All In Good Form - Beans, Ground, Pods and Capsules

Choosing the right coffee involves origin and roast, perhaps even blend and decaf, considerations. Form is yet another important factor -- beans, grounds, pods, or capsules? Here's a quick cheat sheet to help you make the right choice.

Whole bean coffee gives you the most flexibility. With the right grinder and brewing instruments, one bag of whole bean can produce fresh and authentic espresso as well as drip, filtered, Turkish, and press coffee.

Ground Coffee
If you do not have a grinder, ground coffee can offer a reliable straight-to-brew alternative to whole bean. Also, if you have a super-automatic espresso machine with a bypass doser -- such as the Gaggia Titanium Office, Accademia, Vision, Swing Up, or Brera -- you can supplement whole bean with ground coffee when brewing decaf or flavored coffee to avoid flavor contamination. However, if you go the pre-ground route, you may have to stock up on a variety of coffee, as different drinks, like espresso and drip coffee require different grind.

Easy Serve Espresso, ESE, pods give you the convenience of brewing without grinding and tamping. Pre-ground espresso have been carefully measured and packaged, similar to tea bags, to brew consistent espresso. A number of espresso machines come with special filter baskets to accommodate ESE pods. Pods are great options for the coffee lover on the go, they're compact, portable, and mess free. However, if you truly enjoy the art of preparing espresso, they may leave you a little disappointed.

Capsules work along the same premise as pods. They too have been individually packaged with a single serving of pre-ground coffee to brew quick, effortless drinks. Unlike ESE pods, most capsules are designed to work with a select line or brand of machines. Depending on the single-serve machine used, capsules can produce espresso, risotto, cafe lungo, or even lattes and hot chocolate. However, some capsules have drawn heavy criticism for being less than environmentally friendly.

Consider your needs and lifestyle when deciding whether to go with whole bean, ground coffee, pods, or capsules. But don't be afraid to experiment with different forms of coffee and espresso, you may find that a combination of brewing options suit you best.