November 2, 2011
★ K-Cups and The Death of America

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K-Cups. You’ve had coffee via this brewing method and you may have a machine at home. If not, you’ve certainly seen them in stores, online and heard of the popular method in conversation with friends. Tonight, I was ranting a bit on Twitter about how evil these little plastic pods are when most of the replies I received supported the method and asked why I was so angry. A bit of Googling and I arrived at three blogs that backed up my opinion. Oddly enough, 45 minutes later and Marco Arment posted a blog entry about this linking to one of the posts I found. Given the surprising responses over Twitter followed by the thoughts from a fellow blogger that I subscribe to, it was clear that this is something worth writing about. The initial plan as of a few months ago was to wait until the day came when Starbucks began to sell K-Cups. As I began working on this piece, I learned that this is actually the case and today is the day that Starbucks K-Cups are available in stores and online in December. Hell hath frozen over. Let’s discuss this.

First, here are the blogs that I read before writing this piece. I think they’re worth sending to Instapaper and reading at your convenience:

http://www.dearcoffeeiloveyou.com/love-keurig-nope/

http://jonahhorowitz.com/aargh-keurig-k-cups-suck-and-heres-why.html

http://muddydogcoffee.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/why-the-keurig-k-cup-is-the-beginning-of-the-end-for-great-coffee/

http://www.marco.org/2011/11/01/keurig-is-the-beginning-of-the-end-for-great-coffee

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2014455453_greenmountain11.html?syndication=rss

The first four links are all great reads. The fifth is related to the Starbucks deal with Keurig (aka Green Mountain Coffee which is based in Vermont).

Tonight, I gave my Keurig to the neighbors complete with a few boxes of pods that lay in my pantry for 2 years. The machine and pods were a gift from a friend who was moving to NYC from SF and didn’t have the space for it. I brewed less than 10 cups using this machine before buying a French Press and Burr Grinder for a total of $60 along with a 2 pounds of coffee for $20. It was a cheap setup and brewing a cup took 4 minutes compared to 60 seconds but the price was cheaper (20 K-Cups are around $25) versus $10 for a pound of coffee that yields 30 cups and the quality of the coffee was far higher than what I got from the machine. At the time, I didn’t know why the coffee was better and only assumed that the price was less for beans because I had to do more work. I didn’t really understand coffee and how it ages or is stored and how grinding just prior to brewing makes a huge difference. Most K-Cups sit in warehouses and on shelves for up to a year before you take them home to brew. That’s a year from grind to brew compared to 15 seconds at home. This is the most important difference in quality. Even for those of us who use an el-cheapo $15 Mr. Coffee drip machine with a paper filter, if you grind your beans just prior to brewing, you’ll have better coffee than almost every person who gets their coffee at home or from the local gas station / diner. Simply buying a $10 grinder and whole beans (which cost the same as pre-ground beans) and you’re getting a near perfect cup. Just think about that for a second and then head to Amazon and buy a grinder.

Let’s assume you don’t care about stale beans or that K-Cups give you the same amount of bean no matter what size you choose (equaling a weaker coffee if you decide to push the larger quantity button). Let’s assume that you don’t mind that the brewing process is far too short to get the full amount of flavor or caffeine you are paying for and let’s assume that you don’t care that the water temperature going into the cup is less than the minimum requirement for brewing coffee which equals a shallower and less flavorful cup. Let’s only assume that you want coffee in seconds right after you wake up and you’re too lazy to put any effort into a great cup of coffee.

It’s important that I choose my words carefully in this next bit because there are a few directions I can take this.

  1. Taking the time and effort to enjoy great coffee will teach your mind to take extra effort on many other things in this world. Laziness equals more laziness and choosing K-Cups is in line with choosing fast-food, choosing to watch TV over a more creative activity and choosing to slack off at your job instead of excelling and kicking ass.
  2. K-Cups are a prime example of why most of America is obese, overweight and on the verge of Type II Diabetes and record deaths due to heart disease. No, K-Cups aren’t completely to blame in any way but the laziness exhibited in choosing push-button coffee is in direct correlation with how we approach life as the whole.
  3. To everyone who idolized, worshipped and vowed to “Do as Steve Jobs does.” following his death, your choice to use K-Cups is in direct violation of that. Did Steve use K-Cups? I have no idea but to the man who lived for beauty, design, thoughtful actions and meaningful choices, I’m confident that living like Steve doesn’t mean a non-biodegradable cup of artificially flavored coffee that was processed 1 year ago and takes the least amount of work to brew and pulls a sizable amount of worthless electricity for a barely worthwhile amount of caffeine compared to other brewing methods. I compare K-Cups to reality TV, fast food, Wal*Mart and CRT monitors. You spend more, get less, enjoy a decreased quality of life for shitty design and absolutely atrocious end-result product and then proclaim that you want to live like Steve. This last part may be the most offensive thing I’ve ever written to my readers but it does absolutely sicken me that we buy into Steve’s mantras and then make coffee with one-touch laziness. The Keurig might as well have a KFC fried chicken dispenser in it because that’s what I compare it to.

