Love Keurig? Nope.

03.30

Love Keurig? Not one bit. But yesterday Twitter was all a-buzz about the machine that brews single-serve coffee pods (K-cups) while they were “promoted” to the top of the trending list. So I tweeted my 140 character dissertation on the topic, simply stating that “Keurig is bad for coffee and bad for the Earth. #killthekcup.” While a few people—145 of them—agreed with me and re-shared the message, not everyone felt the same.

I was quickly contacted by Keurig with a link to their reusable K-cup as if that rectified the issue and put an end to the discussion. Then a few loyal K-cup fans were upset that I criticized their right to never have to wipe coffee off their counter tops, followed by another guy who thought that the billions of non-recyclable plastic cups are not an issue and I should invest my activist angst elsewhere.

The reality, it is a big issue—not just in the coffee industry, but in the bigger ecological picture. When the most important ”R” of conservation is to “reduce,” ignoring the rapid growth of an unnecessary and disposable product like K-cups is far from inconsequential. So, I’ve broken down my issues with this growing coffee trend into four categories: economics, quality, environment and the company behind it all.

Economics
First we’ll start with money, the topic people are generally concerned with the most. There are many ways to brew coffee, much better coffee, for the same cost (or less) than K-cups. On average, you can brew 30 cups of coffee with 1 pound of coffee beans. So let’s compare the two.

A 24-pack of Fair Trade Green Mountain Sumatran Reserve K-cups cost $15.45, which comes out to 65 cents a cup for glorified instant coffee. Meanwhile, you can buy a pound of Intelligenstia’s Direct Trade coffee for $20, which is a premium compared to what most people pay in a grocery store or even at most local roasters. Divide that by 30 and it comes out to 66 cents a cup for some of the best coffee you can buy. Cost savings per cup? Need a penny, take a penny.

What about all the expensive tools you need to brew fresh coffee? Let’s compare. The cheapest Kuerig brewing system you can buy is the Mr. Coffee KG1, which costs $79.50. Or for just $1.95 more, you can get an AeroPress, an entry level burr grinder and an electric kettle (assuming you need one). Once your water is heated, you can brew coffee with an AeroPress in the same amount of time as a K-cup—30 seconds. If time isn’t a concern, a french press, clever dripper, or pour-over cone can also brew one cup at a time and will take about 4 minutes.

Coffee Quality
Keurig’s tagline is “brewing excellence one cup at a time.” However, all basic principles of properly brewing coffee are ignored by the Keurig. For starters, the water in a Keurig only reaches 192°F (89°C), the Specialty Coffee Association of America suggests a minimum of 197.5°F and the industry standard is about 200°F. Combine the low water temperature with such a short brew time and you get a very under extracted cup.

There is also no control over the coffee to water ratio, so whether you want a small, medium or large cup, the same amount of coffee is used for the various levels of water. So a small will be extra strong, while a large will be weak and watery. When you push the corresponding size button, the amount of coffee in the cup doesn’t magically change.

The only way to truly make a cup of excellent coffee is to use fresh-roasted quality beans, ground just before brewing. No amount of freeze drying, airtight packaging or artificial flavors will produce a comparable cup. However, when your coffee options include “Chocolate Glazed Donut,” your beverage is as much coffee as Kool-Aid is fruit juice.

While taste may be subjective, quality is not.

Environmental Impact
In 2009, 1.6 billion non-recyclable plastic K-cups were sold (it was estimated that 3 billion would be sold in 2010). That’s enough plastic to circle the earth 1.25 times. Plastic that will take millions of years to degrade—if ever— and will continue to pile up in landfills and the ocean, increasing the size of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and killing wildlife. All in the name of low-quality convenience.

While loyalists and the company will quickly point out the “My K-cup” reusable basket as proof that Keurig isn’t all bad, that’s like saying Starbucks doesn’t have a paper cup problem, because they also sell ceramic mugs. Truth is, the reusable basket hasn’t prevented the sale and waste of billions of K-cups, so its prevention efforts are little if any. Another company argument is that the Green Mountain R&D department is laboring away to develop more environmentally friendly solutions to a problem their product created in the first place. A disposable product can never truly be sustainable.

If this were a life-saving medical device preventing the spread of AIDs in the developing world, I would be a bit more lenient. But that’s not the case. The K-cup was designed to save incompetent adults the trouble of wiping up coffee grounds from their counter top in the morning. I find it disturbing that such a “green company” can even justify the continued production of such an irresponsible and unnecessary product.

The Company
Back in the early 2000′s Green Mountain Coffee was the anti-Starbucks. They were a growing coffee company based in Vermont and stood on a foundation of admirable environmental ideals with a history full of environmental innovations. In many ways, they are still a leader of corporate environmental stewardship. But with the acquisition of Keurig in 2006, the company quickly became a walking contradiction.

While continuing to profess their environmental sanctity, advertising in GOOD magazine, and using the tagline “brewing a better world”—the company shifted from promoting and selling Fair Trade organic coffee, to more than 80% of sales coming from Keurig machines and K-cups. The company seems to ignore the irony in selling Fair Trade organic coffee in little plastic cups by the truckload.

But even with most sales coming from the coffee equivalent of bottled water, Green Mountain’s marketing still paints the company as a beacon of environmental morality. At what point are all the positive things they are doing completely negated by the billions of plastic cups they are contributing into the waste stream each year? Does their corporate sustainability record give them a free pass on the absurd waste of K-cups?

