I used to really hate coffee, so instead I drank obscene amounts of Pepsi to fill my caffeine needs. But as part of getting healthier I stopped drinking soda at home, but this still meant needing caffeine — so I moved to coffee. My wife and I initially did this with a Starbucks Verismo machine (Erin would like me to clarify that she has liked coffee since college and Spain), which is like half Keurig and half Nespresso. It makes solid coffee, but the pods are hard to find (mostly from Starbucks stores, though now I see Amazon has a ready stock, but they were always on sale at the stores) and very expensive ($1.50 a pod typically). However the convenience was impossible for us to ignore.
So we did the next logical thing when we wanted to ‘upgrade’ — we moved to a Keurig coffee maker with the glorious K-cups which you can whittle the price down to around $0.60 per pod. And yes, the coffee didn’t taste great, but the convenience was amazing.
That’s all changing.
Got Expensive and Cumbersome
I want to start off by saying that as much as I would like to say I am doing this for environmental reasons — that’s simply not true. The real reason is that first and foremost, k-cups are still stupidly expensive. Add to that: our machine looks like it needs replacing and well if I have to buy a new thing you bet your ass I am going to evaluate all my options. So a primary goal was to make sure this is how I wanted to go about with coffee moving forward.
The Keurig itself was not only expensive to replace, but expensive to make coffee with. It was also cumbersome to store/stock enough pods and if you have a bunch of people who wanted coffee at once — well it was then hell. I think Keurig machines are basically not a great solution for most people.
Wanted Better Taste
Another big driver for me is that I finally decided that I wanted better tasting coffee — it was/is disconcerting that most of the time I feel like the coffee from Starbucks tastes substantially better than what I was making at home. Like I said, the k-cups are fine, but you make them for convenience and not flavor. There are things you can do to make it taste better, but all of those things defeat the purpose of the machine itself. (Ok, I know you are wondering, but you can get reusable pods, grind your own coffee and brew it in those pods. But like who actually does this?)
I do appreciate really good tasting coffee, and I wanted to bring that to our house. So in my mind this meant there was two options: brew my own coffee using a different method, or get a Nespresso machine. Both of which would achieve my goal of better tasting coffee. (Ok, yes Nespresso is more like espresso, so I am thus defining coffee now as ‘brown water with caffeine in it, which I tolerate drinking’. See what happens when you correct me too many times?)
Still Wanted Ease of Use
The biggest factor for me through all of this was that I wanted something easy to use, and something fast. I still really like convenience, and I didn’t want to lose all of that. Aeropress, Chemex, and so many of those other fancy systems you hear about broke the barrier for me on convenience. It’s not that much work, but it’s a lot of complexity and cleaning — and not something I would likely convince Erin of using like ever. And then you get into needing to control water temps and all of that and at that point it’s more like a science experiment. So while I don’t debate the flavor from those systems, they lose on convenience of not only time and clean up — but on required thinking needed to use them.
The Nespresso started leading the race at this point, but ultimately the price of the system killed the idea. Mostly that the pods are too expensive and I would consume many more than the k-cups.
Drip + Grind + Store = Solution
So I decided to pull out the drip coffee maker we have — it’s not that fancy but it works well and from what I can tell the machine itself is a smaller part of the taste equation. So I started by using our old blade grinder, some whole beans and making coffee like it was going out of style.
Immediately I ran into a few issues:
- The coffee didn’t taste better.
- The coffee was wildly inconsistent in taste.
- It was a big pain in the ass to brew more for a second round of coffee, and leaving coffee in the pot on the warmer for long stretches made for gross tasting coffee.
I decided to first tackle the inconsistency, which came down to my “eyeball all measurements” system. I added more precise measuring for both water and grounds. This lead every pot I made there after to taste more and more consistent.
The next thing I had to tackle was how to make this a convenient system. I got lucky and fixed this on my first try by buying a 32oz insulated bottle from RTIC (at current it seems they only have a 64oz bottle for sale). Now I brew enough coffee for the entire day in the morning, and immediately pour it into this bottle and seal it. The coffee will stay warm enough to drink until about 2-3pm — which is more than enough for us — and essentially makes it more convenient than k-cups. I’ll also note that the coffee doesn’t really degrade much from what I can taste by sitting in this bottle which is another big win.
To tackle the flavor, or lack thereof, I initially started with different beans. And quickly found that there are some really terrible tasting options out there. But further research revealed what I expected: the key is a really good grinder for consistent grinding of the beans.
This of course means I needed a fabled conical burr grinder, so I bought the new one from OXO and started making coffee. The coffee now tastes better than it would from a Keurig, which allows me to better experiment with beans. And the timer setting on the grinder means that I don’t worry about measuring out the grinds — further speeding the process.
So, for less money than I would have spent replacing the Keurig I get better coffee and likely spend no more time making it than I did before. The most time consuming part is filling the coffee maker with water from the filtered water spout on our fridge, which it turns out is not the fastest water spout I’ve ever used.
So far, I am quite pleased. Now I fear to tell you that I am looking at other coffee makers to further increase the madness.