What I Really Think of K-Cups

by Coffee Kevin on September 9, 2014

K-Cup La MinitaRecently, I reviewed every brewing format in the U.S. I freely admit I was previously strongly biased against pods in general and specifically the K-Cup, the number one pod format. My reasons weren’t simple connoisseur snobbery, but cool analysis based upon the following industry givens:

  • Coffee must be brewed within two weeks from roasting.
  • Drip coffee must be brewed over four-to-six minutes.
  • Small batch, top-end roasted coffee isn’t available in K-cups.

Oh, and don’t forget this one:

  • Anything too popular has to be bad.

With me so far? Good. Now, a few things happened since then to open my mind to at least the possibility that K-Cups might be a viable format. First, there is the Bunn My Café machine. In my tests this one machine was heads above the others in its ability to extract coffee. Keep in mind that for years Bunn has specialized in three-minute extraction through its almost-power-washing sprayhead design in traditional drip machines. The My Café gets the water up to industry-standard temperature heights and somehow (I’m not yet able to see into the brewing chamber) this results in a much better-than-average cup.

Second, the K-Cup patent expired. This means machinery entrepreneurs will be exploiting the format, perhaps even beyond what Bunn’s done (Bunn’s was developed through licensing prior to the expiration). The patent’s lapse also means a wider variety of coffee brands will be free to flood the market with K-Cups.

Third, new smaller-run K-Cup packaging machines have emerged to make it cost-effective for local roasters to make their own K-Cups. This has caused a virtual explosion. While some specialty roasters are still keeping their distance, several have announced top quality coffees in K-Cups to the general public.  This brings us the likelihood of neighborhood, fresh coffee.

Last but not least, there are new in-cup technologies. In some ways these are the hardest to understand, much less describe. Boyd Coffee introduced a new K-Cup of their own design at the 2014 SCAA Conference. Even with all the coffee samples I’d had that day, the Boyd’s design was night and day better than I’d previously tasted. Boyd’s has a new type of bottom to its pod that is closer to a traditional filter. While it seems like it would undermine the already-short contact time between hot water and ground coffee, it clearly resulted in a more thorough extraction.

This travel photo shows why this pods are important to good coffee. This travel photo shows why this pods are important to good coffee.

I finally tasted close to coffee nirvana later at that same event when I had a La Minita K-Cup. This design, as explained by CEO Bill McAlpin, utilizes material obtained from the surgical profession that is both slow to release but allows greater transfer of flavor oils, thus coming closest yet to what the industry calls “Gold Cup” standards.

I realize McAlpin’s coffees are already pinnacle specialty coffees that score in the 90s among coffee reviewers, but this cup truly floored me. McAlpin, more than anyone else I’ve met, convinced me he truly understands the entire process. His K-Cup’s design takes full advantage of every second of contact time inside the K-Cup (something under one minute!) and then that special material at the K-Cup’s bottom makes sure the coffee essence exits the cup in its full glory and into your cup.

McAlpin claims he’s done blind tests among the top roasters and they are unable to distinguish between their roasts brewed using a traditional drip brewer versus the same coffee prepackaged in his K-Cups! I can only underscore that I believe this might be possible using this technology and a top quality K-Cup brewer!!!

I’m sure that some jaws will drop after reading this last paragraph and my having written it. My position is I try very hard to be a coffee objectivist in what surely must be understood to be a largely subjectivist world.

I am certainly not urging anyone to discard their Chemex, Hario or French press makers for K-Cups, nor for that matter their Technivorm, Bonavita or Behmor traditional automatic drip machines. What I am suggesting is to consider what this offers in terms of consumer choices and the possibility of getting a good-to-near-great cup of coffee fully automatically and conveniently. Even I must have an option for those times in my life where the process is not the goal, but a necessity of my real goal: getting a savory cup of coffee. Such times are quick morning starts, mornings when I am heading to an airport for an early flight. Sometimes a friend drops by and we want to share the coffee, but not the time it takes to make it the manual multiple step way.

Let’s remain open minded. Let’s also retain a healthy dose of skepticism. I am simply declaring that it’s now been proven to me that it IS possible to get a very good cup of coffee with a pod machine. Once it is POSSIBLE, it’s just a question of determining how it was done, then doing it that way. Remember, The Coffee Companion’s mission is great coffee, not labor, nor for that matter technology. Stay tuned!

