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My K-cup brewing system. Can you spot the irony in this picture?

The Hidden Costs of a Cup of Joe

Since taking my first sip of coffee in high school my habitual consumption of the stuff has been inconsistent at best. There have been stretches when I've done three to four cups a day (way to much for me) and there have been stretches when I've given it up entirely in favor of green tea. At present I stick to a small cup (8 oz) in the morning and an occasional cup around noon, supplemented by a cup or two of green tea somewhere in between.

My housemates and I use a Keurig brewing system for our coffee. Most people know the type of system. Used to brew individual cups of coffee, the Keuring requires a "K-cup"--or single plastic pod filled with coffee grind--for each cup of coffee brewed. Between the three of us we probably go through six or seven K-cups per day. That's around 40 a week and over 150 a month. That's a lot of plastic.

With a freshly brewed cup in hand and an agitated conscience on my shoulder I took to the web to research the topic of Keurig coffee brewing systems and waste.

One of the better sites I came across was the Coffeedetective.com, which had a section devoted to Q&A from users on the K-cups. One of the bigger concerns raised had nothing to do with waste but everything to do with health. A lot of folks wondered if BPAs (Bisphenol A) from the plastic in the cup leached into the brewed coffee. (If you've been without access to any media for the past decade, BPA leaching has been a pretty significant consumer health concern). Apparently some K-cup products do use BPAs, but the Coffee Detective referred visitors to the FDA website on BPA findings, insisting that the FDA found the compound to be safe.

Be that as it may, the K-cups are NOT recyclable nor are they compost-able, making them as wasteful a product as I use in my day. It's all I can do to drown the guilt--usually with another swig of Joe.

And then I consider the actual cost of the single-cup system. A 24-cup box of Green Mountain Coffee's Breakfast Blend K-cups is $14, which obviously makes 24 cups of coffee. A 16 oz bag of the same coffee in bean form--for use in a drip system--costs only $8.49 and would brew 32 cups of coffee (following a 1 tablespoon/1 cup of coffee ratio). I'm spending a lot of money on plastic, it would seem. (Note: I didn't factor in the cost of a filter, which is practically negligible. They are also compost-able).

As convenient as the single cup brewing system may be, it seems environmentally (and financially) irresponsible to be cluttering our landfills with even more plastic and waste. Looks like I'll be shopping for a drip system this weekend.

Do you use a K-cup brewing system? How do you manage the guilt?


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French Press

02/19/2010 10:33 AM adauria

I don't care one iota about BPA, nor am I terribly guilt wracked over a little plastic in a landfill. I do, however, strongly recommend trying French Press coffee. It just tastes much better and has a richer mouthfeel. Of course, I'm one of those nuts who roasts his own green coffee beans (@ ~$4-5/lb) with a Harbor Freight heat gun in an aluminum dog bowl.

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02/19/2010 11:27 AM TheLibrarian

I don't know many who roast their own beans. That's pretty dedicated.

I used to do French Press and I agree it has a better taste. I appreciate the process. It adds to the experience.

I see K-cups as a move in the wrong direction. It's just one more example of how lazy we can all be. You also don't get to "customize" your coffee experience. K-cups=McDonald's Hamburger. Same every time, everywhere you go.

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Drip for me

03/06/2010 08:54 PM rbtgreen58

I used to brew a pot every morning...had a timer built in to the coffee pot. Drip coffee and especially an expresso roast or exotic dark roast like Kenyan or Sumatra from Starbucks or from the grocery store coffee selection.

I have recently switched to green tea though. I still have a few cups of coffee a week but my morning ritual and during the day drink has been green tea.

Robert Green
All-Tex Exteriors

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