Keurig & K-Cup Coffee: What's All the Hype About (and should I buy one?)
Single-Serve Coffee Machines
I first saw a single-serve coffee machine a couple of years ago when I was staying at a friends' house. I was impressed with its convenience and what (at that time) I considered a pretty good cup of coffee. Since then, single-serve coffee machines have become increasingly popular. There are several brands, but easily the most popular is the Keurig machine using the K-Cup system. It is easy to find both the machines and K-Cups at your local Target, Walmart, etc.
Check out the video below to see how the K-Cup system works:
- Convenience is king here. It only takes about 30 seconds to a minute to brew your cup. Just pop a K-Cup into your machine, choose the cup size and hit brew.
- There are over 200 varieties of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, etc according to their website. Most of the brands are well-known such as Starbucks, Caribou, Tazo, Green Mountain, and Twinings. They offer many different flavors and roast types to accommodate different tastes.
- As the K-Cup system becomes more common, it is easier than ever to find K-Cups/machines at local stores and the price-point has decreased over the last couple of years.
- Great for people who want more than just coffee from their machine. Teas, Ciders, etc. Even capable of making iced coffee and tea if you know what you're doing.
- Easy setup and easy clean-up. Just pour water into the reservoir, pop in a k-cup and throw away your k-cup when the brewing is done.
- Freshness: Time and time again, Keurig boasts that their grounds maintain their freshness. Coffee is at it's freshest around 24-48 hours after it has been roasted. The freshly roasted beans should be allowed to breathe (to emit CO2) for around 8-12 hours before being sealed in a container, and coffee is considered "fresh" for only up to a week after roasting. Grinding should occur just before brewing coffee. Storing pre-ground coffee radically lowers the flavor of the cup produced.
Keurig does none of these things. Roasted coffee is ground then vacuum-sealed in the k-cups. Next it is packaged and shipped across the country into grocery stores where it sits in the storage room for weeks and eventually makes it onto a shelf. Pre-ground coffee loses most of the beans great taste, vacuuming sealing the grounds keeps them from breathing and releasing CO2 like necessary, and at best you are drinking weeks (if not months) old coffee.
If you must use a Keurig, invest in a reusable k-cup to fill with your own freshly-roasted and home-ground coffee beans. It's cheaper and better!
- Environment: K-cups are made of non-recycleable plastic. It was estimated that in 2011, over 5 billion k-cups were sold. None of these were bio-degradable; therefore they simply all ended up in landfills (unless their owners got creative on their own!). UPDATE: Keurig has introduced the Vue system. One benefit of this new system is the the ability to recycle part of the new cup. It is at least a step in the right direction for Keurig as a company as far as the environment goes.
- Proper Coffee to Water Ratio: Keurig allows no control over the grounds to water ratio of your daily cup (unless you use a reusable filter, but even then you are limited!). The National Coffee Association recommends 2 tablespoons of coffee per 6oz of water. Keurig's website claims it brews with the "perfect amount of coffee" every time. However, the user can press a 6 oz, 8 oz, or 10 oz button for their cup, all using the same k-cup of coffee. This does not change the amount of coffee grounds contained in the k-cup - all the user is doing is choosing how weak they want their coffee to be.
- Improper Extraction: The Keurig boasts around 30 seconds to one minute brew time. However, it is recommended that for most drip brewing, the water and grounds have contact (infusion time) of at least 2:30 to 6 minutes for proper extraction. Espresso is the only method where 20-30 seconds infusion time is recommended. The Keurig does not produce espresso. The speed of the Keurig may be convenient, but it is producing an under-developed cup.
- Water Temperature: Keurig's website says, "[We believe} the optimal temperature for brewing coffee... is 192F." However, according to the National Coffee Association, water temperature for brewing coffee should be 195F-205F. The NCA notes that "colder water will result in flat, under extracted coffee." Therefore, any flavor that may still be left in the wrong ratio of grounds after being vacuum-sealed, stored for weeks (in plastic!), and underdeveloped will also be flattened by the low water temperature of the Keurig.
- Cost: Although the Keurig has descended in price since its debut, it is still more expensive than manual or traditional drip brewing at home. One pound of local-freshly-roasted coffee is around $14 and produced thirty cups. For the average cost of a k-cup, 30 cups would cost you at least $20. It would cost even more if purchasing more well-known k-cups such as Starbucks. See my price breakdown chart below for Keurig brewing vs. Manual home-brewing.
Is It Worth the Cost?
- To find a local coffee shop offering fresh-roasted coffee in your area go to www.findingcoffee.com
- Also, look out for my upcoming hub on home-roasting coffee. My average cost-per-cup is only $0.20!
A Word About the Keurig Vue
- Keurig seems to have been listening to some coffee professionals in designing their new Vue system. Included in their improvements are partially recyclable k-cups, larger k-cups to help accommodate larger sizes of coffee cups, and customizable brewing temperature.
- These are all steps in the right direction, however, most of the problems with Keurig still remain here. The highest brewing temperature is only 197F, which is just barely the minimum. With most electric coffee makers, the water temperature can be expected to decrease over the course of a few months with daily use. Similarly, offering larger sizes still does not give the user control over their water to coffee ratio, but it will produce less weak coffee overall. Lastly, the Vue system costs $250 for the brewer and the Vue K-cups cost around $.75 per 8 oz cup. You pay substantially more for few improvements in the long run.
If convenience is king and the only motivation behind your morning cup o' joe is caffeine content, go for a Keurig. However, if sustainability, taste, freshness, saving money, and supporting local business are at all on your radar, stay away from the Keurig. Keurig takes an improper amount of sub-par grounds that have been vacuum-sealed for months, puts warm water through them at a quick speed and gives you a substantially dull and bitter cup of coffee that costs more money than some of the best coffee you can buy!
It is also of value to note that the mentality behind the Keurig (convenience is king) is slowly taking over the coffee industry. Most coffee chains (such as Starbucks) have been increasingly allowing the quality of their cup to backslide in recent years-- just check out their VIA instant coffee. Since most artisan coffee roasters will never reduce their quality in order to adapt to the K-Cup/instant/convenience model, the market for fresh-roasted coffee will likely decrease severely. Go support a local coffee roaster or do your own roasting from home (a guide will soon be posted on my hub pages) You'll save money, support the industry, and have a better cup than Keurig could ever produce.
If you want the best cup possible and are done with the Keurig, check out my guide to five better and cheaper methods for home coffee brewing!