ColumnAre you seriously making your morning joe with single-brew coffee pods?
How do you drink your morning coffee?
A couple of years ago answers were about the same. It was either, filter, French press, drip, stove top espresso, or for the really committed, a true espresso machine. But then another player hit the market: coffee pods.
These individual plastic cups contained enough ground coffee to make one cup, and you needed a special machine to make it. An expensive special machine. And every time you would want to make coffee, you would have to make sure that you had coffee pods on hand. From the outset, the idea sounds absurd, especially given the ease of tried and true methods like a French press, but the marketing world worked their magic and soon coffee pods were trendy. Remind anyone of another industry? Bottled water maybe?
There’s Nespresso, there’s Keurig, there’s Verismo, and nowadays, they make up a big chunk of the coffee market. So much so that in a survey done by the National Coffee Association, about 1 in 7 adults reported that they drank a cup of single-brew coffee yesterday. Last year, people spent $3.1 billion on coffee pods, compared to $6 billion on just regular roasted coffee.
“But it’s easy, so simple,” you say, “of course a culture of convenience is quick to embrace it.”
Not so fast. America isn’t the only one with a single-brew coffee obsession. According to Nespresso, about 30 percent of Michelin star restaurants around the world serve their coffee pods. In France, that number is even higher.
Last week I attended Omnivore in Paris, a food festival dedicated to bringing together the big names in “young cuisine.” During one of the presentations in which a restaurant owner was making coffee in a Chemex, the presenter asked, “so why is filter coffee better than capsule?”
I turned to my friend and rolled my eyes.
I’m not sure whether the presenter was simply trying to prompt the chef on stage for a good answer, or if she genuinely wanted to know why a cup of coffee made with freshly ground beans was better than that from a coffee pod, but either way it highlighted the escalating problem of coffee pods.
“If you’d had asked coffee specialists that this was going to happen, they would have told you, ‘That’s ridiculous,’ ” Mark Pendergrast, author of “Uncommon Grounds”, told the Seattle Times. That’s because coffee pods are ridiculous, but just like with so many other things, we’ve traded convenience for taste. In the process we’ve ended up with a product that’s really bad for the planet. For example, all of the K-cups (the name for the Keurig pods) sold in 2013 could wrap around the Earth 10.5 times.
Coffee pods. Wrapped around the earth 10.5 times. Think about it.
But those pods don’t wrap around the planet. Nope, most of those plastic containers get tossed and head directly to the landfill (Nespresso pods are made out of aluminum for example, and can therefore be recycled). This is just the waste aspect of the coffee pod packaging. Then there’s the question of the coffee itself. Buying in coffee pods means you’re not always sure of what you’re getting, even when it’s marked as an ethical choice. Coffee is the second most valuable commodity after oil, and with such a widely traded product, it’s no surprise that there are winners and losers, the losers most often being the underpaid producers that are growing the coffee in the first place.
But hell, maybe you don’t care about the environment, or the plight of workers. Not to mention taste. You just want an easy, cheap way to make coffee.
Not so fast – the New York Times calculated that single-brew coffee actually comes out to about $50 a pound, way above what even many craft roasts cost.
Which means that the only reason left to be drinking coffee made from coffee pods is because it’s easy. Which is like using the argument for eating Fruit Loops for lunch instead of making a salad: it’s lame.
Want good coffee? Kick the single-brew habit immediately and get yourself a French press. Or a Chemex. Or anything that doesn’t have anything to do with disposable plastic packaging. Then find a coffee roaster that ethically sources their beans and call it a day. Because there is nothing lame about knowing what you’re buying and where you are buying it from.
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This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’ weekly column at EcoSalon: Foodie Underground, an exploration of what’s new and different in the underground movement, and how we make the topic of good food more accessible to everyone. More musings on the topic can be found at www.foodieunderground.com.
Image: Joe Shlabotnik