The K-Cup is Coffee’s Mp3 player. Why do I say this? Because the K-Cup is moving towards 30% of the market in the US. Years ago, when the compact disc player came out, a number of audiophiles swore they would never give up their analog stereos for digital sound. They heard harsh artifacts and claimed they didn’t hear as musical a sound, or as realistic a sound.
Keurig developed the K-Cup single serve method more recently, but the response within the specialty coffee community mimics the audiophile response. To a cynic, it seems like coffee geeks might just like the culture, including special rituals, of their hobby. But the coffee enthusiast could rightly point to significant compromises built into the K-Cup’s design.
I ignored the K-Cup at first. Why not? I own the best coffeemakers, and buy my beans fresh, grind them fresh and brew manually. But even I do not dislike convenience. When I began testing coffeemakers for a national consumer magazine I was forced to review them. When I attended my first National Coffee Association summit last October I realized that the larger coffee industry was immersed in single serve and that the K-Cup was considered the new standard for mainstream coffee. I am not such an elitist that I could ignore this, and I am enough of an amateur sociologist to become fascinated with the single serve’s social emergence.
The question of including single serve at CoffeeCon is not new. Technically we have since year 1, when we presented a Bunn Trifecta lab. This might be the very leading edge of single serve, so leading edge that when I use the Trifecta as an example of how good a single serve machine can be, I receive a sharp rebuke that the Trifecta is not a pod machine. That is correct. So, the real question becomes, should we bring pod-type single serve machines to CoffeeCon? I think the answer is yes.
Why? The following reasons:
- Pod machines have not stood still. What is the single serve pod state of the art? Are there machines and pods that perform at or near our Chemexes, Aeropresses and Harios?
- Pod packaging has evolved. Is there packaging that can keep pods near freshness that can match fresh-ground whole beans?
- Part two of packaging is my realization that brewing technologies such as the K-Cup are as much about the cup as the brewer. Keurig’s patent expiration inspired a new wave of cup innovation. How do these new ones measure up?
- Pod packaging technology has come down in price and production run size so that your local direct-trade roaster can likely get short runs of those esoteric single origin coffees delivered in pods. How do we find them locally?
- Even those of us who own manual drip, siphons and espresso makers need a quick cup once in a while. Why not become a savvy shopper? Why not at least try the latest under ideal (CoffeeCon) conditions to verify your opinion, or possibly form a new one?
I’m really pondering how to include new innovative brewing formats under CoffeeCon’s big tent. What do you think? Do we invite these manufacturers to exhibit? Do we feature a class overview on single serve so attendees can get guidance about which do what and what tradeoffs are involved?
CoffeeCon is not my event but ours. I’m seeking input.