My Take on Coffee
I posted a comment on a website about Keurig K-Cup coffee makers, and I’ve had a constant stream of nitwits trying to argue with me, ever since.
My thesis was that, after having resisted buying a K-Cup machine for about 10 years, my wife finally bought one, and I find that it fits my lifestyle much better than a traditional carafe-based coffee maker.
My “Coffee Story”
I don’t eat a lot of sweets, I avoid sugary foods, and I even avoid maple syrup when I eat pancakes and waffles.
However, I was drinking about 8 cups of coffee per day, with cream and sugar in each cup. Actually, artificial creamer. And about two tablespoons of sugar per cup.
Doing the math, that’s about an ounce of sugar per cup, or about a whole cup of sugar per day!
In about 2006, after considering this fact, I decided to switch to black coffee only – this cut out a whole cup of sugar per day, and I dropped the artificial creamer because it tastes awful without the company of sugar.
At first, this was a big jump, and I could barely stand the taste of black coffee.
As I started working from home one or two days per week in around the same timeframe, I starting using my home “Mr. Coffee” maker quite a bit more often, as opposed to its previous, occasional use status, and it died about 2 months later.
Having previously owned two “Mr. Coffee” machines, I went out and bought another one. Unfortunately, the new one was a poor quality piece of crap that lasted three months. One would think that a device, ostensibly designed and manufactured for one purpose, and whose name contains “coffee”, would be durable enough to last more than three months, but apparently not. Upon contacting Black and Decker, who owns the “Mr. Coffee” brand, I was informed that the warranty was 90 days, and the device, having failed at 95 days, was outside its warranty period.
I can assure you that this was the last Mr. Coffee or Black and Decker product I ever purchased.
Enter the Cuisinart, and Coffee Maker Economics
From my perspective, I really couldn’t discern any significant difference between the taste of the coffee made at the office, on an expensive multi-burner Bunn machine, compared to my home “Mr. Coffee” maker.
With this assumption as the basis for selecting a new coffee maker, I could go for a different brand at the same price point, or I could go for a higher-end coffee maker with features I neither want nor need, but with the hope that the higher-end model at a much higher price was designed and built with higher quality.
After taking a trip to my local discount store, it was evident to me that all the machines with a lower price point suffered from the same quality issues – namely “welded” plastic seams that tend to come apart under repeated use. I’d be right back here, buying yet another coffee maker in another 3 months. Likewise, the higher-end models seemed to have larger carafes, timers, or built-in grinders that I didn’t need, but didn’t seem to significantly improve on quality. I might get a year out of one of them, but I’d still be back here buying a new, and significantly more expensive coffee maker every year.
Again, with the assumption that all coffee makers are just about equal in terms of the coffee they produce, and knowing that I needed to do something completely different in order to drive the desired outcome, I reluctantly went to a home goods store, and purchased a Cuisinart, for about three times the cost of my old Mr. Coffee.
I brought this bad boy home, got it set up, made a pot of coffee, and it was the best cup of coffee I had ever had, up to that point.
Unbeknownst to me, all coffee makers are NOT created equal:
- The Cuisinart got the water much hotter
- The Cuisinart uses a “rain” style water distribution system, capturing more of the flavor from the coffee grounds
- The Cuisinart has a reusable filter, and therefore does not require paper filters that could affect or alter the flavor.
- The Cuisinart has a water filter that sits in the bottom of the water reservoir.
In addition, this thing was built like a tank, and the manufacturer backed it up with a good warranty.
The other factor was that my wife had been purchasing Eight O’Clock coffee. At work, they had Community coffee and a Bunn coffee maker, and I really couldn’t tell the difference. In fact, the coffee at work tasted just a little bit better, because the Bunn did a better job of heating the water to the correct temperature.
At this point, coffee snobs reading this will jump in and insist that Eight O’Clock coffee is NOT good coffee.
- Compared to mass-produced consumer coffees, like Folgers or Community, Eight O’Clock tastes SIGNIFICANTLY better.
- I’ve had many different brands and flavors of coffee, and even with a good coffee maker, I can’t tell a significant difference between Eight O’Clock at around $8/lb, compared to so-called “good” coffee at $20/lb.
- Taste is a personal preference, I’m NOT a coffee snob, and I like the taste of Eight O’Clock coffee, so your opinion of what I should drink is completely irrelevant to me. Just like wine, “a good cup of coffee is the one you like to drink”. “Expensive” doesn’t necessarily mean “better”.
