How many times can a coffee capsule be used?

Capsule machine manufacturers make their biggest profit from the sale of capsules, as a coffee machine of any well-known brand can run smoothly for many years. Although the cost of the coffee machine may seem high, the price of the capsules you consume in a year probably exceeds the price of the coffee machine itself.

As the price of these capsules ranges from £0.22 for brands such as Dolce Gusto to £0.60 for brands such as Nespresso, it is not surprising that many users are considering whether they can use the capsules to prepare more than one coffee.

Proper coffee lovers will tell you that you’re crazy just asking this question, but it’s reasonable to try to get the most out of our coffee machines. So, we’ve put together this guide to see how many times you can use a coffee capsule, how to do it, and the pros and cons.

What coffee is in coffee capsules?

To discuss how many uses a coffee capsule can have, we first need to know the capsules better. Many users think instant coffee is inside the capsules, but this doesn’t seem right as it would be impossible to obtain an “espresso coffee” from this kind of coffee.

The coffee inside the capsules is ground coffee (usually very finely ground) which, when hot water under pressure is passed through it, results in espresso coffee. Some brands have coffee preparations with milk, but these usually use a second capsule containing powdered milk.

The amount of coffee, the type of roast, the level of grind and the blend varies from brand to brand and depends on the type of beverage. Lungo type ground coffee has a coarser grind and a more natural roast, while ristretto capsules will have a finer grind and a darker roast.

Related: How many grams are in a coffee capsule?

How do coffee capsules work?

This subject would require a separate article so that we could study in detail how each type of coffee capsule works depending on the brand, but I will try to give a brief explanation here to get us up to speed.

All capsules have different shapes, but with a similarity; they will all be perforated at one end through which hot water will be injected under pressure, and the coffee will come out of the opposite end thanks to a “self-perforation”.

In some cases, the injection perforation is made with a needle, others with a blade, and others come pre-punched. In contrast, in all cases, the self-perforation for coffee extraction is done by the pressure of the water inside against a rough, sharp, or pointed surface.

Detail of capsule perforating disk
Detail of capsule perforating disk of a Nespresso

Can the same coffee capsule be used twice?

If we talk about whether the coffee machine will allow us to use a capsule twice in a row, the answer is yes, but it is impossible to open the machine capsule holder if we use the same capsule. The ideal is to press the brew button a few seconds after using the capsule the first time without touching anything else.

If you open the capsule holder and move the capsule out of position, you will be piercing the capsule in a different place than when you first brewed the coffee. Coffee may come out of the first perforation if this happens instead of the coffee spout, splashing all over the machine and our kitchen.

Even intelibrew machines, such as Tassimo, do not have any physical inconvenience when using the same coffee capsule twice.

How many times can a coffee capsule be used?

As we have just said, capsule coffee machines do not limit how many times you can use the same capsule, at least physically. So you can press the brew button as many times as you want with the same capsule, as long as you do not open the machine head.

Why shouldn’t you reuse a coffee capsule?

So, if it is physically possible to use a coffee capsule more than once, why is it not recommended? The answer lies in the quality of coffee you get after the first extraction.

The ground coffee inside a coffee capsule remains fresh for a long time, as in most cases, this coffee is vacuum-packed. However, once we have broken the vacuum and extracted a drink from that coffee, it will have lost all freshness, aroma and taste. What remains inside the capsule is no longer known as ground coffee but as coffee grounds.

The coffee will come out without body and cream, with little flavour and a lot acidity. Remember that the longer the water passes through the coffee, the more oils and acidity are extracted from the coffee, although there is an exception that we will see below.

How to use one capsule for several coffees

In our article on the differences between ristretto, espresso and lungo, we explained how the type of coffee bean and the degree of grinding changed from one drink to another. The lungo has a volume of up to 150ml in certain brands, making this coffee rich and fresh, despite being a coffee with so much volume. The reason is that the grind is much coarser, and the roast is very natural.

So, you can make a single preparation and divide the coffee obtained into two cups. A 150ml lungo can be converted into two 75ml lungos without losing flavour. The same can be done with espressos of 30 to 40ml since by dividing in 2, you will have two espressos of 15 to 20ml.

It is important to divide the coffee after finishing the preparation because using the first part of the extraction in one cup and the second part in another is not the same. The first part of the extraction always has more crema and less acidity, while the second part is the opposite.

Use of reusable or refillable capsules

Many manufacturers have already thought about the problem of the high price of capsules, which is why there are many refillable capsules for all capsule systems on the market. So if you want to save money in the long run, refillable capsules are your alternative.

However, you should be aware that refillable capsules can damage the injectors or perforators of your coffee machine. In many cases, that damage will condemn you to use refillable capsules forever. In the photo below, we can see how a refillable steel capsule damaged the perforators of a Lavazza coffee machine:

Bent Lavazza coffee machine perforators
Bent Lavazza coffee machine perforators

On the other hand, if you use refillable capsules, remember to follow these tips to get the best possible coffee every time:

  • For ristretto coffee: Very finely ground dark roast coffee
  • For espresso coffee: Fine ground coffee with natural roast
  • For lungo coffee: Coarser ground coffee and very light roast

Using compatible capsules

The other alternative to buying expensive official capsules is to use compatible capsules. You can even find them in supermarkets and even in white label versions. The problem you will face with this type of capsule is that the quality of the coffee will not always be the best, and the price will sometimes not be much lower than the official ones.

As far as operation is concerned, these compatible capsules usually work correctly, and the coffee machines do not have any problems. It is advisable to try different brands and types until you find the one with the best quality and the lowest price.

Conclusion

If you want to get capsule coffee at the lowest possible price, it is not advisable to use the same capsule several times, even if the coffee machine allows it. It is preferable to divide the coffee obtained from a capsule into two cups to preserve all the flavour but in a smaller drink volume. If this alternative does not suit you, you can start using refillable or compatible capsules.

Remember that refillable metal capsules can damage the perforators of your coffee machine and that the ground coffee you use must be adapted to the beverage you want to obtain. On the other hand, the variety of compatible capsules is so wide that you will have to try many brands and types of capsules until you find the one that best suits your preferences.