Is a Keurig K-Cup coffee maker machine right for you? An honest review
We bought a Keurig B-60 single-cup coffee maker about a year ago. My wife wasn't very enthusiastic about the idea, but I was tired of wasting coffee, stale coffee and everything else that goes with brewing coffee by the pot. I convinced her to try it by pointing out the money back guarantee. She also went to a friends house who has one and tried a cup, which she pronounced satisfactory.
Since then, we've shown friends how convenient these single cup brewers are and have told them all that we like and dislike. Many of those friends have later decided to purchase these themselves. I've written up what we tell them here to help you reach your own decision.
Costs of K-Cups vs. Bagged coffee
These single cup brewers are a mildly expensive proposition. The least expensive model is around $90.00 (that's usually the "mini", though sometimes you can find the next model up around that price) and I don't usually like to buy at the bottom of the line. I don't like to buy the most expensive model either: call me Mr. Median Price.
The K-Cups that these things use are also obviously more expensive than buying coffee by the bag. I calculated that our perked coffee cost at about 30 cents per cup; these K-cups run about 50 cents.
On the other hand, that 30 cent figure doesn't include coffee waste: we often throw away the last few cups of coffee when we perk a full pot. There is also the issue of running out of the house in the morning with no time to make coffee - that means a stop at Dunkin Donuts for a cup that will cost at least three or four times what the K-Cup costs. If both of us go out together, we are spending enough to buy six K-Cups. There's also extra gas and time for that.
Then there's the always confusing analysis of electricity cost. It's probably better to heat up just what is needed for a cup than to perc a whole pot of coffee and then end up throwing it away. On the other hand, Keurig recommends leaving these units plugged in all the time - which is yet another electricity vampire. It is just one more thing to keep that electric meter humming.
However, it probably doesn't take much to keep the water hot and we do find that the built in lights (I assume they are low draw LED's) make a decent night light for the kitchen, so we unplugged the night light we used to have. That's an offsetting saving, I guess.
What about pollution? These K-Cups are plastic. There's definitely a disposal issue (arguably far less than all the other plastic containers we go through every week) and it's possible that there is a health issue also. Who knew that BPA was dangerous? There is no BPA here, but there could be something else we just don't know about now. Keurig insists that there is no danger, but who really knows? Keurig also says they are actively trying to find a more eco-conscious way to package these, so they certainly are aware of the problem.
But then again the ground coffee we buy comes in some sort of plasticy-feeling bag... and those cups we buy when we run out of the house aren't always paper. So who knows what is really eco-friendly? Overall, it is hard to say which is 'greener". My suspicion is that it isn't using K-cups, but I don't know for sure.
We could recycle these - our community has full plastic recycling with no requirements for specific types. However, we'd have to dump out the coffee (which is fine, we can use that in the garden) and wash them - that's using water. Recycling can be so confusing!
Finally, will it make a good cup of coffee? For most, that's probably the most important question. I have run into Keurig's at enough customer sites to feel that I knew the answer, but then again those are commercial units - the model I'd be buying might be different. As it turns out, it was.
Scouring the web, I found people complaining about weak coffee from the B-60 model we were considering buying. I discounted these complaints because I assumed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that those people wanted something like Starbucks serves - very strong coffee. We don't like our coffee like that; we prefer the less strong coffee such as is served at Honey Dew or Dunkin Donuts.
By the way: if you are a Starbucks fan, you need an Espresso machine, not one of these brewers.
Anyway, after hemming and hawing, we ordered the B-60 and a bunch of our favorite percolating coffee, which was Green Mountain Rain Forest Nut at that time. The unit arrived a few days later and we set it up with great excitement and brewed our first cup of coffee.
To our complete surprise, it was awful. We thought the coffee was very weak at the middle size and bitter at the smaller cup setting. I don't now really think there is any difference when you brew different sizes, but we thought we noticed this then.
We were shocked. I was especially astonished as I've had this so many times at so many other places and had always enjoyed it. My wife was also surprised as she had liked the coffee she had at her friends house. Even more confusing was that her sister had recently bought the $90 model and complained that the coffee was too strong! How could that be? Sure, her sister bought a different model, but could it be that different? What the heck was wrong?