I very much enjoyed my Cuisinart from late 2006 until it finally died in 2012, at which time, I immediately went out and bought the exact same brand and model, that I still have today (As of Jan, 2015).
Since 2006, I’ve tried many different varieties and flavors of coffee, and I’ve enjoyed most of them. Where “coffee” was just one flavor before, having a good coffee maker really lets the character of each coffee stand out.
For those who don’t know, Keurig makes a system called K-Cup, which is a single-serving coffee maker, where you drop a K-Cup cartridge in the top, press a button, and about 20 seconds later, you have a fresh, hot cup of coffee.
My first experience with the K-Cup machines was fairly humorous. In 2002-ish, I went to a presentation at a vendor’s office. When asked if I’d like a beverage, I asked for coffee, and they pointed me to their K-Cup machine. Having never seen a K-Cup machine before, I selected a “K-Cup”, flipped open the top of the machine (that, by the way, looks like Optimus Prime transforming – it’s the coolest thing to watch), ripped open the top of my K-Cup, and dumped the coffee in to the machine. At this point, the assistant pointed out, as politely as possible, that this is not, in fact, how the machine functions, and that he was sure he could get facilities to sort things out, but in the meanwhile, I should go have a seat and someone would bring me some coffee. In other words, “we don’t want you breaking any more of our really expensive K-Cup machines”. Got it.
I thought the technology was really cool, but back then, the economics of the whole K-Cup system were more efficient for businesses as opposed to individuals – the machines were expensive and bulky, and the K-Cups were extremely expensive on a per-serving basis.
A couple years later, Keurig finally introduced a consumer version, but both the machine and the K-Cups were fairly expensive.
Later, even though the cost of ownership of the K-Cup system continued to drop, I couldn’t justify displacing my Cuisinart.
Recently, a few months ago, my wife’s parents bought a K-Cup machine, and about 2 weeks after that, my wife came home with one.
At first, I thought I’d never use it, but now I love it, and I can’t figure out how I got along without it!
My Perspective on the Value of K-Cup
I initially envisioned only using the K-Cup machine for guests and one-off situations, and continuing to grind and brew a whole pot of coffee every day.
I quickly discovered a few K-Cup flavors that I really like, and I found myself using it more often. Now, instead of “coffee pot management” as a line item for my daily ritual, I can get a nice, hot, fresh cup of coffee in about 20 seconds, whenever I want it.
- It’s fast. Due to an often hectic schedule, I found myself wasting nearly a whole pot or half a pot of coffee. With the K-Cup, I use exactly what I need.
- It’s consistent. From the first to the last cup of a pot of coffee, the flavor can vary quite a bit! The longer you let coffee sit, the more it gains an acidic flavor. In addition, to keep it hot, it “bakes” on the burner. If the burner times out and turns off, you have some nasty, cold coffee, and re-heating it IS an option, but it starts to take on a burned flavor. With the K-Cup, I might grab a cup before my first meeting, and if I can’t get another cup for 2 or 3 hours, my next cup is as good as the first!
- It’s flexible. When you make a pot of coffee, you’re fairly committed to whatever you brewed. With the K-Cup system, I find that I enjoy having a few cups of “regular” coffee in the morning, and a cup or perhaps a couple of cups of flavored coffee in the afternoon.
- Variety packs are excellent for guests as well as one-off occasions, where brewing half a pot of some oddball flavor is much less practical.
- Hot chocolate. Doesn’t work well in a coffee pot.
- No residual flavor. Making a pot of sticky, gooey flavored coffee makes the next pot taste like sticky, gooey flavored coffee. If someone brews tea in your coffee maker, your next 10 pots of coffee will taste like tea, unless you clean it with vodka between each use – impractical from a time standpoint. The K-Cup avoids the problem entirely!
- You can use any coffee. For about $10, you can get a reusable cartridge that allows you to brew your own coffee or tea. It takes an extra minute to clean and refill the cartridge, but it works well. This is especially significant, if you’re concerned about cost or environmental impact.
From an economics standpoint, the coffee I typically drink in a conventional coffee maker costs about $12/lb., and makes about 12 pots, each of which is 12, 6 oz. “cups” (a “cup” of coffee is 6 oz – not sure why). So minus electricity and water, a pot of coffee costs about $1, and yields 6 to 7 “real cups” at about 15 cents per cup.
Likewise, if I end up tossing away half a pot, I’m tossing away about 50 cents.
If you aggressively shop them, you can get K-Cups for about 30 cents per serving, or about double the cost. Although I’m never going to save money, nor break even, my point is that based on the added value, the price per serving is not that significantly greater.