Each of us have the same potential in life. That potential may be different for each of us. I look at each human like a different species of grass. Some of us are resilient to mowers and bugs and others do well without water and our roots grow deep. Some of us are great for golf or other sports and some grow so tall that we stand out among other blades. Potential has a different measurement. You may see a carpenter and feel sorry for him that he has to work outside in the heat but he may love his job and every day strives to reach a new high in his work. The barista may be in that job for life out of a choice and love coffee to its core and I feel that, no matter what our path, we have to be the best that we can possibly be at that path. If your path is bagging groceries for a while, you be the best damn bagger you can be and win bagging awards and speed records. Be in the Guinness book or records for #1 bagger in the world. That’s what life is all about and the K-Cup embodies what is absolutely the wrong approach and the anti approach to achieving what we all are destined to achieve. Just like microwave popcorn and fish sticks and whip cream from a can, we find the easiest way to accomplish things but efficiency meets a point where we reach the break-even point and efficiency becomes a cliff to quality loss. You can only fine tune something until it begins to lose value and quality. I’m not talking about hand-grinding your own beans or percolating your own coffee. I’m just talking about buying a $10 grinder and a $15 French Press and spend 3 extra minutes each morning on a ritual that will set your day in a direction that’s meaningful and in line with a path of accomplishment. This also rests on the point of, “what are you in such a hurry to do?” This is often a philosophical question from the eastern way of looking at things but you rush through your job, rush through traffic, rush through meals just so you can sit and do nothing. Why? If you can’t take the time to brew 3 minute coffee, then cut out a TV show, there, you’ve saved 30 minutes of your day and you can use the spare 27 minutes to read, cook a nice dinner or pick up a new hobby.

Don’t start your day pushing a button because this is not the path to accomplishment. It’s the path that ends with you sitting on the couch at 5:25PM with a cheap beer and cheap reality TV combined with anti-depressants and questions swirling about why your life ended up in such a crappy place.

Each year, I find a new challenge.

We all challenge ourselves each day but to those of us who frequently buy fast food and make our coffee in K-Cups, we are a group of people who are most likely to avoid these challenges. You don’t have to go to the extreme and do as I have done and have 5 different brewing methods for coffee at the house and now researching the best Espresso machine to buy. You don’t have to take cooking classes and learn about mincing versus dicing. You just have to find new and exciting ways to challenge yourself every single day. I’m not better than you just like Steve Jobs wasn’t better than you. We all have the potential as unique blades of grass to focus our minds and bodies on tasks and work our asses off to accomplish them.

K-Cups aren’t the problem here. It’s that K-Cups are the easiest way to display what the hell is wrong with us. It’s to show the scary reality the McDonalds makes more money than every organic food company combined. Our streamlined efficiencies are the reason that Asian countries are kicking America’s ass in every way. It’s the sad reality that we have given up and it shouldn’t be anything special to anyone that I know how to cook. That’s not a special talent, we just gave up on knowing how to cook and knowing how to brew coffee and knowing how to make a great martini and knowing how to operate a firearm just in case we ever had to. Knowing how to type is just as important as knowing how to make a decent hamburger from scratch. You don’t have to own your own chickens and eat them but you have to understand how to buy a whole chicken at the store and roast it because these are things that we just have to know to prove to ourselves and the world that we are capable of kicking ass and doing amazing things.

K-Cups aren’t the problem, we are and the fact that 2.5 billion cups are sold a year is a striking testament to how lazy we are as Americans.

There’s this argument that K-Cups are going to kill the coffee industry. Coffee in whole-bean form will always be available but it will never be the same. As K-Cups get more popular, small roasters will go out of business. When the two largest US Chains, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are now selling K-Cups, you know that the industry is being turned upside-down.

The thing is, it’s not the K-Cups I’m worried about. It’s us.