Keurig coffee is supposedly convenient, and it’s supposedly delicious. So the company makes hundreds of millions a dollar a year by sticking subpar, microground coffee into proprietary K-Cups.
But when you really study the product, it’s deceptively expensive, environmentally wasteful, and worst of all, its design eliminates some of the best experiences of buying, brewing, and drinking coffee. Even the K-Cup’s inventor agrees on these points (and doesn’t use a Keurig machine himself).
How A Keurig Works
Let’s begin with the very premise of the K-cup. You pop a tiny plastic cup into the machine, push a button, and your coffee brews. (Inside, a tiny needle pierces the cup, and shoots hot water through microground beans that are stored in the cup.) So easy! It is easy. But you know what else is easy? Scooping a spoon of Folgers into a Mr. Coffee, or mixing a Starbucks Via packet into some hot water. And if you’re looking for a quick, mediocre cup of coffee to get you through a morning commute, both alternatives will do just fine.
Of course, the convenience and quality wouldn’t necessarily matter if K-cups were cheaper than competitors. But they’re not. Keurig’s Green Mountain coffee line will run you 75 cents a cup. You know what other coffee you could be drinking for that much? Pretty much any single origin roast in the world. We’re talking hand-picked beans from a family farm in Guatemala, or Costa Rica, or Colombia, fermented under the ocean breeze and shining sun before being shipped to your city and locally roasted.
It’s just a reminder of how Keurig has industrialized one of the most time-honored agricultural processes–trivializing the fact that we can grow a cherry containing a seed, which can be roasted into a tantalizingly complex flavor that’s every bit as palate-boggling as vintage wine. Keurig distances you from this natural process with plastic, vacuum seals, and layers of logos. It’s turned coffee beans into the worst excretion of commercialism, a factory-ground micropowder you never see beneath the packaging.
Keurig’s packaging is a big “fuck you” to the environment. As Mother Jones puts it, in 2013, Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups–or enough 2”x2” containers to circle the globe 10.5 times. It’s enough to even make the K-Cup’s inventor renounce his own invention. Earlier this month, he told the Atlantic, “I feel bad sometimes that I ever did it.”
On top of that, it hides the multisensory experience of brewing coffee by hand. When you brew a cup of pour-over or French press coffee, you hear the beans grind, you smell the unique odors that hit the moment you spill hot coffee onto the grounds, you see them bubble up, and you smell the cup evolve in real time, right in front of you. It’s such a splendid experience that I’ve written an ode to it. It’s simple, satisfying, and it doesn’t take much longer than brewing with a Keurig. Why skip it?
And of course, there is the joy of the coffee drinking experience itself. Disconnected from where you got the beans, disconnected from how the cup was brewed, you’re as dissociated from your first sip of a K-cup as you are from the first bite of a microwaved frozen pizza. The craft becomes a commodity. Objective taste tests aside (and pretty much any coffee brew method really does taste better than Keurig coffee), the appreciation you have for a cup you made yourself is always going to be higher than something spit out by a machine. It’s not just a cup of coffee but a project of your making.
There’s No Need For A Fix
Ultimately, coffee is not a problem that needs a new design solution. Brewing superb coffee is no more difficult than pouring hot water over some grounds–a task that will reward you with, not just enticing aromas during and a better tasting cup of joe after, but an appreciation for the global anthropological process that delivered this caffeine to you. Your coffee has traveled thousands of miles to make it to your cup. Savor it.
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