Not All Coffee Pods Are Equal

Pod Life

I’m not much of a pod person to be honest. Not one at all to be exact. I recall being enticed into sampling a pod-based coffee drink years ago before they were all the rage. And, despite a surprisingly good taste, it felt wasteful and unnecessary in my coffee life. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some rather loyal pod-ists out there. It’s quick, easy and brainlessly reliable when it comes to repeat performances in the wee morning hours. Turns out though, there’s variability in them there pods...variability in the form of caffeine content.


Caffeine Content Varies Significantly

A study now published online entitled the Caffeine content of Nespresso® pod coffee found significant variance. The researchers looked at three different serving sizes, including ristretto, espresso and lungo. That’s small, medium and large. They used two pod varieties prepared on three different Nespresso® machines.

First, coffees prepared on different machines or pods from different sleeves did not influence the caffeine content.

Second, less caffeine was delivered in the small compared to the large. About 51 milligrams as compared to 66 mg per serving. Gee, I think I could have guessed that. Plus, as the researchers state, ‘for the individual consumer, this difference is subtle and unlikely to contribute to a noticeable and/or meaningful impact on health or performance.’

Where it gets more interesting is they found that caffeine content across all pods tested ranged form 19 to 147 milligrams per serving, and represented 41-162% of manufacturer’s values! Further, Nespresso® pods containing the most caffeine (greater than 80 mg/serving) were typically underestimated (range of 18-62%) when compared against the manufacturer’s value.

Beyond such crazy variability, the researchers also stated that ‘forecasting caffeine intake using the Nespresso® pod flavor intensity rating is futile’ citing their own data showing that caffeine content was not related to pod intensity rating at all.


Putting These Data in Context

The reality is such variability is rampant across any coffee production situation from pods to pour overs. One Australian study of ‘espresso/short black’ samples found a range of 25 to 214 milligrams per serving. The average human may not feel any effects on the low end of that range and feel down right jittery on the other. Again, lots of variability.

One thing that’s well established is that Robusta has more caffeine than Arabica, which is why some makers choose to blend the two in a single pod and may even decaffeinate the Robusta portion. Alto XL Intenso is a good example of that blending approach.

As I read up on Alto XL Intenso, it was sounding yummy actually. I found detailed info on origin, roasting, aromatic profile, travel mug suggestions, other coffees with a similar aromatic profile and recycling options on their website. Curiously though, no caffeine information about this specific intenso product (or any specific product for that matter) was easily found on the manufacturer’s site. The caffeine information is instead listed more generically in the Nespresso® FAQs, which is likely born out of the fact there is such variability per product pod.

The good news is up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day appears to be safe for most healthy adults. Of all the pods tested in this study, the maximum value was 147 mg per one Kazaar pod. Interestingly, the FAQs state that Kazaar has ‘approximately 125 mg/pod’. Either way, two Kazaar pods would be acceptable for most in terms of caffeine intake.

For those who are caffeine sensitive, or who like to shut down the caffeine flow by late morning to ensure a good night’s sleep (that would be me), there’s no shame in decaf! Yes, it’s true that one of my barista friends wears his ‘No Decaf’ button proudly on his ball cap, but just know that most research shows the health benefits track to various compounds in coffee, regardless of caffeine presence or not.