Philips Senseo Review

February 26, 2005

Philips Senseo
I don’t want to come off like I’m a Coffee Snob, but the fact is, I probably am. I drink enough of the stuff that I’ve gotten rather picky over the years about what it tastes like.

A couple of years ago, I recieved one of the Cuisinart “all-in-one” brewers, which I truely enjoyed at the time – the thing even ground its own beans.. Due to various circumstances, I’d been drinking some rather hideous coffee at the time, and it was a nice step up. Lately, I’ve come to loathe the thing, though, and I’d hoped that the Philips Senseo would be a decent step up…

Really, really good coffee is dependent on a handful of factors. In no particular order, these are:

  • Good quality fresh beans. The variety and the roast are much a matter of taste, of course. But a few days after coffee is roasted, flavors begin to be lost. Too long a delay, or improper storage, and you end up with tasteless coffee. Once coffee is ground, flavor evaporates even faster — ideally, you should grind just before brewing (not at the store, and not when somebody puts it into a can).
  • A grind appropriate to the brewing method — ranging from fairly coarse for french press, medium for automatic drip, to fine for espresso.
  • Proper water temperature (around 190°-205° Fahrenheit) during the brewing process. Brew with colder water, and you have sour coffee. Brew with hotter water, it tastes burt.
  • Proper ratio of grounds to water contact time — not enough water, and you end up with an overly-strong cup of coffee. Not enough grounds, and you end up over-extracting — the flavors we
    want are in the first 2/3 of what can be extracted — go beyond that, and you get a lot of bitter flavors (not necessarily weaker coffee, just bitter — if you want weaker, don’t use less grounds, just dilute
    it after it’s brewed.)
  • Get it off the heat — once it’s brewed, if coffee is allowed to set on a burner, it goes bad quickly.

Follow these rules, and you’re pretty much assured of making a good cup of coffee. Fail to follow them, and you’re drinking drek. The Cuisinart made a cup of coffee substantially better than instant (what isn’t?), but the fact was that it brewed too cold, losing a lot of flavor, and it didn’t use an adequate amount of grounds for a full pot. It was also a pain to keep clean (the grinder was in the thing, after all). Over time, these things got worse. Last but not least, you had to make a full pot for it to work even partially well. Since I’m the only coffee drinker here, I’d make a pot, put it in a vaccuum carafe, and end up throwing half of it away as it got too cold or aged.

So, I really, really, wanted to like the Philips Senseo. Outside of being a rather striking piece of kitchen-sculpture, it promised to do just what the doctor ordered — brew one cup at a time of proper coffee, fresh and hot, in about two minutes. Even better, it promised to produce pressure-brewed “crema coffee” — essentially coffee with a head on it, just like some little Italian bistro. All of which it does. Doing a little web research, these things have taken Europe by storm, and they’re getting ready to repeat the process here.

As I said, it does produce fresh and hot proper coffee, in about two minutes — with very little cleanup. It’s just BAD coffee. I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with the design, it’s just the coffee itself.

The Senseo uses a “pod” system — you buy the coffee in little round disks with about a tablespoon of coffee in them, formed right into a filter — kind of like a specialized little teabag. There’s nothing new about “pods” — there have been standardized sizes of coffee pods available for espresso makers for several years.

The Senseo pod is rather different, however. It is a proprietary size (you can’t use others), and the only coffee available for them is made by Douwe Egberts — a company Americans probably know better as Sara Lee. These proprietary pods are available in four varieties — mild, medium, dark, and decaf.

As you may have guessed, I don’t have much use for decaf or mild. As far as I’m concerned, the other two ought to be referred to as Bitter (medium) and Extra Bitter (dark). The coffee is hot, aromatic, attractive (that crema thing), and bitter. I like a robust coffee taste (I believe that Columbia Supremo is the coffee of the gods) , but I dispise bitter coffee. The first cup of the day out of the thing isn’t bad, but I drink about 8 cups (well, about four, with the cup I use). After the second one or so, this begins to grate on me. Even more so, in that the medium isn’t terribly robust, but the dark is too bitter to drink, as far as I’m concerned. So I’m drinking bitter, weak coffee. Blech. I’d been in hopes that some of this is just inadequate “seasoning”, and that it would improve as the unit was broken in, but it’s been weeks now, and I think this is what it’s going to produce.

