The Future of Single-Serve Coffee

in Brewing Coffee, Buying Coffee, Coffee Gear

Question:

coffeepods     “You’ll likely scoff as soon as I mention the idea of single-instant coffee such as Keurig and Tassimo but in a world where fast and convenient reigns champion they aren’t going away.  Where do you see this market going over the next 1, 3, 5 years?  Keurig is also promising a locked-down machine with the claim it will ensure the highest quality by only using their cups but customers will definitely see this as a move to limit using cheaper alternatives or re-usable options — are they shooting themselves in the foot?

Our culture thrives on entitlements and convenience – just look at the explosion of Keurig and Tassimo.  The next logical step in this market is the increase of single press brewing and I’m curious if you have plans to review any (notably AeroPress).”

– M. Millar

Answer:

Mr. Millar, no scoffing here.  These are great observations and questions, and in order to do them justice, I’ll answer in the following order.  I’ll let you know what I think of the single-serve pod coffee makers.  I’ll speculate where the market is going.  And finally, I’ll let you know what I think of Keurig‘s decision to launch the Keurig 2.0 incompatible with unlicensed K-Cups.

makerandpodsPod, or single-serve, coffee was at one point the largest growing segment of the coffee gear market.  I assume as I type that, that it is still the case.  You hit the nail on the head in terms of why – convenience.  Check out my blog post with initial reactions to the pod coffee system: The Skinny on Pod Single-Serve Coffee.  Since I wrote that, there is one other advantage that I have to give these systems, and that is consistency.  The system produces the same cup of coffee every time because each step is automated.  Now, the cons.  First of all, the coffee in the pod, even if airtight, cannot be as fresh as the whole beans that I keep in airtight cannisters and grind only as needed to brew.  Second, the method by which the pod system works makes a good cup of coffee every time.  When I recommend brewing methods such as Pourover, French Press, or the AeroPress, these methods are designed to be more manual, but for all the right reasons.  These methods make a great cup of coffee, and only require a little skill and repetition.

I speculate that in the years to come, the single-serve coffee system will gradually replace the drip brewer that has been in kitchens for decades.  Just as the drip brewer replaced the percolator used by generations before us.  Both the pod coffee maker and the drip brewer are convenient, make decent coffee, and are consistent from one brew to the next.  Except in the case of the pod coffee maker, it is better in all three respects over the drip brewer.  The drip brewer has one advantage, in that it makes a lot of coffee at once, which is why I still use it when making coffee for a lot of people.  However, the people I know with pod brewers make a cup of coffee in a few minutes and I’m not seeing them carrying a drip brewer as well – in those homes, the substitution has already taken place.

Green Mountain Coffee Lawsuit     Keurig’s decision to launch the 2.0 and make it incompatible with unlicensed pods? – meh!  The worst part about it is that it is probably a great business decision, but limits the choices of coffee lovers.  If my speculation on the pod coffee market above ends up being accurate, and Keurig is the most recognized brand in the category, they will reap much benefit from this exclusivity.  So, good for them.  Bad for a coffee lover like me, that can make literally ANY kind of coffee I want with my chosen brewing methods.  If I replaced all my coffee gear with a Keurig 2.0, I’m limited to what they license.  Today, there is no limit to what I can brew for myself, or for you when you’re a guest in my home.

brewing_small     I sum it all up by saying that when a system is fully automated, it’s likely more efficient for the greater part of the system.  However, a small part of the system that can greatly impact the final product cannot be automated because it requires a human touch.  A machine cannot pourover like I do.  A machine cannot work the AeroPress like I do.  For this reason, the pod coffee maker will always make a good cup of coffee, likely good enough for many people.  With the inexpensive gear I have, I’ll always make a great cup of coffee.  If you drank the two side by side, I promise you could tell the difference.

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