What Are Soft Coffee Pods?

What are soft coffee pods? A soft coffee pod is a capsule for making espresso-style beverages. Most capsules contain finely ground coffee, but some contain flavored syrups.

A coffee cup surrounded with coffee beans and coffee pods - what are soft coffee pods
Coffee pods resembled the size and shape of instant coffee pouches

The Creation of Coffee Pods

They have been used since 2001 when they were created for the Senseo brand of coffee makers made by Philips Espresso and Coffee Systems. To date, billions of capsules have been sold worldwide.

The early variety resembled the size and shape of instant coffee pouches similar to Nescafé, Nestlé, or Maxwell House; they are larger than the current type. In addition, the earlier pods had little holes which allow steam from the machine to infuse with the grounds during extraction to achieve a milky flavor.

To appeal to the tastes of many consumers who prefer stronger coffee drinks, the pods were updated with additional foil layers to prevent too much steam from reaching the grounds. Many consumers were asking – what are soft coffee pods, and where can I get them.

Coffee Myths
To appeal to the taste of consumers who prefers stronger coffee, the pods were updated with additional foil layers

The Senseo was declared “Product of the Year” in 2002 by Stiftung Warentest consumer magazine. Some soft pods are sold for Keurig K-Cup-type brewers. While compatible with most of these devices, some require that they be torn open before brewing and contain a small amount of coffee that is not normally dispensed through such brewers.

In addition, various adapters enable soft pods to be used in somewhat more traditional style espresso machines with an ESE (Easy Serving Espresso) disk holder instead of a portafilter.

The system is closed to the coffee brands available so that it ties in with the Senseo brand and those of Tchibo and Krups.

You might also be interested in our coffee pods vs. coffee capsules guide.

Coffee Pods Expand with More Manufacturers

Other manufacturers are planning to offer future versions of their products that will be compatible as well. Compared to conventional pods, soft pods are less bulky and more flexible — they do not have a plastic ring around them where there would otherwise be a metal filter or basket for holding ground coffee (see “filter coffee”).

Soft pods, therefore, consume fewer resources during production and end up lighter in weight when shipped, although the recycled paper packaging may add some heft back on.

Pod compatibility is established not only by the device’s design, such as whether it has a heating plate with 360-degree rotation and how much steam pressure is generated (about 8 bar) but also by the proprietary nature of its pod.

For example, the bottom of each pod contains a plastic plug that fits into a corresponding socket on the coffee maker at the touch of a button. This helps ensure that each pod only fits into the machine with which it is labeled.

The pods can be made from recyclable plastic and often have metal parts inside to distribute, agitate or stir the grounds for an even extraction. The paper filter cups are also recyclable through some curbside recycling programs.

Most pods contain a standard espresso or 2.5-gram dose of ground coffee, but some are specifically designed to make frothier beverages such as cappuccino or latte macchiato.

The manufacturers claim that most of the material used to make these capsules is recyclable. There are also reusable pods that can be washed and reused.

coffee capsules in different colors
Coffee capsules are reusable pods that can be washed and reused

While the system is aimed at consumers who are time-starved or like gadgets, it has been criticized for its environmental impact due to the amount of packaging involved in each pod—more than one cup of coffee — and because much of this waste ends up in landfills rather than being recycled.

On the other hand, soft pods have proven popular among people with disabilities who do not have full use of their hands. This is because they only need a small amount of thumb pressure to apply them into a machine’s holder instead of needing both hands.

Krups, Nescafé, and Nestlé have introduced other makers of compatible pods, and Tchibo is planning to do so.

An advantage for the pod users who are not yet willing to give up their coffee machines is that they can use pods made from classic paper/aluminum foil combinations, which are then recyclable in dedicated bins where such packaging has been collected.

However, people must check if this type of bin exists near them since recycling centers and grocery stores often separate material by hand and may not always accept hard plastic containers used in soft pods (which might get thrown away).

One solution is to tear open the top part of the capsule after brewing and dispose of only the metal holder into the recycling bin.

Soft coffee pods provide convenience by eliminating the need to grind, load, and clean after each use. Although they cannot be reused like some of their more traditional counterparts, they are a popular alternative and have been around for over ten years.


  • Cian Murray

    Cian Murray is an experienced writer and editor, who graduated from Cardiff University’s esteemed School of Journalism, Media and Culture. His work has been featured in both local and national media, and he has also produced content for multinational brands and agencies. Find Cian on muckrack.com.