Summary
Are K-cups the only problem in the world? No. But it’s a relatively new problem that has been manufactured for convenience. People can point to other disposables, but coffee is everywhere. It’s the third most consumed beverage in the world and its consumption continues to grow with the rising middle-class in China and India. A person can easily go through 3 K-cups a day, while a toothbrush lasts 3 months or more.

Coffee has come so far since the introduction of post-WW1 instant coffee, yet the rise of K-cups takes a giant step backwards for consumers, the industry, the environment, and the beverage itself. As someone who loves both the drink and the industry, it seems so completely obvious—K-cups are bad for coffee and bad for the Earth. #killthekcup.

posted by on 03.30.2011, under Brew Methods, Coffee 101, Misc., Products

Don’tcha Wanna Visit Kohana

03.25

While I was in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago for the North American Hand Built Bike Show, I made a coffee detour to visit Piper Jones at the Kohana Coffee roasting facility. Until this visit, I’d never had Kohana coffee, but was familiar with both PiperJo and Kohana on Twitter. So when Piper invited me to stop by, I was excited to meet her and learn more about the company.

Kohana is just four years old and Piper has been there for 3 of them—roasting for the last two. When I showed up, I thought I’d have a quick look around and taste some coffee, but Piper had other plans. While she let a press pot of their signature Hawaiian Prime brew, she got me started on roasting a new batch of Organic Ethiopian Sidamo. I combed through the green beans looking for any defective ones while the roaster pre-heated and Piper explained the process to a couple friends I brought with me.

Kohana got its start specializing in Hawaiian coffee and have built great relationships with farmers there, but they also offer coffee from other origins now. Piper is exceptionally passionate about what she does, she “gets it” in terms of how coffee should be treated, but like many roasters she has to balance the realities of business and principles—meaning dark roasts, blends, and other things the purist in me shudders at. There is a lot of potential in Austin and I know Piper isn’t slowing down. They recently launched a cold brew coffee that made appearances during SXSW and I’m sure it’ll be in high demand during the hot Texas summer.

Kohana doesn’t have a coffee shop of their own, but they have wholesale accounts around Austin and are also stocked at the Whole Foods there. It was great to break up a weekend full of bike love with some coffee love and finally meet Piper in person. The visit was fun, the coffee was delicious and I’m looking forward to seeing how Kohana grows.

Check out Kohana Coffee

posted by on 03.25.2011, under Coffee Touring, Recommended Roasters

Luxirare’s Coffee Love

02.21

Luxirare (a fashion & fine cuisine blog) shows off her collection of coffee toys. Aside from all the adulterants (syrups, sugars, blegh) it makes me damn envious. Check out the rest of her gadgets on her site.

Thanks to the talented Mary Catherine Moody for sharing.

posted by on 02.21.2010, under Misc.

Frank Chimero and the elixir of Life

02.10

Frank Chimero is a brilliantly clever illustrator and designer soon relocating to Portland, Oregon. Frank and I first met in the land of Intelligentsia (Chicago, IL), but we were usually out drinking beer together, not coffee. The first time we had coffee was a couple cups of Blue Bottle outside the Ferry Building in San Francisco. During which our conversations teetered between our love of coffee and world domination (you can’t have one without the other).

Is coffee a routine part of your workflow? If so, how important is it to your creative process? Yep! Most mornings start out the same. Wake up, get ready, do a cursory glance at my inbox, then head over to my local coffee haunt (the Mudhouse) to get some piping hot, locally roasted drip coffee. If I’m teaching that day, I walk the extra block to my classroom. If not, I usually plant there for a bit to take care of the morning niceties and communication obligations.

How many cups do you have a day? Typically two. Any more than that, and I think I can feel my heartbeat sync with the twitch in my left eye. Sometimes I have more than two cups. COFFEE!

Who makes your favorite roast and how do you drink it? I’m going to go plain jane here: Stumptown House Blend in a french press. Then it goes in a mug. And then in my belly. I take pleasure in the simple things. It’s not exotic, but I dare you to say it’s not good.

Any chance you will actually design a set of coffee mugs in the near future? I would love to! Who wants to get going on this with me?

Burning the midnight oil usually requires fuel. Check out more of Franks’s work at www.frankchimero.com

posted by on 02.10.2010, under Design, Interviews

Beanhunter

01.28

Beanhunter is esentially a Yelp for coffee shops; specifically independent coffee shops (no chains!). It has a really nice interface, with photos, maps, and information incuding hours, website, and contact information. All of the cafe’s are submited by users and approved by Beanhunter before being posted. You can add your own reviews to cafes that have alreay been added as well as your own photos for a location, creating different perspectives of each spot.

Complimenting the main website is a great Beanhunter iPhone app. It searches cafe’s nearsest your location, provides contact information and reviews, allows you to seach, add new, and even mark cafes as a favorite.

I’m not sure when Beanhunter launched, but most of the cafe’s seem to be in Australia and the UK right now, however its US cafe presence is steadily growing! Up to this Sunday(Jan 31), for every cafe you submit or review posted, you will be entered to win an iRoast 2 home roaster and 6kg of green beans. So if you haven’t joined yet, now’s as good a time as ever.

www.beanhunter.com

posted by on 01.28.2010, under Misc.

I take my coffee black (& white)

01.27

Loving my new wallpaper, courtesy of cleanhotdry.

posted by on 01.27.2010, under Misc.

True love feels no pain

12.23

WARREN, Mich. (AP) — A 52-year-old man complained only about the cold weather before walking into a diner with a five-inch knife sticking out of his chest … Restaurant employee George Mirdita told The Detroit News the man calmly ordered coffee.

Thanks for the tip Mike!

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posted by on 12.23.2009, under Misc.