When I first saw a Keurig K-cup single cup coffee machine, I thought it was awful. Let me count the ways it bothered me:
- It’s trendy.
- It’s expensive to buy.
- It’s expensive to operate.
- It’s wasteful.
- It’s a solution in search of a problem.
- I thought the coffee would be crap.
Some of those objections still hold, all or in part. The K-Cup fad is a couple years old, so I’m not sure I’d still call it trendy, but we’re certainly seeing K-Cup usage spreading with added models and coffee brands. It’s moved from a workplace item to a home item. It costs more than a standard coffee pot, and it costs more per cup to operate.
Any new technology should be able to answer a basic question: What does it do that wasn’t done perfectly well before? Dress it up in as many features and as much chrome as you like, but a coffee maker is still just a device for making water hot and passing it through ground, roasted beans. Simple, efficient, useful.
I would not have bought myself a machine, but I expressed some interest and my mother got me a nice model as an early Christmas present.
My interested stemmed from a single consideration: I have to watch my caffeine intake, but my wife and I both drink a lot of coffee throughout the day. Sometimes I can take caffeine, sometimes not. She always takes caffeinated. We also like different kinds of coffee. It seemed like a workable solution instead of making two pots, some of which would always be wasted.
My mother got herself the same model, and I see even more reason for her to have one. Since my father died, she’s been unable to make a pot small enough that there was no waste. She’d also stopped making tea. At 83, she doesn’t get around well and fussing with pots and filters and carafes was getting to be too much for her. A single-serve machine, which also makes tea from a standard teabag and requires no cleaning, was a perfect solution. In fact, other than offices, elderly people living alone may be the best market for K-Cups.
K-Cups are still expensive compared to my regular coffee buy (Trader Joe’s), but I’ve found enough deals and sales to make it work out pretty well. We’re looking at maybe $.30 a cup if we buy right. That’s not terrible.
The selling point for me was the reusable cup that allows me to grind and use my own coffee. This has its drawbacks as well, since it takes almost twice as much coffee to make a cup this way than it would in a standard drip machine, and I’m still trying to get the right balance of water to coffee.
And that may be the biggest problem with Keurig for purists: lack of control. You don’t get a fresh grind with the pre-packaged cups, you can’t control amounts unless you use the refillable cup, and even then, it doesn’t work like a regular drip brew. The water passes through very fast, meaning it doesn’t fully extract all the brew. That’s why you need extra coffee. It also only heats to 192 degree, which is about 5 degrees below optimal brew temp.
Finally, there’s the waste factor. The plastic cups and filters are thrown away, and many see this as a needless waste of resources. I’m not inclined to fret too much about disposable packaging. The specter of the landfill (along with the hole in the ozone, global cooling, and the population bomb) was one of the scare tactics environmentalists used to try to terrify us before they focused all their efforts on global warming, but solid waste is not a serious concern. The world is full of wide open space useful for little else than dumping crap. Canada, for instance.
So let’s get back to the original tech question: What does a Keurig do that isn’t done perfectly well by a standard coffee pot? It does single servings well, allowing for a variety of brew strengths, coffee types and flavors, and caffeine levels. I like it strong, so I can choose a dark, extra bold roast. My wife likes it less strong, so she can choose a lighter roast. We can have an evening cup of decaf without making a whole pot. It makes a fresh cup each time, and does it fast since the water stays hot. It doesn’t need to be cleaned, either. Just pop out the cup and toss it. The ability to make tea is a nice extra.
It won’t totally replace a standard coffee maker. For large quantities and a more control over your brew, you still need to do it the regular way. Purists probably won’t like it. As for me, it offers speed, convenience, variety, and easy clean up. What’s not to like?