My husband has turned me into something of a coffee snob and by coffee snob, I mean an espresso drinker. I’m also not a morning person and inherently very, very lazy in the morning. Because of this, single pod coffee brewers have always intrigued me because the process of cleaning out our little stove top espresso maker often proves too complicated when I’m tired and cranky and in need of a nice latte to start my morning. Then I end up at the Target Starbucks or one of the local coffee shops that I love and find myself shelling out $5 for a caramel mocha vanilla spice machilachilatte something or the other. Don’t get me wrong, I love those drinks but I was starting to rely on them more than my wallet was comfortable with.
But the single pod brewing machines come with a laundry list of drawbacks. They are much more expensive than a normal coffee maker / espresso maker – after the purchase of the actual machine, you still have to buy all those pricey pods. And the environmentally minded Jen doesn’t love the idea of all those little pods ending up in landfills. Some coffee makers find you married to their machines pods, some pods don’t taste good and most single pod coffee makers don’t have the bar pressure necessary to make a cup of espresso.
Well somebody figured out how to make a single pod brewer with bar pressure to brew espresso and suddenly the game was changed, at least in part. I found a few brands that made espresso and started reading reviews and emailing my husband links to different brands. We went back and forth, agreed that the whole endeavor was a bit costly, agreed that if I was less lazy, that I could make lattes at home already, but I didn’t get less lazy and I continued to read reviews, some dismal, some over joyed at the awesomeness.
One brand that seemed to have a bigger ratio of positive reviews to negative is Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf or CBTL, a brand that is well known in California apparently for having amazing coffee. My friend Erin swears by them. I was intrigued. But – they don’t have one of those little reusable pod thingies to brew your own coffee in – something I was pretty sure my husband would want as an option. Further research, however, found that the pods are all relatively easy to take apart and reuse with your own coffee and a little aluminum foil.
I don’t think this is a hack at all, but actually an intended design by the manufacturer that makes the pods easy to reuse and recycle. You can read more details on how to reuse your capsules here. Since purchasing, my husband has cleaned out and set aside a half dozen pods to reuse with our own coffee and reused at least two pods that I’m aware of with complete success (there were no unsuccessful attempts that I’m aware of, unless you count the cup I spilled all over myself last weekend).
Anyway, so far I have to say I am very impressed with this coffee maker. I have now tried two of their espresso flavors, a couple of the regular coffees and a decaf espresso as well as a chai tea pod. By far, I prefer the espressos to the coffee but this is true in general. I thought the coffee tasted like some of the better regular coffees I’ve tried but I’m not really an expert on drip coffee to be fair.
Some of the other pod brewing systems use milk pods and espresso pods to make a latte. I have to say I prefer not using that method because I would rather heat up my own milk than use powdered milk in my lattes. CBTL sells a milk frother instead but we haven’t tried it as I’m not big on foam in my lattes anyway. The espresso forms a beautiful crema on top which you can kind of see in the photograph at the top of this post. Even after adding milk and sugar and stirring the crema is still visible and lends a delicious flavor. I may pick up a frother at some point to impress friends and relatives but for now I am totally fine without.
The chai tea was good, by no means the best chai tea I’ve ever had, but definitely nice if you just want a quick hot tea. I recommend brewing it on the espresso settings instead of the tea setting for a nice treat. I haven’t tried the other teas yet. I have tried both the vanilla and chocolate powder sold by CBTL and loved both, especially the vanilla. They are a delicious treat – but at 150 calories per packet, I suppose they are bound to be delicious. I have also added my own flavored syrups to a few lattes with terrific results. All in all, I am in latte nirvana with our new CBTL machine.
Some reviewers have commented that the machine is loud and vibrates. This is definitely true – but what else would you really expect from an espresso machine? It’s done brewing so quickly that I hardly see it as a big downside. The lever to remove the pods is a bit stiff – I worried initially that I was going to break it, but haven’t managed to do so yet. Put a little muscle into and don’t worry too much. Emptying the used capsules is very easy – they made the little basin for used pods pretty big so you could fit several before absolutely needing to empty it, but I recommend not relying on that and emptying it regularly.
So far the only strange issue we’ve had is that after a week or two, the red light on the side of the buttons came on a few times when brewing and then stopped brewing. The manual says that this light signifies that either the machine is out of water or the handle is not firmly in place. Neither appeared to be true and I simply hit the brew button again and it brewed fine. I eventually brewed some hot water through the machine which is considered descaling on this model (we own the Americano). The problem went away so for now I am not worrying about it, but it’s something to keep in mind if you find yourself having a similar problem. Not a major problem yet, but I’m keeping my eye on it and hoping for the best.
So, cautiously I would conclude that we are very happy with the CBTL Americano. It makes excellent espresso, and seems to make good coffee and tea also. I’m looking forward to having people over for coffee soon so I can show off my new pretty. :O) The CBTL machines and pods are sold at Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond as well as online at Amazon or direct from CBTL. We ended up picking up our machine at Bed, Bath & Beyond where we took advantage of an awesome rebate deal that is still being offered. You can read more about the amazing bargain that I got here.