The other big problem is these damn pods are expensive. It takes two to brew an 8 ounce cup of coffee. At around $7.50 for an 18-pack, that’s around 8.5 cents an ounce. That makes a 64 ounce a day coffee jones about a $5.30 a day experience. That’s a lot of money for coffee you don’t much like.

Hope springs eternal, however. An outfit in Europe has apparently made a little reusable device that will allow you to use your own fresh-ground coffee in the Senseo. They were having problems organizing shipping to the US, but theoretically the kinks are worked out of that now, and I’ve got one on its way. I’ll report back if it improves the situation.

In the meantime, I hate to overly complain about the Senseo. It’s a remarkable little unit, and for the right person, it’s probably perfect. If you’re currently drinking “grocery store canned coffee” and are looking to step up to something a little more pleasant, this might be just the ticket for you. If you’re not a pot-a-day coffee junky and would just like a cup or two a day of fresh brewed coffee without all of the mess, bother, and cleanup, this thing might be hard to beat. For me, though, it falls disappointingly short of the mark.

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11 Responses to “Philips Senseo Review”

  1. Tony on March 10th, 2005 2:28 pm

    Similar experience here…

    I purchased one for my *wife*, Christmas 2004.

    I went BACK to Walmart one week later.

    As noted, the pods are expensive. I thought they’d be worth the cost for my wife, who can barely make a pot of drip, let alone use the espresso machine…

    The kicker was though, that the Senseo pods made drek for coffee. Yeah, it had crema, but tasted like bitter dirty water.

    An Americano made with store-bought pre-ground tastes better.

    Save your money on this one…

  2. Don on July 23rd, 2005 1:25 am

    I’m an aussie coffee nut who spent 4 months in Holland recently and fell in love with the senseo. Are the pods really $7.50 a 18 pack in US. Yoiks! Here in Oz they’re only A$5.99 which is still pricey compared to Europe. I agree that the three standard types of pods readily available leave a little to be desired but although not easily obtained here and obviously in the states either trhey have a wide range available in Europe which they will release (I am sure) as the popularity of the machine increases. The “kenya” was one of my favorites. In addition there are now other companies producing cheaper (and sometimes better) pods, so perservere my coffee fanatic friend. There are good varieties of senseo pods. Be careful with the device that you refill with your own coffee in place of the pods. I new 2 people in Holland who tried them and they leaked and clogged the machine. My girl is moving to Oz soon and bringing her machine and a heap of pods with her. I can hardly wait because with the right pods the senseo really does produce a great cuppa. Cheers

  3. Suzy on September 24th, 2005 11:06 pm

    I’m so glad I found your review! I have suddenly become obsessed with finding out about the Senseo and possibly getting one. Partly because of the one-cup-at-a-time aspect, and partly because of: The Crema. There are tons of reviews out there, but I don’t know who to trust! So far, just you– since your taste sounds very similar to mine (case in point: I’m very pleased with my Barista Quattro when it isn’t busy spewing coffee all over my counter top).

    My decision, thanks to you: No Senseo purchase until I have tasted some of the coffee first.

    PS Isn’t Senseo a horrid-sounding name? Sunds more like a condom than a coffee!

  4. Chuck Lawson on September 25th, 2005 1:12 am

    Hi Suzy;

    Glad I could be of help! The simplist way I know of to get a drinkable single cup with real crema is one of the “super automatic” espresso machines — I have a Gaggia Synchrony Compact that I like a lot for making “americanos” with crema. The price point is quite a bit higher than the Senseo, and it’s still not as good a shot as a decent high-end espresso machine, but it’s dirt simple to use, produces a better “americano” (essentially espresso & hot water to the same dilution as a cup of brewed coffee) than I can get in most coffee shops, and lets you use whatever whole bean coffee you prefer.

