Seth Lachman

No More K-Cups

I hesitate to brew a cup of coffee using a Keurig machine. Not only because the coffee is subpar, but because it signifies so many ugly and stupid things about contemporary American culture. It is an unnecessary machine that improves nothing whatsoever about the process of preparing coffee or producing a reasonably good cup. In some instances, it may be marginally faster than preparing a cup of coffee using a traditional electric brewer if the machine is on. Otherwise, you will need to wait a few minutes for it to turn on and heat the water (I hope everyone in the house is awake when you start it up). Three preset volume options, a choice that aligns with the selection at fast-food restaurants, provide no way to adjust the coffee to an individual’s taste. Given this paltry selection, I always choose the smallest option because every other size produces a cup of blackened hot water. This restriction means that for me to drink a full-sized cup in the morning, I need to brew two k-cups. Twice the waste so I can drink an insipid cup of coffee. Finally, the machine itself is unreliable. Due to its awkward design, it's also difficult to repair it without shipping it to the manufacturer.

My grandparents were the first in my family to own a Keurig, and they experienced several problems with their machine [1]. I remember listening to my grandfather describe the process of filling the water reservoir up to a certain level, and no higher, to keep the machine in working order. If I emptied too much water into the machine, it was necessary to restart it to brew a cup of coffee.

The finely ground coffee packed into k-cups often reaches its final destination stale—at least it tastes that way to me. In any case, it’s impossible to check the coffee’s age because they place no dates on the packages. But even assuming the coffee arrives fresh from the manufacturer, the Keurig machine fails to attain a sufficiently high temperature to extract all the flavors from the grounds. After listing all of these defects, it seems as if the only people benefitting from the Keurig machine are the manufacturers and the coffee companies producing k-cups. So why do people use these machines?

Convenience. Assuming everything is on and functioning, one pops open the cup holder, inserts a cup, closes the lid, and selects a size. After the brew cycle concludes, one opens the lid, extracts the k cup, and tosses it into a waste bin. Since no preparation or cleanup is required, the machine encourages mindless consumption. In contrast, if one uses a more manual brewing process, for example, a french press, some thought is required to measure out a few scoops of coffee. And then, one must wait for the water to boil and then again when the water mixes with the coffee. In total, using a french press consumes anywhere from seven to ten minutes instead of waiting thirty seconds for a k-cup. Coffee produced by a French press is nearly always superior to k-cups.

As for durability, the french press might last an entire lifetime if the carafe remains intact. The filter is the only piece that might need to be replaced after many years of use, but when this happens depends on one’s cleaning habits more than anything else. A Keurig, on the other hand, will need some form of repair, if not an entire replacement, within five to ten years. And this assumes that Keurig will survive another ten years. If the company fails for any reason, manufacturers will eventually cease producing k-cups in favor of the more popular machine [2]. For a consumer unreasonably attached to this brewer, it is always possible to use the empty cups and fill them with ground coffee, but this process saps the convenience of the method as it becomes essentially no different than a typical electric brewer without the pre-filled pods and pre-selected water levels.

Keurig has produced a machine that's essentially inferior to earlier brewing methods, but because convenience trumps everything in America, the coffee brewer has achieved a disproportionate success relative to the features it offers. In exchange for convenience, we give up control, durability, and quality. Many of our society's creations, from cars to smartphones, rest upon this same poor deal. Before long, one begins to feel like it’s not only the best offer but the only one. Rejecting these products, however, remains a legal option.