Something that coffee nerds say a lot is that it’s not really the brew method that matters in making an enjoyable cup of coffee, but rather the freshness of the beans, and how freshly ground they are. Different methods can bring out different things in coffee, of course, but key to any method of choice are good quality beans, freshly roasted and ground when needed.
If I were to make a personal ranking of coffee brewing methods, espresso would be king, made with a real, high-quality espresso machine. I don’t get to have an espresso machine where I work (not yet, at least; if we see any success whatsoever I’m going to push for one in the break room), so it must be some method you can prepare in a breakroom that has only a filtered hot water dispenser available. Well, the hot water dispenser, or a Keurig
. Because like most offices that have small breakrooms/kitchenettes, and like countless hotel rooms, we have a Keurig.
I’m not a fan of the Keurig. The coffee “pods” generally contain old, bad, or (ugh) flavored coffee. The only thing it has going for it is it’s a very quick way to prepare a cup of coffee (making an americano on an espresso machine is probably still faster, and the result is far superior, but that’s beside the point).
So, there are available refillable “pods” that you can fill with your own coffee, and use these in a Keurig. So, with one of those (I tried the Solofill K3 refillable cup
), and some excellent coffee, I guess I should get a quality cup of coffee from the breakroom.
We don’t have a grinder in our breakroom, and I haven’t broken down and bought one to use there, mainly because the cost of the right kind of grinder — a burr grinder — might be a little more than I’m willing to spend for something that’s going to go into a breakroom shared with the people I work with. That leaves getting the beans ground at the store when buying them, which isn’t ideal, since you don’t get the benefits of a fresh grind. It’s also a pain trying to explain what kind of grind you need to the person at the register, who will grind your beans for you; you typically just tell them how you brew your coffee, and they’ll grind it to the correct fineness. The roaster I buy my beans from is a high-end roaster, and they don’t seem to know (or care) much about the Keurig or grinding for it.1
The cup doesn’t hold very much, certainly less ground coffee than I use in my simple, red plastic Melitta pour-over coffee maker. That’s going to be a bad sign, anyway, because I don’t think you can use enough coffee grounds to get a decent cup of coffee — this is probably why the Keurig will only dispense six ounces of hot water at a time. One point here is that you don’t go through your twelve ounces of ground coffee very fast, and you’re left with coffee that is too old.
The brew, for me, has only ever been passable, and only marginally better than a decent pre-filled pod. The brewing process goes something like this: at first you get a ribbon very dark, muddy coffee into your cup, which lightens to an anaemic looking strand as the brew finishes. At the end, you get a 6 ounce cup of under-extracted coffee, with some muddy junk mixed in. The result can be drunk, but the same coffee — same grind, out of the same bag — brewed with a conical pour-over yields a dark, rich cup of coffee. The problems with the brew method are pretty apparent: the metal mesh is not fine enough to strain out all the particles from the coffee, like most metal filters. Once the gritty, fine coffee is pushed through the filter screen, you see the next problem, which is that the water is not in contact with the coffee for very long at all, so the coarser-grained coffee is under-extracted. In the end, you get a watery cup of coffee only made dark at all by the gritty sludge that settles to the bottom of the cup.
Cleanup isn’t that difficult, but also isn’t any easier than any other brew method; it’s fairly easy to clean up if you’re using pre-filled coffee pods, though, since you just throw the pod away. One thing I note, though, is that nobody I work with that uses the Keurig with the pre-filled pods ever throws away the pod they just used, instead they just leave it in the machine. So, that probably tells you about the kind of person that prefers using the Keurig. What I do for cleanup is lay down a paper towel on the counter, open the lid of the cup, place the cup upside-down on the paper towel, and give it a tap downwards, and also give it a tap on the bottom of the cup. This should loosen all the grounds from the cup, leaving them in a little sandcastle-like formation on top of the paper towel. Then I rince the cup in the sink, and dry it and my hands with another paper towel. Those of you paying attention might see that I just wasted two paper towels doing this routine, instead of the single paper filter I might throw away with a pour-over coffee maker. So I guess I’m no longer cluttering the environment with a single-use plastic cup, but instead using two paper towels.
In the end, I have to conclude that the Keurig is one of the worst ways to brew coffee. The prepackaged coffee pods are gross and wasteful, and refillable solutions, though they make a good effort, just cannot do a good coffee justice.
1. I suppose you could figure out what grind number you need, and just tell them that.