I confess, I've never been thrilled by coffee pods or the machines that make coffee with them. At best I find pod coffee weak and lifeless. More often it tastes too bitter, made drinkable only with plenty of milk and sugar.
Like many people I used to drink cup after cup of instant coffee unaware there was anything better. Then about ten years ago I took my first trip to Europe. After flying the red-eye to Paris, I ordered a quick cup of coffee at a tiny airport cafe to beat back my jetlag. It was this simple cup of coffee with milk which ruined most java for me forever. Though the drink was small, its flavor was anything but. Dark, rich and gloriously delicious, the taste lingered long after each sip was done.
I can see the convenience of using pods, but ultimately life's too short to drink bad coffee especially when you can easily create the high quality joe right at home, and for less money. If you're attached to your Keurig, Nespresso or K-Cup brew, here's a breakdown of why you should kick your sad habit post haste.
Freshness is key
Like any edible ingredient or substance, coffee has a shelf life. Roasted coffee beans in particular become stale in short order when exposed to oxygen. Freshly-roasted coffee should ideally be consumed within two weeks, three max, of its roast date. That's why premium brands print the roast date of their beans right on the bag, and less forthright ones merely disclose a sell-by or best-by date.
The freshness of ground coffee is even more fleeting. Think hours, not days, where you're losing those tasty organic compounds. The situation worsens the finer you grind coffee beans due to the increased surface area and greater exposure to air. Experienced roasters and baristas have told me that the finely ground coffee used for espresso loses its potential for greatness in just 30 minutes.
Those are serious hurdles for pods to overcome and brew java with exceptional taste. Keurig, Starbucks and others do their best to offset these physical realities. Common tactics are to top off pods with Nitrogen gas to put a lid on oxidation, or sealing the container with an extra layer of foil. Despite those efforts, open Touch, and you'll often finds grounds that look and smell anything but fresh., Green Mountain K-Cups and even pods from prepackaged beverage company
Use more coffee please
I'm a coffee addict so the stronger the drink in my mug the better. Each single mug of drip or pour-over coffee I make consumes roughly 0.7 ounces (20 grams) of grounds per 8 to 12 ounces (337 to 355 mL) water. That's the same ratio I rely on whether brewing at home with my $38 Kalita Wave or in the lab with the $16. Unfortunately not only do consumer coffee pods contain stale grounds, their coffee dose is much too weak. Keurig K-Cups contain only about 0.25 ounces (7.1 grams) of ground coffee.
Starbuck's Verismo espresso pods contain slightly more (0.26 ounce, 7.4 grams). Starbucks has added more coffee to its Verismo Pike Place pods ( 0.37 ounce, 10.5 grams) which it designed to brew 12 ounce cups. That's a decent amount of grounds but sadly it doesn't translate into a good mug of coffee. Both Keurig K-Cup and Verismo Pikes Place coffees consistently come out weak and watery.
It isn't just my taste buds that have a problem either. I measured both these pod coffees with a refractometer to measure their TDS or total dissolved solids percentage. TDS percentages for liquid coffee (black) provide a handy indication of how much material has been extracted from coffee grounds and entered solution. The SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) maintains the ideal TDS for drip coffee is between 1.2 and 1.4 percent TDS.
To put things in context, I've logged McDonald's coffee at around 0.8 percent TDS. Starbucks Pike Place drip came in at a slightly higher 0.9 percent TDS while I recorded Dunkin' Donuts brew a 1 percent TDS. One of the best single cup coffee brewers I've used personally though, the previously mentioned, created outstandingly tasty drinks with TDS numbers hovering around the 1.5 percent mark. The gadget also used my humble Costco Colombian Suprema test beans (ground fresh at medium coarseness through a burr grinder).
I also enjoyed excellent results with the Bonavita BV1900TS coffee maker. The machine consistently brewed whole 40 ounce (1.2 L) pots within the SCAA's ideal range (1.28 percent TDS). By comparison, all of the pod coffees I've analyzed came in with a low TDS percentage of 0.8 percent.
The hidden costs to you and the Earth
Even if you don't mind the taste of pod coffee, buying into the pods system is also expensive. Amazon will sell you a 50-count pack of coffee pods for $28, or 56 cents per serving. Starbucks Verismo pods costs even more, $10 to $12 per 12-pack, which comes to 83 cents to $1 per drink. You're much better off picking up a 3 pound bag ($16) at my local grocery which supplies enough for 69 cups at 23 cents a pop.
The real hidden cost of pods though is the waste you'll help create. Whether it's plastic like Starbucks Verismo and Keurig K-Cup pods, or aluminum Nespresso coffee inserts, disposing of spent capsules isn't easy. Both Keurig K-Cups and Starbucks Verismo casings are not biodegradable nor can they be recycled.
You do have the option of bagging spent Nespresso Pods then shipping them yourself to a recycling facility. That's a tall order to ask of any consumer, let alone one looking for convenience. Now consider the staggering 9.8 billion pods sold in 2015 -- a massive amount of plastic and metal for the poor Earth to swallow, or choke on. It's enough to give the K-Cup's inventor second thoughts.
My friend, walk away from those pods
Still, I get it. Coffee pods are convenient, just pop one into your machine, hit the button and boom -- instant gratification. There's a big price both you and the whole world pays, however, for your level of laziness. Sure, you may gain back a few minutes of time each day otherwise spent manually preparing your morning coffee. Unfortunately we and everyone else on the planet are stuck with your pod remnants for hundreds of years, even a millennia.
If pod coffee was amazingly good I might understand its temptation, but it's not. In fact coffee made from pods is awful.
The final nail in the coffin is the price which adds up quickly over time. Compared to sourcing your own beans and grinding them yourself, the cost of pod coffee is akin to highway robbery. The flavor of freshly-roasted, ground and brewed coffee exceeds anything that could ever come from inside a pod too. That's why you should drop those pods before they leave you with a bad taste in your mouth to match the hole in your pocket.