(2010 update at the end) Some time ago, I wrote a post on refilling K-Cups, the single-serve coffee “pods” used with the Keurig single-cup coffee brewers. I took on the task of refilling the K-Cups because I hate the idea of sending the plastic, foil-topped cups to the landfill. As I mentioned in that post, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which owns a large share of Keurig Corp. and manufactures K-Cups, is also unhappy with the situation. An internal memo provided to me by a company representative stated “the environmental impact of the K-Cup waste stream is one of the most significant environmental challenges we face.” The company is working on making the K-Cups from biodegradable and/or more sustainable materials such as bio-polymers.
The company does offer a product which completely avoids the throw-away K-Cups: the Keurig My K-Cup Reusable Coffee Filter. Let’s take a look at this product.
What it is
The My K-Cup is a simple three-part contraption: a mini gold filter basket that fits into a filter holder with a lid. The filter holder corresponds with the removable assembly in the Keurig brewers that hold the disposable K-Cups. I thought perhaps it would be difficult or annoying to swap out this assembly for the My K-Cup, but either pops right out and the other pops right in. Simple.
How it works
Very straightforward. 1) Fill the filter basket with ground coffee. 2) Set it in the bottom holder, twist on the lid. 3) Pop out the assembly in your Keurig brewer, and pop in this holder assembly. 4) Push the brew button.
There is, of course, a bit of finesse involved in step 1 above.
First, a standard measure for coffee is 2 tablespoons per 6-ounce cup of coffee. Since “tablespoons” (and coffee scoops) vary, we’ll go with the equivalent recommended by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, 10 grams per 6 oz cup. I realize I’m mixing metric with English measurements. Most people have kitchen scales, which are able to measure weight in grams. And most average-sized coffee mugs are between 6 and 8 ounces. Once you know what 10 grams looks like, and how much water you typically use, you’ll know how to make your coffee.
So, the package insert says that the My K-Cup holds 2.7 tablespoons of coffee. I won’t use a conversion formula to tell you what the equivalent is in grams, since I’ve not found one with the proper translation of volume to weight for coffee. I simply used my scale, and the My K-Cup holds right around 14.5 to 16 grams of coffee.
The instructions say not to pack the My K-Cup filter. The water would not flow through the coffee, grounds would overflow into the holder, and they would clog the hole at the bottom of the holder. Likewise, very fresh coffee (which I hope you are using) “blooms” as the hot water causes a release of carbon dioxide. That can also cause overflow and cloggage.
So use care to only fill the filter to just under the plastic rim. Actually, probably the worst aspect of the whole My K-Cup experience is filling this little filter with coffee grounds. It’s easiest with a spoon, but still sort of a pain.
A very fine espresso grind may clog the filter and cause the same problem. I experienced this because I thought I would get more flavor from a very fine grind, and it made a mess. It will require some care to find the correct grind that will allow enough extraction but not cause clogging or overflow.This probably varies with the coffee and roast strength, not to mention the grinder. Start with a grind somewhat finer than a drip grind. Go with as fine a grind as possible that doesn’t cause brew failure.
Compared to a drip machine, the Keurig provides a slightly cooler brew temperature (the max is 192F) and a shorter length of time the grounds are in contact with the water. Therefore, the 15 grams of coffee in the My K-Cup would work best with smaller brew sizes (under the large 9 ounce choice offered on the brewers).I did some tests, using the same coffee and same grind with the My K-Cup, a drip brewer, and the Aeropress small batch coffee maker. Not surprisingly, the Aeropress offered the most rich and intense flavor. But the My K-Cup does make a cup quite comparable to a typical drip machine.
And if you are so pressed for time that you are using a Keurig brewer in the first place, my bet is that you neglected to clean your old drip machine on a regular basis. This is a huge, overlooked advantage of a Keurig brewer: it doesn’t get dirty. You will certainly want to wash the My K-Cup filter and holder (or the assembly for the disposable K-cups) with soapy water on a regular basis, but overall it’s much less work than maintaining a drip machine.
The My K-Cup is the sustainable choice — when used with a sustainable bean, of course — for use with a Keurig brewer. Still, it will probably not satisfy those who want a strong, really flavorful cup (especially a big one). I think Green Mountain has achieved good results with some of their K-Cup varieties, although I’ve yet to have any K-Cup that compared to a decent bean in a French press preparation. It would probably take a lot of experimentation to get consistent, really satisfying, beyond-the-ordinary coffee using a variety of beans with My K-Cup. This sort of defeats some of the convenience of a Keurig brewer, but still preserves the speed, energy efficiency, and coffee waste minimization advantages of these machines.