering. You might not have ever noticed what’s going on back there behind the coffee machine, but every coffee is (or should be) brewed according to a pretty standard set of practises.

First, the barista grinds the coffee. On demand is best, because ground coffee goes stale very quickly (unless it is sealed immediately, like some retail coffee bags and most coffee capsules), affecting flavour dramatically.

Once it’s ground, the barista measures out a precise dose — typically somewhere around 20 grams — of ground coffee. Every single coffee they make will (generally) start with this dose of coffee. No more, no less.
The barista then uses the in-house “recipe” to brew the ground coffee to an exact volume or weight — anywhere between 30 and 60 grams (sometimes more) of brewed liquid coffee (the yield). The size of the yield depends on a whole array of factors including the origin of the bean, the way it’s been roasted, and even how old it is.

A whole lot of baristas love the science behind all of this, including yours truly! It’s a topic for a whole other blog post (to follow soon, watch this space!) — but broadly, we’re looking to extract the best elements out of each dose of coffee, and leave the less desirable flavours out of the brewed cup.

The difference between dose and yield is known as the brew ratio. For a dose of 20 grams and a yield of 40 grams, that ratio is 1:2. Whether it’s a yield of 30 grams or 60 grams, typical espresso shots have a yield of between 1:1.5 and 1:3. These ratios typically lead to a pretty decent coffee with a good mouthfeel and plenty of flavour.

Enter: Coffee Capsules

Coffee capsules offer the convenience of pre-packed, on demand, quickly brewed coffee that — at its best — can imitate a decent café quality coffee.

But typically, a coffee capsule is filled with only 5–6 grams of ground coffee. Yet they generally pull around 30–40ml of liquid coffee.

…Play along with me here — a dose of 5 grams for a yield of 40 grams = a brew ratio of 1:8! That's very different from your café

That’s a whole lot less ground coffee for a similar yield of liquid — so how do companies like Flinders Lane Specialty Coffee manage to offer a café quality cup from such a small dose in every capsule?

It’s all about the roast

When coffee capsules first came about, they were pretty awful (at least in this writer’s opinion!). Roasters sought to overcome the difficulty of such a small dose by — quite frankly — roasting the absolute crap out of their beans. It resulted in bitter coffee labelled as “intense” that just tasted burnt, dry, and not very nice.

The logic was sound: darker roasted coffee is more soluble. More soluble coffee will see more flavour extracted out of a smaller dose. It certainly makes sense, but they took it too far in what was probably an effort to be “safe”.

But more and more people are coming to expect a higher standard of coffee, companies like Flinders Lane Specialty Coffee have worked tirelessly to develop roasting profiles that create solubility and delicious flavours, rather than just bitter coffee. The best brands are using better quality beans and, in doing so, are determined to maintain their best characteristics by not over-roasting them.

After months of trial and error, the result for Flinders Lane Specialty Coffee is a truly unique roasting profile that roasts the coffee dark, but not too dark. It makes the ground beans soluble, but not bitter, burnt, or dry. It’s a really delicate balance that we truly believe we have nailed. It means capsule coffee can actually taste as good as a coffee in your favourite café! Finally.

It’s also why some coffees might be less “intense” than you’re used to from a capsule, but they taste way better. But that’s a topic for another blog post!

We’re absolutely delighted to have developed a roasting profile for our coffees that works to get the best out of our coffees, rather than roasting them to obliteration. The result of our hard work is a truly amazing cup of coffee out of every capsule, and we’re really proud that we can offer café quality coffee for only 65 cents a cup!

Dan McQuinn