K-cups have taken the commodity (not culinary) coffee industry by storm in the past few years. The Keurig coffee maker became an overnight sensation, replacing the drip pot in many coffee drinker’s homes. This was, in large part, due to the flexibility and value for many coffee drinkers to be able to make one cup at a time. In fact, a major part of the marketing campaign for the K-cup system has been to focus on the simplicity of it’s single cup brewing aspect. But contrary to the marketing propaganda of the K-cup beneficiaries, this system is not well suited for brewing coffee at all. For every reason one could list to use a K-cup system, it could be readily countered that manually brewing coffee using a Chemex, Kalita Wave, Aeorpress, or any other number of quality brewing devices is much better suited for the task. At My Coffee Pub, we recommend that anyone currently using a K-cup system give it to someone they don’t like, and buy an Aeropress.
1. They do not start with good quality green coffee.
The companies that are roasting for the K-cup brewing devices are sourcing inferior green coffee. In order for the K-cups to have uniform flavor, be cheaply sold (especially after you include packaging, warehousing, shipping and marketing costs) and be done at very large scale, the sourcing of the green coffee gets sacrificed. Most of this coffee is coming from very large estates and it is extremely rare, if not unheard of, for them to be transparent as to whom is the farmer of the coffee. This is problematic for many reasons, but most problematic is that there is no way to know if the purchasing practices are ethical. That is why buying from a roaster that is transparent about their sourcing is the most optimal way to buy coffee. Craft coffee roasters are serious about green coffee sourcing and only select the most ethical and best tasting coffees available within the particular roasters budget(which is typically 3 or more times higher than what a commodity coffee roaster will pay per pound).
2. They are roasted at a scale that sacrifices quality
K-cup coffees are roasted for volume, not for quality. In large warehouses sit large industrial roasters that roast very large batches at a time. The quality control is not focused on wowing people with the flavor profiles of the coffee but are rather focused on supply schedules and maximizing volume of the final packaged good. Artisan roasters are focused on quality and relentlessly cup and re-roast to perfect roast profiles so that they do justice to the coffee and do right by their customers.
3. They are pre-ground
K-cups contain pre-ground coffee. I really do not need to say much more than that but pre-ground coffee is sub optimal for brewing. When a coffee is ground it instantly and exponentially begins the degassing process which releases it’s chemical compounds that make it taste so delicious. Wholebean coffee is the best way to buy your coffee and it is best when you grind just before brewing. There are some situations where you have to grind before you travel with coffee but these are the exception, not the rule.
4. They sit on the shelf for long periods of time
K-cup coffees are packaged and boxed and sent to warehouses where they sit for long periods of time. They are then sent to stores where they sit for long periods of time as well and finally they are sent to homes where they continue to sit until they are brewed. This is not the appropriate way to consume coffee. Coffee should be thought of like you think of fresh fruit or other fresh food products. It has a relatively short shelf life before it loses many of the flavors that give it a unique, delicious cup character. Drinking coffee a couple of days to around 2-3 weeks tops after being roasted is the best way to ensure your coffee experience will be amazing.
5. They are optimized for inferior brew devices
The K-cup brewing devices are basically engineered to heat water and pass it through the k-cup. The pressure, flow rate, temperature and other very significant factors are out of the hands of the brewer, and judging from all the K-cup brewers I have ever seen, are set are bad parameters. Some of the K-cup companies sell brew baskets so that you can brew your own coffee at home and so I got to test one of my friend’s brewer to see if we could make good coffee. It was basically impossible. The amount of work I had to do to get it to taste somewhat decent was way beyond what most mortals are willing to do. In fact, to get the best result (which was still not very good) I had to abandon the basket sold for using your own coffee, empty a pre-packaged K-cup and pack it with the coffee I was using. I discovered at the bottom of the K-cup was a filter that one would never know was in there. It was a paper filter that the basket which was sold for brewing your own coffee did not contain. So the average person would never be able to make decent coffee using the baskets they market for people to use their own coffee.
K-cups are doomed from the start.