    The “dry counter” trick on the Barista Quattro is to remove the little spring and lever mechanism from the bottom of the brew chamber. You can’t pull the carafe out mid-brew after that, but it only takes 3 – 4 minutes to brew anyway, and you’ll eliminate the counter-flooding for good..

    – Chuck

  5. TJ Weidema on September 26th, 2005 9:57 pm

    My wife, kids and I were in Holland in August and noticed a Senseo on almost every single kitchen counter we came across. My wife is Canadian and not a big coffee drinker but she loved the Senseo taste. My kids loved to use the Senseo to serve their parents with the black gold and I…….. I am just frustrated that you can’t get these darn things in Canada (yet?). I even checked the option of changing the 220V to a 110V system. Glad to hear it’s available in the States now but does anyone know when we can expect them in Vancouver?

  6. JK on October 13th, 2005 10:03 am

    We have a Philips Senseo. The lid jammed shut today and will not open. The thing is useless. I guess we’ll eventually get it open but I’m assuming it will be broken anyhow.

  7. GS on October 17th, 2005 10:37 am

    I’ve had my Senseo for several months now. My husband and I *love* it! I don’t use Senseo pods. I’ve used Folgers, Java One Sumatra Mandheling (my favorite) and Archer Farms from Target. Maybe I don’t have the most refined coffee palette but these taste fine to me. There are more expensive gourmet pods available on the internet if you want to spend the money. My husband likes making tea with the Senseo. He makes green tea several times a day and has never had a problem. The lid froze on me once when I tried to use an 8 oz pod in the 4 oz adapter. I just waited a few minutes and the lid released and I emptied the machine with no problem. I would hate living without my Senseo now and I highly recommend it. (Senseo doesn’t recommend using other pods with their machine, so do so at your own risk.)

  8. antmatbat on February 5th, 2006 1:55 pm

    After much agonising – bought a black Senseo on special for about £30.
    I am no coffee expert – and am satisfied with the taste but how much better is it than instant?

    It works a treat, it’s fast, clean and convenient BUT…
    If you like your coffee with milk things don’t go so well.

    First off – 1 cup setting is not enough. 2 cup setting fills my mugs up to the brim so no room for milk. Scoop some out and add milk and it is too cold. So either way – not ideal.

    If you like your coffee black I am sure this will work for you.

  9. sarah c on April 10th, 2006 7:22 am

    my experience with the senseo has been wonderful – my machine had a freak accident and the lid cracked across the top – i emailed the customer service and they answered me in 2 days – they gave me a phone number to call to get some help – i called on a sunday and they answered – they are sending me a UPS label to send the machine back to them and they said they will send me a new replacement in 7 to 10 working days
    wow – now THAT is service.
    This coffee pot makes a great cup of coffee – you dont necessarily have to have 2 pods for a 8oz cup of coffee – i am thinking that is the reason that girl had a bitter experience – as my coffee doesnt come out bitter at all –

  10. CD on September 12th, 2006 6:11 am

    Have had one fo these for a few months. My Wife thought it would be good for th single cup day. What many people said is true.

    1) 1 cup is basically a shot of esspresso, 2 cups is really too much for the cup.

    2) I have tried several types of coffee pods and all I think taste bad. I deal with it becuase its easier then brewing a pot and I dont like drip coffee. If you can deal with drip coffee I think you will be okay with this as I think the taste is similar.

    3) My lid jammed this AM and did not produce the cup so I was on line looking for some troubleshooting ideas.

    I need a cup of coffee right now even if it is bad.

    Now I just ran accross a replacement pod holder where you can put fresh grinds. I might try that out if I can get this open. If not I will look for a better single cup high end brewer.

    I would not recommend this product!

  11. Chuck Lawson on September 15th, 2006 2:21 pm

    Hate to disagree, but 1 cup from the Senseo is about the farthest thing from real espresso as one could get and still call it coffee; two cups is just more of the same.

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