We’re in the home stretch…

Posted on Posted in Behind the scenes, Coffee, Pact News

Here’s the story behind the development of Pact Coffee Pods

Pod Lifestyle

As Pact’s grown in the past three years, we’ve used customer feedback as our north star for making big decisions. A major part of that is that they’re seriously good ideas, but it also allows us to improve the customer experience and make it as delightful as possible. Win, win really.

Since the start, one of the requests we’ve received over and over again was for Pact Coffee in a pod capsule. Turns out 1 in 5 people in the UK now have a pod machine in their home, thanks to those clever folks from a certain Swiss company (you know who we mean). Their hugely popular method for making espresso means coffee drinkers can now get that espresso hit in an instant in the comfort of their home!

Being the coffee nuts that we are, we knew we could produce a great-tasting pod with our very own exceptional coffees inside.

 

Getting started

18 months ago, we got to work crafting our own coffee pod made from our freshly roasted coffee. We found out straight away that success was tied to three main factors: the size of the grind, the roast and just how much to put inside. On top of that, we realised good packaging was integral to keeping the coffee fresh.

 

Grind and shake

When it comes to grinding beans, we’re very proud of the expertise we’ve developed in-house. After all, the thing that sets Pact apart from its supermarket counterparts in that it arrives perfectly ground to suit your brew method. We know having evenly-sized grind particles is vital to good extraction…

…Which is how we ended up with our special shaking machine, which is what we used to separate the finest coffee particles. It’s the tool that let us produce a coffee that’s consistently ground to the nearest 70 microns – that’s less than the width of a human hair!

Slack for iOS Upload (1)

 

Perfectly roasted

A lot of pods out there at the moment rely on a dark roast for a bold flavour and to make up for the fact pods contain far less coffee than other brew methods. At Pact, we deliberately roast our beans lighter than the industry average (you can read about ‘Why we roast the way we do’ on our blog). So, naturally, we wanted to make sure our pods weren’t over-roasted.

Throughout our testing, we found that lighter roasts produced a watery coffee while darker roasts could end up with a very bitter taste. Our main goal has been to find the perfect balance between the two.

There’s a real science to making the perfect espresso. The professionals measure the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in an espresso to see how well the extraction has gone i.e. how much of the coffee is actually dissolved, coffee to water.
Getting that percentage right is what brings you the great coffee taste, aroma, body, and creaminess of the perfect espresso drink. For Pact Coffee pods we were looking between 18-22% – we measure it with a clever tool called a refractometer.

Slack for iOS Upload (2)

The right dose

When we say dose, we mean the amount of coffee inside the pod. Given how small they are and the fact that water makes the coffee expand, you really don’t want too much or too little coffee. We’ve worked out the sweet spot is somewhere around 5g – 5.5g.

 

Side note: If you’re wondering how we’re reaching all these conclusions, it comes down to testing and tasting then testing, tasting again and again, until our pods are as good as they could possibly be. We’ve got Pact customers to try them, we’ve tried them ourselves along with pretty much anyone along the way that’s been interested in helping us get it right. As we mentioned earlier, we love feedback!

 

Packaging matters. A lot.

The final piece of the puzzle is packaging. Making sure our coffee pods get delivered to our customers as fresh as possible doesn’t only rely on the coffee inside of the pod, but also in the packaging itself.

We spent a long, long time working on biodegradable options – various companies (perhaps most prominently Lavazza) claim to have worked this out so we were keen to try them. But you’ll notice you don’t find them readily available on the market yet, and we soon found out why.

Screenshot 2015-11-06 at 11.29.27 AM

Of course, the whole point of pods is to keep the coffee fresh. The more exposed your coffee is to oxygen, the more quickly it will oxidize and start to go stale. We found the biodegradable options didn’t form enough of a barrier to oxygen (one option was to individually wrap them in plastic but that seemed counterproductive!). The taste of the coffee was affected by flavours from the material they were made from, and on occasion they just fell apart in the machine.

We’re committed to following the development of biodegradable options closely and are really hopeful they’ll get better soon so we can one day use them ourselves.

In the meantime we’ve chosen to use polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) for the pod… this is a common type of plastic that is used in many other types of packaging found in your local store. It has a great chemical resistance when used with extreme heat, is fully-recyclable and doesn’t allow oxygen to flow through, sealing in our wonderfully fresh coffee and resulting in a great tasting coffee.

 

In the home stretch

We’re getting so close to reaching our goal of producing pods with the same great taste as a regular bag of Pact Coffee, and we’re proud to say they’re almost there!

 

THANK YOU to everyone who backed our Kickstarter campaign.

 

13 thoughts on “We’re in the home stretch…

  1. When you test coffee, do you swallow it, or spit it (like with wine)… I imagine the development of these capsules would have you all pretty wired after a days work.

    How much coffee does the average pact employee (who works directly with coffee) drink on a daily basis? do they manage to get any sleep?

  2. Hi Adam

    So….I thought it best to go straight to our most caffeinated members at Pact.

    Aissa our Grand Master Roaster said…

    So when we cup (taste coffee) some people spit some others swallow, it depends on each person.
    I personally spit, otherwise my palate gets ‘confused’ with flavours, but Will doesn’t for example.

    I don’t drink more than 2 coffees a day, but Will said I have to work on my caffeine tolerance!

    Will our Head of Coffee said…

    I tend to drink 5-10 cups of coffee a day, when I am on buying trips tasting hundreds of cups a day I would normally have a nip of whiskey before bed…

    …and I swallow

    Hope that helps! We all work so hard that we sleep soundly 😉

    1. Hey James! Why thanks so much! Honestly it is down to personal preference, style/colour etc and budget. I’d just have a good look and see which one you prefer 🙂

        1. Hi James,

          Our pods are designed for Nespresso machines so will only work in those types of machines. We would love to expand this in the future to include more brands though!

  3. Thank you for such an informative article. I have been following the development of the pods with interest: I remember the initial desire you stated for biodegradable packaging. So it it interesting to hear why this is not possible yet. Exciting: my pods from my Kickstarter support arrived this morning…. yet I don’t have a Nespresso machine yet! Until I do, I will be using them as gifts to enthuse others to buy Pact!

  4. Our pleasure Justin, we are glad that you found it so informative! Please do let us know what you think of them when you get your hands on your machine! All the best.

  5. ‘sorry if this is a silly question but what is the difference between a long and short pod. I am making the assumption that one is for a long coffee while the other is espresso

    1. Hi Linda!

      You’re correct! Short pods are, as you say, specifically designed for shots of coffee. the grind size and roast profile of the coffee is tailored to make a great short pour and work with all Nespresso compatible machines. The long pods are exactly the same pod size but provide the perfect amount of coffee for a longer drink.

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