So K-Cups are fast, easy, and although NOT as cheap as brewing by the pot, they are still many times cheaper than your local coffee shop.
Nitwits and Their Arguments
Since posting a simple, single comment that Keurig has created a convenient and enabling technology, I get follow-up comments every week from some nitwit trying to start an argument. I’m not responding. Instead, I’ll post my definitive responses below.
Argument #1: K-Cups are Wasteful.
No, K-Cups are EFFICIENT. I use exactly what I need. As potable water and electricity become increasingly more valuable commodities based on demand vs. supply, the K-Cup model makes increasingly MORE sense than the carafe model.
I’ve already provided a cost analysis, and I’m comfortable with the cost.
If you’re referring to environmental waste, that’s hyperbolic. You’re assuming we should all “care about the environment” by not creating trash. My thesis is that waste management companies can do a much better job of reusing those products – for example, I could build a simple water filter out of old K-Cups. This product COULD be mass-produced and sent to developing countries to enhance the quality of life in those countries. Trash is a commodity, just like everything else. You’re not going to save spotted owls by not using K-Cups.
Conversely, for about $10, you can get a K-Cup insert, allowing you to use your own coffee grounds or tea bags. You can also use some other companies’ brew packs and pods, although there is much less variety available. If you’re looking at trash or cost, there are options available, to make K-Cup more efficient.
Argument #2: Instant Coffee
Is just terrible. Again, if you drink your coffee with a bunch of crap in it, YOU probably don’t notice how bad it is. BUT I DO. If instant coffee tasted even close to “real” coffee, I’d be drinking instant. I’m not a coffee snob.
Argument #3: Your Selection of Coffee is NOT Good Coffee
Just like wine, “good” coffee is the coffee you like to drink.
People who claim to be experts in any subject can usually be duped in to thinking a far less expensive product is a much more expensive product, because in most cases, quality and cost have nothing to do with each other, and taste is completely subjective!
I’ve pissed off the coffee snobs, now I’m going for the wine snobs. I can buy a $6 bottle of wine that tastes great. Likewise, I can buy coffee at about $10/lb that tastes great. TO ME.
Now I’m going to piss off the Scotch snobs, of which I AM a Scotch snob. Johnny Walker Black is the second-highest rated Scotch whiskey in the ENTIRE WORLD, out of ALL of the 100 or so Scotch whiskeys in production today. It’s not that great. It has an intense, smoky flavor, and people mistake “smoky flavor” for quality. Johnny Walker IS NOT EVEN A SINGLE-MALT SCOTCH – IT’S BLENDED! My point? Taste is subjective. Being correct doesn’t mean you’re right.
Time for the art snobs. “Good” art is what makes you happy to look at, hanging on your wall. My Mom was an artist, so I know all about art critics who have no clue what “good” art is. If you enjoy a painting, it doesn’t matter whether the paint was put to canvas by a trained monkey, or a pseudo-abstract, post-modernist artist.
Preference is subjective. No one can tell you what you like.
Argument #4: All Coffee Tastes the Same
No, it doesn’t. If you make the statement that Folgers is just as good as Gevalia, you are deluded. If you’re brewing your coffee on a “Mr. Coffee” machine like I was, I’m sure it does taste the same. Go buy a decent coffee maker (I recommend the Cuisinart), and then discuss it with me.
Good Coffee (an extensive list is impossible, but here are my favorites):
- Cameron’s (their Pecan is quite tasty)
- Eight O’Clock
NOT Good Coffee. People mistake the following coffees for “good” coffee:
- Community Coffee. Served in every hotel, office building, and Denny’s restaurant in the country. Community tastes flat and acidic.
- Folgers. Mass-produced, cheap, consumer crap. If you have a cheap coffee maker, buy lots of Folgers – don’t waste your money on buying so-called “good” coffee. Folgers is exactly better than nothing – if you have Folgers and nothing else, drink the Folgers.
- Dunkin Donuts. I have NEVER heard someone say “I prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee”, except in the commercial where they’re trying to convince me that everyone loves Dunkin Donuts coffee. I’ve tried it. I found it inconsistent and flat – basically the same product as Folgers. I went to a Dunkin Donuts to BUY the coffee there. They had a Bunn coffee maker, just like the one at every office building in America. So they’re selling basically the same product as Folgers coffee, prepared using a slightly more competent coffee maker. If you buy Dunkin coffee and make it at home, unless you have a good coffee maker, your coffee will actually taste WORSE than it does at the store!