So let's talk about K•Cup machines and the coffee they make. For many, the capsule brewers have a somewhat chequered reputation and many "true" coffee lovers give them a wide berth.
But you can't deny they are one of the major coffee making devices out there - last survey I saw quoted around 34% of coffee makers are a K Cup variant. So as a roaster, it's a user community that is hard to ignore.
The proponents of the capsule say for them, the trade off between great coffee and convenience is worth while. No extra muss and fuss with grinders, scales, kettles and other coffee paraphernalia. The ability to pick different coffees for different times of day or mood like a box of chocolates without having several bags of bean on the go and emptying the grinder etc.
This comes at some environmental cost in that most coffee capsules are not recyclable. Even the guy who invented it said he has had second thoughts about what he unleashed from time to time.
I decided to take a (largely unscientific) look at the shortcomings of the existing capsules. Here's what I found.
- Stale coffee - allegedly much of the coffee is approaching a year old from roasting (not necessarily grinding and packing date). Nitrogen is used as an attempt to stop the ground coffee deteriorating further until bought.
- Fine(r) grind - to make up for the lower weight of coffee and the brew process, the coffee is ground approaching an espresso level. This tends to make over extraction a potential problem resulting in bitter coffee. Press the "strong" button on your machine and you are just slowing down the water flow, making over extraction even more pronounced. Strong and bitter are not the same. You get stronger coffee by using more of it.
- Coffee dose - I ran a quick taste test of some capsule fills compared to a jug of filter coffee brewed at the SCA recommended 60g of coffee per liter of water. I tested 10g, 12g, 15g weights. The average capsule bought in retail stores contains 10g. In taste testing, the 10g was weaker than the jug, 15g was a little stronger and 12g seemed the sweet spot, for an 8oz standard brew. If you are pressing the 12oz button, you're definitely getting a weaker brew.
So Stuart, what does all this actually mean ?
Good question. It means you can get decent results out of your K•Cup machine if you do the following:
- Freshly roasted quality coffee - no getting away from that
- Correct dose - 12g, I can see that saving 2g per cup is hugely attractive on the bottom line if the coffee is "almost good enough". If you're someone who likes a bigger and/or stronger cup, you need more coffee in there. Or put another way, you're getting 25% more coffee. It's bound to taste better.
- Correct grind - grind for the brew method, maybe a little finer than regular filter but not at espresso level,
- Use a slightly more expensive cup which is recyclable - the ones I use are recycle level 5. You can open them up, empty the ground and wash out and reuse a couple of times too.
With this in mind, you will see that all the coffees I offer now have an option for 12 cups.
Yes they are more expensive than the off the grocery shelf brands but what are you giving up for cheap coffee based on my notes above ?