Three-time United Kingdom Barista Championship winner Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood was back at the London Coffee Festival this year—but not as a competitor on the barista competition stage. Instead you could find MCD drawing attention behind the Colonna Coffee stand, presenting his brand new range of specialty coffee capsules.
The idea of packaging ground specialty coffee into single-serve capsules compatible with Nespresso machines is not a new one: several roasters in the UK have been playing around with this product over the past two years, carving a new niche in the New Wave coffee market. Some in the coffee community remain skeptical about using coffee pods, for a host of reasons including freshness, quality, sustainability, and environmental footprint. The launch of Colonna capsules was met with a litany of questions around these topics, with the crew at Colonna Coffee ready to answer all comers at the festival.
I spent some time at the Colonna pop-up at LCF '16 chatting about this new product and, of course, tasting coffee made from a Colonna single-serve capsule: a single-origin espresso from Finca Lerida, Panama.
Coffee from these pods sit somewhere in-between a filter and an espresso in terms of strength and texture. The cup I tried was creamy, clean, and well-balanced, but lighter than a normal espresso. The defining characteristics of the Lerida—such as dried strawberries, butter, vanilla, and apricot—were all present in the cup. Overall, it was hard not to be impressed at getting so much flavor from a pre-packaged coffee pod.
Some might say that coffee pods—even ones with a pedigree—could never compare with the quality of hand-brewed, freshly roasted, and freshly ground beans. But there is no doubt that pods are enormously appealing to a broad swath of consumers, simply because of their convenience. A product like these Colonna pods fills an enormous gap in the market, reaching those consumers who, yes, enjoy a nice cup of coffee, but can't (or don't know how to) be bothered with measuring water temperatures, grinding beans, or weighing out coffee into precise doses. For a segment of the global coffee market worth some $13.45 billion at its peak, the Colonna pod is disrupting a technology that has proven resonance with casual consumers, simply by making the coffee taste better.
Need more benefits? Selling specialty coffee in pods actually allows roasters to better control the consumer’s drinking experience, according to Colonna-Dashwood. “Thanks to the coffee pods we can provide more of a finished product to our customers,” he tells me. “There are fewer variables for users to mess with the coffee.”
The team at Colonna are currently working on fine tuning the user experience for their new online shop, which will allow subscribers to buy into their favorite genre of coffee (either in beans or pods). Customers will be able to choose between three categories: Foundation, Discovery, and Rare. The Foundation genre will feature clean, aromatic coffee with bold and interesting flavor profiles. The Discovery genre will feature unusual coffees with distinctive flavor profiles. The Rare genre will have exclusive and more expensive lots. The team at Colonna will source and roast one special, seasonal coffee to represent each genre and deliver it to customers based on their online selections.
“Consumers can approach specialty coffee more easily with the pods,” concludes Colonna-Dashwood. Drinking a cup of Gesha espresso for example, will be more affordable than it is now with prices ranging from 45 to 75 pence—around $1 USD—for a single Colonna coffee pod.
Colonna coffee pods are not on sale yet, but the online subscription service is expected to launch in May.