Senseo Coffee Brewing

The two most important words when discussing coffee are quality and convenience. For the most part we want both, but often we must make choices. Some of us will go to any lengths to achieve quality, whereas others will gravitate towards convenience even at the expense of quality. The Senseo Coffee Machine is all about convenience.

If you enjoy the taste of richer brewed coffees, such as those made with french presses, espresso machines or vac-pots, you can stop reading now. If you only drink freshly roasted coffee, you can also stop reading now. You have already evolved further on your coffee journey, there is nothing you will gain from owning a Senseo.

The Senseo Coffee Machine will brew a weak, bitter cup of coffee easier and faster than any brewing method on the market. If you prefer a weaker cup of coffee, but find instant coffee too challenging to brew, you may like the Senseo.

Senseo Coffee Maker
Senseo Coffee Maker

What is a Pod?

The Senseo is a pod-based brewing system. A pod is coffee that is pre-package inside it’s own filter. It is to coffee what a teabag is to tea. The benefit of the pod is each one is perfectly measured out and they require no cleanup effort. The disadvantage to the pod is the coffee is only as fresh as when it was ground and placed into the pod. In other words, it violates one of the rules to quality coffee, which is to grind your coffee as close to brewing as possible. And please don’t tell me how the bags are vacuum-sealed and the flavor is trapped in. I know better.

Step By Step Brewing

In the back of the machine there is a water reservoir. Fill it with water. The reservoir has minimum and maximum lines that are easy to read. As with any brewing method, use water of the quality you would normally drink.

There are 2 pod holders that come with Senseo. A single and a double. As you would expect, the single pod holder holds one pod and the double holds two. Each pod will brew enough for 1 cup (more on this later). Load the pod and the correct pod holder.

Load Pods
Load Pods

Close the lid and lock the lever.

Press the middle button. It will start flashing. Once it stops flashing, it is ready. Actually, in my tests it really isn’t ready until 30-60 seconds after the light stops flashing. Coffee brewed as soon as the flashing stops comes out at a lukewarm 140 F, but waiting 30-60 seconds will generate 160 F coffee.

Press one of the 2 brew buttons. If you have the single pod, use the 1-cup button on the left. If you used 2 pods, press the 2-cup button on the right.

Senseo buttons
Senseo buttons

Cleanup and Maintenance

Basically, because it is a pod system there is no real cleanup. This is one clean brewing system that requires no maintenance.

Cupping the Senseo

The Senseo is not only a brewing system, but is also a line of coffee. The Senseo coffee pods come in 4 different varietals: Mild Roast, Medium Roast, Dark Roast, and Decaffeinated.

There is no dancing around this topic. The Senseo makes awful coffee. It’s weak and bitter. Granted I’m a coffee snob, who roasts his own coffee and brews espresso and french press every day, so consider the source. On the coffee hierarchy, I’d put the Senseo higher than instant coffee and lower than canned drip.

I could have quit after trying several bitter cups, but I was determined to find out if the Senseo was salvageable. The coffee put out by Sara Lee for Senseo was obviously low grade. Maybe all this machine needed was some quality coffee? Unfortunately, I couldn’t grind up my own homeroast since this machine required pods.

I got in the car and drove to the nearest Starbucks. For what it’s worth, they sell a decent espresso blend that works as a drip coffee in pod form. When I returned home I discovered the Starbucks pod was much smaller than the Senseo pod, therefore it wouldn’t work. The Senseo has it’s own custom pod size.

Senseo and Starbucks pods
Starbucks pod on left, Senseo on right

I should have given up here, but I didn’t. I grabbed a pair of scissors and performed surgery on one of the Senseo pods. I removed all the stale tasteless coffee from 1 pod and replaced it with some Ethiopian Sidamo that I had roasted 2 days ago. Then I brewed again. Most of the bitterness was gone, but the coffee was still too weak to drink.

Hope for the Senseo?

As of this writing, the Senseo people are doing a full court advertising blitz for this brewing system, including television ads. I even saw a half-page review in the May 2004 Wired magazine calling the Senso a “perfect cup of joe”. This poor choice of words will make me question every other review I read in that magazine.

My hope was this machine would be the fast brew solution for those of us that never brew more than one mug at a time. Sadly the brewing system yields a very weak beverage, which lacks the richness one should expect from a good cup of coffee. Regardless of my opinion, my guess is they will sell quite a few of these machines. If they unload a lot of these machines, the word will eventually get out that the coffee sucks and hopefully quality coffee roasters will offer Senseo-compatible pods of their own. How do we get around the weakness? Simple. Use 2 pods in the 2 pod holder and then press the 1-cup button.

Senseo Origins Coffee Variety Pack II, 16-Count Packages (Pack of 4)
Senseo Origins Coffee Variety Pack II, 16-Count Packages (Pack of 4) (Amazon.com)

Part 2 of this article is Senseo Revisited.

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Michael Allen Smith

Michael Allen Smith fell in love with coffee while attending college. Shortly after graduating college, he found himself in the Tampa Bay area far away from the good coffee he had at The Ohio State University. That is when he starting home roasting coffee. Less than a year later in April 1999, he launched the coffee website INeedCoffee.com. INeedCoffee.com has been going strong ever since with hundreds of articles and tutorials submitted by over one hundred contributors.

In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to two hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 600 coffee enthusiants. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.

Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at CriticalMAS.com which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and finance.

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