I called Keurig and complained. They suggested that it was the brand of coffee we chose and offered to send us three boxes of other brands free to try. We were dubious, but said to go ahead and send the coffee (they recommended the Breakfast Blend and the 10% Kona). We also tried some some Extra Bold K-Cups that had come with the machine; we were not happy with any of those either. The only thing I did like was the tea; that was perfect for me.
In retrospect, I think Keurig must be aware of this problem. It's just too prevalent. I think they were just stalling for time, hoping we'd get used to it or realize all the other advantages. That is just what happened, so I guess I can't fault tem for that. Anyway..
We had a 30 day return window so, while we were upset and disappointed, we knew we could always return it if nothing worked out. While waiting for the free coffee to arrive, I did a little additional research and found people recommending a "pre-wet" method. I like to call it "brewitus interruptus": the idea is that you start the process and let the water just start dripping into the cup for a second and then raise the handle just enough to stop the cycle. This is a bit tricky, because you have to lift it just enough to interrupt but not so much that it won't start over when you put it down again (which will overflow your cup). Wait 30 seconds (adjust to taste) and close the handle again. This makes a slightly stronger cup, but the difference isn't much and it is annoying. We stopped doing that pretty quickly.
However, that trick did stop us from returning the unit. We were getting hooked on the convenience of having exactly what we wanted when we wanted it and wasting nothing (well, except that little bit of plastic). We liked that I could have the brand and flavors that I prefer and that my wife could have her own choice. We liked not cleaning the coffee pot. We liked not throwing out stale coffee. We liked that we can brew one cup and run out the door, saving $1.50 or more.
We liked being able to offer guests decaf or regular in a variety of strengths and flavors. We liked everything except the slightly weaker brew and we were getting used to that. It's now a year later and you couldn't get us to give this up. If it breaks, we'll instantly buy another - it has become that important to us.
We found an old bag of coffee in the pantry a few months back. We didn't even think twice about recycling it into our garden. We are single-cup people now.
My wife's current favorites are 10% Kona Blend, Green Mountain Hazelnut and Hazelnut Decaf. I like the Green Mountain Breakfast Blend and the Vermont Country Blend, but I also drink Newman's and even Tim's. We buy online and in the 80 count boxes from BJ's; if we are under 50 cents per cup, we are happy.
By the way, the reason my wife switched to Kona is because she has an acid reflux problem. She really shouldn't drink coffee at all, but she found that the stronger Kona bothers her less. That seems counter-intuitive, but she's read the same comment from other people, so it might be true.
I really recommend single-cup brewers. Apparently the brewing strength does vary slightly between these units and of course individual cups can vary too: you aren't mixing up a lot at once, so if there is one off bean in that cup, you would taste it. However, we have found that the coffees are very consistent and have never noticed that
I do think Keurig should implement something that could let the coffee steep a little longer. Just a simple switch that could stop the flow for a few seconds could help with initial impressions.
You may dislike the coffee at first, but you will probably come to love it as we did.
We do wish this thing were quieter! It's mostly a vibration problem - I have found that if I hold down the metal handle, the noise is reduced. We also have the brewer sitting on a rubber pad to help quiet it down.
Update: recently we replaced the rubber pad with an AARP magazine. Strangely, it was noticeably quieter at first, but the grinding noises soon returned. We tried towels, too: it seems like you can make it stop for a while, but it always comes back. The best method of all is simply to stand there holding the handle down firmly.
We were at friends recently who had a newer, cheaper model. No fancy blue lights, and slower to be ready for the next cup after filling one, but so much quieter!
Coffee and your Health
Coffee can cause heartburn, but it also protects against a number of cancers - Google "Coffee Drinkers Cancer" to find out about that.
Interestingly, and seemingly against common sense, the stronger coffees seem to have less problems with heartburn. My wife switched to Kona Extra Bold for just that reason.
You might be interested in this analysis of the Pros and Cons of Coffee.
This is an update of an article I wrote at one of my other websites a year ago.