I have mixed feelings about writing about Keurig single-cup brewers and K-Cups. Yet single-cup brewers are wildly popular, and Keurig owns 80% of the North American market share. If I’m going to talk about consumer coffee choices and how they impact the environment, I feel I should talk about Keurig and K-Cups.
Over the years, I have written about how to minimize or eliminate the waste in the disposable K-Cups themselves:
- Refilling Keurig K-cups. Possible, but a major PITA.
- Refilling K-cups, take 2: The My-Kap reusable lid. Slightly less onerous.
- Keurig reusable coffee filter for single cup brewers. The first, and Keurig’s own, alternative to using K-Cups altogether.
- Solofill Reusable coffee filter for Keurig K-Cup brewers. A better-engineered alternative device to K-Cups.
In the past I’ve stated that I believed that K-Cups are the most environmentally-friendly product in the single-use arena because of the strong corporate responsibility and environmental record of Keurig parent Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. However, now that Folgers, Millstone, and Dunkin Donuts coffees are available in K-Cups and GMCR seems willing to license to anybody, no matter how bad or mysterious the sourcing, I no longer have this view. Ergo, it’s even more important to emphasize ways to use your own carefully chosen sustainably-grown coffee if you have a Keurig brewer.
A new contender
This brings us to the latest generation of reusable coffee filters/brew baskets to use in (most) Keurig brewers: the ekobrew Cup. I’ve not yet tried this product, as it was just released, but it is receiving very favorable reviews and has a number of benefits over competitors which are obvious to those of us who have fiddled with the various alternatives:
- It has a larger capacity than the others. It can hold up to 14 grams of coffee (versus 9 grams of a regular K-Cup, and around 11 for Solofill). You may not want to jam the max in there, though, but take advantage of the fact that the extra room will provide for more complete infusion of the coffee and get you a stronger brew, especially for < 8-ounce cup settings. Weak coffee is a major complaint with many of the K-Cup alternatives (and K-Cups themselves).
- It has a flat bottom, and is easy to fill. The Solofill has a big “nipple” on the bottom and won’t stand up by itself. Also, that depression can hold wet grounds and make the Solofill harder to clean than the smooth interior of the ekobrew.
- It is BPA-free. So is the Solofill. The My-Kap is not.
- You don’t have to remove the holster in the brewer to use the ekobrew (or Solofill) as you do with the Keurig My K-Cup.
Other reviewers have commented on the overall positive design aspects and durability of the ekobrew, including details of the brew basket, hinge, and stay-cool handles. There have been a few other products in the interim between the Solofill debut and the ekobrew, but the ekobrew seems to be the most significant recent step forward in this product arena, having improved on the few shortcomings of the well-liked Solofill.
This product could lure me into plugging in my Keurig at the office once again.
I have been a fan of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and their effort to source coffee sustainably, their support of farmer communities, and other green initiatives. But Keurig brewers and K-Cups are now making up 88% of the company’s revenues, and most of this is from the K-Cups. Their willingness to license to big corporate coffee roasters is seemingly profit-driven; they receive $0.064 for every K-Cup sold. In my eyes, and to others I’ve talked to, this seems like a contradiction of Green Mountain’s values.
Further, when I first wrote about K-Cups in 2007, Keurig was working on sustainable (recyclable/renewable/biodegradable) packaging. There has been no meaningful progress on this front (I don’t consider the release of one flavor of one brand of tea in a paper K-Cup truly significant). Currently, three billion K-Cups head to the landfill a year.
The patent on the K-Cup runs out in 2012, ushering in the era of even more crappy, cheap coffee being available in these dreadful little cups. Will there be any incentive for other manufacturers of K-Cup clones to develop sustainable packaging? Of course not. They’ll all be competing for a slice of the market, and cheap will win out. This cheapifying of coffee has broader implications, and I can do no better than to refer you to Jim Pellegrini’s excellent blog post on the topic, Why the Keurig K-Cup is the beginning of the end for great coffee.
My final recommendation is at least use your own coffee if you already own a Keurig brewer. Use a good product in place of K-Cups, like the ekobrew. Even better — go for the dead-easy way to craft excellent single cups of coffee tweaked to your individual taste with your own beautiful, sustainably-grown beans: try a Clever Coffee Dripper. Low initial investment, low tech, great coffee.
Used K-Cup photo adapted from a Creative Commons photo by Randy Read.