Living with your new ESE Pod machine - LaPiccola Sara

Sara LaPiccola from Coffee Caffeine Machines and BeansIn 15 years of playing with an endless variety of coffee machines, I viewed, with much suspicion the appearance of the POD machine.

Here is the deal. Having grown up with god awful coffee - coffee whose taste I largely attributed to its freshness and my ability to prepare it in an ideal environment... I have become conditioned to filter out any idea that flies in the face of, my brand of, coffee logic.

Coffee logic: You do not buy coffee pre-ground. You buy all your coffee whole bean. Air is the enemy of coffee and anything that is ground is going to be stale.

Stale = bad. In the photo, at right, a laPiccola Sara brews crema rich espresso!

Oh yes. And anything that came out of a tin, whole bean or not... Was bad. Real bad!

Until illy coffee came along that is. To be fair illy coffee has been doing interesting stuff with coffee since the 1930's... but that is another story.
It was with my first introduction to illy whole bean coffee in a can that twigged something in my head --
Whole bean coffee... in a can... that has a long shelf life.
So how does that work?
Apparently by packing whole bean coffee in an inert gas and keeping any oxygen away from it, you can store it indefinitely.

Doesn't sound attractive to my coffee logical brain - but I was willing to give it a try... and that was almost 10 years ago.

Much to my surprise, the coffee was ok... perhaps better than ok. And although in the intervening years I have not been a big fan of illy coffee, I did warm up to the concept of canned coffee - and the concept of something different making its way into my coffee lexicon.

The technology of E.S.E. (Easy Serving Espresso) or pods was introduced by illycaffe more than 15 years ago. The intention to ‘simplify espresso preparation, and guarantee a consistent level of quality’.

An ESE coffee pod consists of freshly roasted coffee, finely ground for espresso, and tamped to the correct pressure. The product is encapsulated in a paper (kind of like a tea bag) ready for brewing in an ESE compatible machine. The standard size of a coffee pod is about 44mm, with 6.8 to 7.0 grams of coffee per pod.

The pods are individually packed in an oxygen free pouch (eco-alert!) to preserve the flavor and aroma, so that they can produce a reliable crema topped espresso consistently and conveniently.

The pods can be used in any espresso machine designed to accept E.S.E. espresso pods. Each pod fits directly into your espresso machine, providing you with the perfect espresso every time. So the story goes. But do the POD machines deliver?

Reg James, of (always a man to try something new) - got me hooked up with the VTech Pod system - and I was pretty dubious at the time. That did not last long. The prospect of producing passable espresso, that tasted good, 10, 20 or 30 times in a row... was starting to look irresistable. So you know - over the last 5 to 7 years, I have been a dyed in the wool manual espresso user - for me, it was the only way: Heat up and prime machine - Grind fresh coffee - tamp coffee - cross fingers - start brewing... enjoy.

And 9 times out of 10 I would produce espresso that I could be proud of - despite all the variables.
But because of all the variables, I sometimes get frustrated with the guess work - and in a perfect World, I would have both alternatives - and then some.

So, it was with much delight that the good folks at - made an offer that I could not refuse... a machine in exchange for a years worth of links on the webpage. Hey! Everyone wins.

In an effort to really get a sense of this machine and the ESE Pod concept, I have been using it pretty steadily over the last 4 months.
In fact, as I worked to redeploy the CoffeeCrew website (a tough job) [back to back with a re-deployment and re-design of a second website in my roster] I found myself powering up the LaPiccola Sara machine every morning before heading off to work.

Every morning for the last month or so. And I am unequivocably not a morning coffee or espresso person. My first coffee of the day is traditionally at 10AM. The National Research Council of Canada's time standard is not, as previously believed, set to an atomic standard - It is set to when I take my first sip of Arabica. I am that regular!

And I have been so drained the last couple of weeks that I needed a jolt first thing in the morning - but not just any jolt, but a shot of something that I did not have to think about too much.
Listen up. When I fall out of bed in the morning, eyes half open - I instinctively reach for a small armload of fresh clothing - I pass by my bathroom-shower and drop it off - I wander into the kitchen, filling the kettle for my wife, draining the Tea pot and readying it for a new brew... and then and only then, flipping the power on the LaPiccola Sara POD machine - and giving it a quick prime by hitting the brew switch for about 2 seconds.

In the 7 to 10 minutes it takes me to shower... this gives the La Piccola Sara plenty of time to heat up - its dual thermoblock design makes start up a breeze - Yup. That is one thermoblock for heating brew water for espresso and one thermoblock for continuous steam for cappuccino, latter and instant foamed milk via the cappuccinotorre - kind of a neato mechanism for pulling milk (or Soy or Almond milk) out of a container and mixing it with high pressure steam to make perfect foam for caps and lattes - everytime!

In the photo at left, I brew a single pod (about 1.5 ounces of espresso) on top of 1 ounce of hot water for the perfect mini-Americano!

But being an espresso guy... I can get my granola and yoghurt happening, toasting an english muffin and nuking a sausage patty and having the La Piccola Sara poised for instant action when I need it. And does the La Piccola perform? Oh yea. I brew mini-americanos into one of my 3 ounce Torrefazione cups; 1/2 ounce of hot water or so... and a 1.5 ounce shot of ESE Pod espresso from the La Sara. And you know, it is the perfect amount of espresso for breakfast - little more than 1 fluid ounce of espresso with the most important meal of the day!

The la Piccola Sara is a solid unit - You definitely do not want to drop this unit on your foot. It is going to take up a little space on your kitchen counter - but not near as much as one of those plastic super-auto monsters. More on the ESE Pod versus the Super-Automatic machines in a moment.

Before that rant, here are some specs:

  • Mine came with: Lots of ESE Tea and Coffee pod samples - yes, it does Tea!
  • Measurements: 30.5(H) x 21(W) x 27(D) cm
  • Weight: 7.5KG. Classic (8.5KG Sara with Steam)
  • Tank: 3 Litres
  • Voltage: 110 or 230 Volts (UK spec & US/Canada)
  • Absorbed Power: 1200 Watts
This is not an all plastic thing - but a serious chunk of metal with very little plastic - I think part of the healthy sized drip tray might be plastic - and ironically (review to follow) - the drip tray was deeper than the ECM Giotto Rocket Cellini Pro! Ironic because with an ESE Pod machine - you do not really need a drip tray! I use a secondary espresso cup for any left over drips.

Colin has enjoyed living with the LaPiccola Sara ESE Pod system espresso-cappuccino machine - no muss, no fuss and some mighty fine coffee!

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St. Lawrence Market - Front Street - Toronto
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