Update: March 1, 2016: Hamburg Is the First City to Ban Single-Use Coffee Pods at Smithsonian.com
Update: February 23, 2016: Stop Buying Coffee Pods on Gizmodo
Okay, here it is. I think the Keurig® K-Cup® represents the nadir of our cultural shallowness. First off, it’s a solution to a problem that wouldn’t exist if anyone remembered how to make a good single cup of coffee. Second, it’s a solution that requires a proprietary device that costs money up-front and locks you into a single source of consumables – those little K-Cup bundles of joy. Third, those beloved K-Cups generate an incredible amount of landfill.
How can it be that a 21st-century consumer product was introduced to the world without any thought to the waste it generates? All in the name of convenience. We are better than this, Americans.
My Coffee Evolution
I’m not a coffee snob, but I enjoy a cup every morning. (Sometimes two, but as I mature into middle age, one cup is often enough.) Like most people my age, I grew up as part of the Mr. Coffee Generation. Drip coffee makers banished the percolator to the basement shelf in the 1970s. Mr. Coffee is how I learned to make it: a pot of coffee through drip machine.
A pot of coffee. There was my problem. I’d learned to make a pot of coffee, but now I lived by myself. By the time I made a “pot” of coffee (enough for two cups), my drip coffee machine would already have over-heated the pot for a few minutes, and the coffee was no good.
The year before, to enhance my camping experience, I’d purchased a plastic melitta filter cone from Berkeley Surplus in Berkeley, California. It was a great way to make camp coffee – boil some water, pop some bulk coffee into a filter and off you go. Epiphany time: why save this method for camping? Why not use my camping coffee cone in the kitchen all the time? Into the kitchen came my $2.00 plastic cone. And coffee was good again.
The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship
Fast forward a couple years. I met my wife-to-be, and we knew we were perfect for each other because:
- We both like beets
- We both have the same SLR camera body, so we can share lenses and filters
- We both make coffee with nearly-identical cheap plastic filter cones!
Yes, we were made for each other. And we can both make a darn good cup of coffee! After over twenty years, why do we still make coffee this way? Because it’s easy, it’s inexpensive, and the results are really good. If it were expensive, hard to do, or if our coffee sucked, we would have found another way.
In 2009, after over twenty years of almost daily service, we retired our cheap plastic filter cones and replaced them with more permanent porcelain models. We’re also on our fourth or fifth tea pot, but we still make an excellent cup of coffee using the awesome power of gravity.
The Open-Source Alternative to the Keurig K-Cup
So, if you’re thinking about buying a Keurig machine, or if you feel guilty every time you landfill a pile of those spent K-Cups, why not teach yourself to make a cup of coffee instead. It’s really not that difficult. It’s fast, saves money, and saves resources. Here’s what you need:
- a tea pot (or even a saucepan if you’re a good pourer)
- a filter cone (sometimes called a melitta)
- a paper filter
- some coffee
I bought our porcelain filter cones for about $11.00 each. We pay about $8.25/pound for fair-trade coffee at our grocery store, compared to about $40.00/pound for coffee packaged in K-Cups. Filters cost $3.99 for 100. After we heat water in a tea pot on our gas stove and let gravity make a cup of coffee, the filter and grounds go in our compost. (Have you seen our garden?)
I call this open-source coffee because you’re free to experiment with the setup to dial in your perfect cup of coffee. Try a little less ground coffee, or a little more. Grind your own beans or let the store do it. Change brands of coffee, or try a different roast. Pour the water all at once or do it in three smaller pours. If you like flavored coffee, buy the flavorings in bulk and add it yourself. Keep working until it’s perfect for you.
C’mon, Americans. It’s easy to make your own great cup of coffee using open-source materials, and you can compost the waste. Unplug the Keurig and get busy.
Keurig photo by m01229