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Keurig 2.0 Debuts!

by Coffee Kevin on August 25, 2014

Keurig 2

As I write this, the next generation Keurig machine is moments away from hitting American consumers. Keurig is doing everything to get the word out. I’ve had a sneak preview here and there, places such as SCAA’s recent Conference and the International Housewares Show, where prototypes were on display. I will disclose that they’ve even brought me out here to Los Angeles to witness their opening night amidst a hand-selected group. To their credit, Keurig has not attempted to influence my view of the machine, which I have not of course, had enough experience with to review. I’m to offer tasting notes on some of their blends and discuss food pairing,  Actually, it’s refreshing to see a coffee maker manufacturer start off high be discussing both their machine and coffee, but of course this is a benefit of Keurig’s and Green Mountain’s marriage, a company large and sophisticated enough to really understand both the hardware and software aspects of their product.

The Keurig 2.0 has several interesting aspects. Most amazing is its ability to accommodate both the K-Cup and Vue pods. This is fortunate because the Vue was Keurig’s attempt to put forth an improved K-Cup that might appeal to high-end Third Wave coffee holdouts. It held more coffee grounds and used a different piercing technology to introduce water to the pod, with the result of more thoroughly extracting the coffee flavor. It failed as a standalone product only because it caused market confusion.  Potential Vue customers had last minute sales resistance about getting hardware that offered fewer software choices. That killed it for many, many enough that Keurig withdrew the Vue this past year.

The Keurig 2.0 employs a complex mechanism to allow their new 2.0 to use both K-Cups and Vue pods. This also offers the public who did invest in Vue hope that their format will continue to be supported. I’m hopeful that 2.0 will retain the Vue’s improved brewing temperature range.

Even more profound for consumers will be the 2.0’s offering an even larger batch size. Keurig realizes that the brewing public wants 1 to 4 cups, and they’ve done that. I viewed their approach and new pod sizes last night and I suspect this will really be well received. Flexibility, with none of the down sides to compromise taste, nor having to figure anything out.

My hobby is brewing coffee, but I’m enough of a realist to know that this is simply not true for most people. They simply want a good cup, quickly, with knowledge equivalent with their other consumer needs. The Keurig 2.0 appears to solve several needs for them. For many coffee drinkers, this introduction is exciting news.

 

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Aeropress: Little Coffeemaker that Could

July 8, 2014

The Aeropress marks the longest I’ve ever waited for formally review a product. I met inventor Alan Adler nine or more years ago. We were introduced by then Bunn VP Aimee Markelz. Just to show how gracious some people can be even in an industry with such hot competition as coffeemakers, Ms Markelz was walking […]

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Another Coffee is Wine Article

January 9, 2014

Oh, no! Not another coffee is wine article!! Ever since the coffee trade learned how much wine is marked up before you and I buy it, they’ve salivated over this analogy. Is coffee like wine? Of course it is, just like maple syrup, blueberries and salmon. There are grades and flavor differences based upon where […]

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Is Coffee Brewing a Science or an Art?

November 30, 2013
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Is brewing a science or an art? A colleague recently posted this article on Linked-In. http://www.ajcoffeeco.com/blog/coffee-brewing-science-or-art/?goback=%2Egde_43141_member_5796946764351184896#%21 It’s a fairly concise piece that attempts to answer its question, but along the way I find it gets confused. It makes the point that a true professional barista should not need to use a scale and that an accomplished […]

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Coffee For Congress: Coffee on The Hill Event 10/22/13

October 25, 2013
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During the recent National Coffee Association Summit in Philadelphia, I discovered the NCA planned a one-day coffee event for Congress to help bring attention to coffee and coffee issues.  The NCA’s Donna Pacheco seemed to have everything planned, but when I volunteered she graciously suggested I might be able to discuss coffee with the Congressional […]

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Should you Jump on the AeroPress Coffee Bandwagon?

August 18, 2013

Much like Coffee Kevin, our crew tests and evaluates every brewing gadget large or small and we share our feedback. Some equipment is strictly for commercial use: Does anyone need 240 cups of coffee per hour at home? Maybe, it depends on how many coffee drinkers live with you — I know that I could […]

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KitchenAid Personal Coffeemaker

June 25, 2013
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The KitchenAid Personal Coffeemaker is their entry into this competition and I am delighted. It does almost everything right and nothing wrong. Let’s look at each feature and then its measured performance.

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Diguo TCA-C3 Siphon

June 5, 2013
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This is as much a story about social media as a coffee brewer review. I first read about the Diguo TCA-C3 Siphon in a post by its Chinese manufacturer on LinkedIn. I was instantly enthused and invited them to CoffeeCON 2013. Next thing I knew they brought the spanking new brewer to CoffeeCON 2013, where is was a definite attention getter.

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HAMILTON BEACH: THE SCOOP

March 8, 2013
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The single-cup coffeemaker is currently the marketplace Holy Grail. It makes sense. More people are drinking coffee for taste, not just energy and as they slow down to enjoy it their coffee, it makes sense to drink less at one sitting. Also, we who buy high-end coffee start noticing the extra cost of making a […]

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