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Nerdery ahoy - Her Most Regal Majesty, the Queen of Snark
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Nerdery ahoy
Costa coffee have possibly the worst loyalty card system of all the coffee shops. You get 5p worth of store credit back for each £1 you spend, so essentially 1 free coffee for each 20 or so cups that you buy, which is about twice the number required by anyone else. Admittedly you can spend the credit on anything, but it's still not that great. However, they recently started selling their coffee for home Tassimo machines, and as a promotion offered me a machine which retails at £120 (market price £80-£100) for £30.

I've never been a huge fan of the idea of pod coffee machines. The pods vary between 20p each for standard coffee, to 65p for a latte, so they are pretty pricey. Last year, my second Gaggia espresso machine died and I can't afford to replace it, so regarded as a mechanism for cutting down my coffee shop spend, even at 65p a cup, the £30 cost of entry suddenly made the whole thing a lot more appealing.

The best thing about the Tassimo is that it's the easiest, cleanest coffee machine I've ever owned. You put the pod in, press the button, and you're done. The least good thing about it is that you're stuck with whatever pods Kraft feel like producing, and it's a closed system, so there's no competition on price. Buy the T-Discs from Amazon or the local Tescos, you will pay the same for them. While there are a number of latte style drinks provided, they use Kraft's UHT condensed creamer, which, although pretty acceptable for that sort of thing, is only available with sugar, and, well, still isn't as nice as ordinary milk. I can heat milk in the microwave, but none of the local stores sell a stand alone "espresso" pod, which makes life difficult (at least for first world values of difficult).

Here comes the nerdery. I just wanted to write this down somewhere before I forgot it. If you do not care about Tassimo coffee machines and how to hack them to get around some annoying restrictions, then you won't be interested in the rest of this post.

[Nerdery]The interesting thing about Tassimo is that the brew program is dictated by bar codes printed on the top of the pods. There is a bar code reader inside the machine, which translates the bar code into temperature and pressure settings. It's all documented at http://blog.chapmanconsulting.ca/wiki/Tassimo%20Hacking.ashx.

I have a label printer (a brother QL-560LE) which prints sticky labels, and can print bar codes on it. Sure enough, a little experimentation shows that the bar codes on the pods are I-2/5 standard with a checksum bit, and that setting the printer software to generate them at medium size with a 2:1 aspect ratio produces a 34mm wide bar code, which appears to be the right width and can be read by the Tassimo machine.

Armed with this knowledge, I was able to scan the lid of a Costa Cappuccino coffee cartridge (i.e. one designed to produce espresso style coffee to be mixed with the creamer) using my phone. The code for this cartridge is 063050. The label printer was very happy to produce a 60mm odd high (the width of the printer) sticker with this bar code on (and a small text label to say which bar code it is). This can then be trimmed with scissors and stuck on to any cartridge. Sure enough I can now brew "espresso" using any base coffee cartridge, and make it into latte with the use of microwaved milk. It tastes, if not as good as the best cup of coffee I've made with an espresso machine, far far better than the worst one.

(The file for the P-Touch labeling software can be found here.)
19 comments or Leave a comment
atreic From: atreic Date: June 17th, 2013 06:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
You hacked the coffee machine?! :-) That is cool
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 17th, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Gibson was unavailable, I had to hack something.

Yeah, I was pretty pleased with myself too. This post is mostly me showing off.
lanfykins From: lanfykins Date: June 17th, 2013 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am trying to decide between being impressed by your ingenuity and appalled by your obsessiveness :)
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 17th, 2013 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
But the level of obsessiveness I apply to my coffee preparation is entirely appropriate and proportionate to its importance. ;)
undyingking From: undyingking Date: June 18th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)
Dam' right! It only becomes a concern if you're arranging the rest of your life around it…

I have an irrational prejudice against capsule machines. I know they make decent coffee, but they seem such a capitalist excrescence. I use a Bialetti stovetop when I want an espresso-like drink at home: it's not the same, but it feels more honest somehow.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 18th, 2013 10:32 am (UTC) (Link)
This should give you a good laugh, then:


(I assume a specially trained ninja SAS attack weasel division was drafted in to hand craft those words.)
undyingking From: undyingking Date: June 18th, 2013 10:41 am (UTC) (Link)
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: June 17th, 2013 07:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
none of the local stores sell a stand alone "espresso" pod

Our local Tesco sells the Carte Noire Espresso Coffee Pods - I'm surprised that none of your local places do.

As for the 'same price wherever' bit, that's not quite true. Should you be after the Jacobs Less Sweet Latte on Amazon, the price is about twice what you pay if you go directly to Tassimo itself. But that may be the exception to test the rule.

Howsoever, I have barcode printing software and can use it if I want. It might be interesting trying the different base coffees in lattes.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 17th, 2013 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have added a link to the label file on the off chance you're also using the P-Touch labeling software.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: June 17th, 2013 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Nah, I have my own (I first implemented ITF about 25 years ago). But it may well be useful for others.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 17th, 2013 10:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I also note that the disparity in price seems to be due to a private trader selling through Amazon. Presumably Amazon don't stock the Jacobs pods themselves.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: June 17th, 2013 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, it does have that funny German all over it.
From: pir Date: June 17th, 2013 08:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not being a coffee drinker I don't remember details but I'm fairly sure I've seen reusable empty pods made for some of the pod coffee makers so you can put whatever you want in it, not pay the higher prices for brand pods and create less waste. Since I don't pay a huge amount of attention I've no idea if they were for your particular style of pod thing.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 17th, 2013 09:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I haven't yet seen a Tassimo compatible permafilter - the problem is that it would likely violate a whole bunch of patents. markbanang has, however, already designed a proof of concept 2 part filter which could be 3d printer manufactured and uses aeropress filter papers in place of the built in filters in the cartridges. Sadly it's not compatible with metal aeropress filters as it needs to be able to punch holes.

Edited at 2013-06-17 09:03 pm (UTC)
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: June 17th, 2013 09:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes, one other thing - the £30 offer includes (unless they're being a real pain) the £20 credit on the Tassimo website shop.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 17th, 2013 09:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
It does, yes, but since there's a £25 minimum purchase on that, it's not quite as good a deal as it sounds. Still pretty good though.

Edited at 2013-06-17 09:47 pm (UTC)
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: June 17th, 2013 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Depends on whether you mind buying in bulk. I've got the space & I go through the things quite a lot, but in your flat (assuming you're still where you used to be) it's another matter. Particularly if you're not buying the latte packs, which are much bulkier per cup.
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 17th, 2013 11:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's actually better than I thought. Minimum order is £25 with £5 postage. Postage free above £35. But the voucher counts against those totals, so I have just ordered 144 drinks at a cost of 12p each. If it were normally at that price level, I'd be much happier with it, but I can see myself putting in more of those orders, particularly as the decaff espresso is going to be impossible to get anywhere else.
bellinghman From: bellinghman Date: June 18th, 2013 07:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Indeed so - I suspect an awful lot of their orders are just over the £35 mark
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