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Keurig Cups? Nope. Thank you.

Image of the Monster K-Cups
The Monster K-Cups

I don’t like Keurig cups. Not that I don’t like the taste of its coffee or its brilliant innovation, I just hate the fact that how much cup waste that we try not to talk about here? After enjoying your Keurig coffee for minutes or half an hour, you think how long each cup waste will stay in a landfill and harm our environment like a monster? Now imagine how many more people enjoy them and keep buying more? When demands go up, aren’t the companies more than happy to supply even more? Honestly, I’m very sad. It clearly shows that people value their own convenience more than anything else, especially people who can change but choose not to.

What’s the Problem Then?

Regarding the article, A Brewing Problem by James Hamblin on Theatlantic.com, I brought some facts of this fancy invention to show you;

  • ‘No matter what they say about recycling, those things will never be recycled.’ (John Sylvan, K-cup Inventor)
  • ‘The number of pods that were buried in 2014 could circle the earth an estimated 12 times.’ (Buzzfeed)
  • ‘Those are fully recyclable,…if a person is willing to disassemble them into paper, plastic, and metal components.’ (Monique Oxender, Chief of Sustainability Officer of Keurig Green Mountain.)

 I had a hard time to calm my temper when I read these, especially the last point. The question is, who on earth will take time to disassemble each used cup if it is that difficult? Also, there are too many things to recycle already! I used to blame it on the K-cup inventor, John Sylvan, but not anymore after I found out that he actually regrets about it. Plus, he doesn’t solely own the company anymore.

I’m glad that, at least many people get upset about it, too. A good example is this video here, ‘Kill the K-Cup’, launched in 2015. It’s a fantastic production of an anonymous producer. This video nails it all and makes us visualize what will happen next if we keep consuming K-cup coffee mindlessly. If you agree with what you see, I encourage you to share this video.

What are the better alternatives?

There are plenty of sustainable ways to make coffee. A decent cup of coffee is not always complicated to make. Read along and pick what suits your routine most.

1. Instant Coffee Powder

I know. It doesn’t sound pleasant, but it doesn’t taste bad at all. Also, it’s inexpensive comparing to freshly ground coffee. I have been a coffee person for a very long time. In my high-school years in Thailand, while living with my parents, we were obsessed with Nescafe instant coffee powder that comes in a big glass jar, and it lasts for months. We had a lot of fun customizing it by putting cocoa powder or milk in it and filling it with hot water. It fueled me really well when I fought with my homework in the early morning. We didn’t use coffee powder mix though, because it’s normally heavy in artificial creme and sugar or sweetener substance and almost always comes as single-use packages. So, keep that in mind that no matter how comfortable you want out of it, never overlook your health. Instant coffee powder suits people who love quick coffee regardless of coffee beans’ characteristics.

2. Home Espresso Machine

I’ll choose the one that has a built-in grinder and a milk steam wand so that I don’t have to buy a separate grinder. This kind of machine allows you to choose a variety of coffee beans, steam milk and even make latte art which is to me, the most enjoyable part. It takes only 1-2 minutes to make one cup. I wouldn’t argue that buying an espresso machine is quite an investment. However, those machines are now more affordable than ever; they tend to take less time to warm up when turned on than commercial machines and they are very easy to use and clean.

The machine that I used to have is Breville. It costs around 400 USD. It’s a 3 in 1 machine (grinder, brewer, steamer). This was a perfect, high-quality, little shiny machine that lasted for years. I was very sad that I had to sell it because I needed money for something and I couldn’t take it to the US with me either. What I want to point out here is that, if this is your alternative, you should take time to consider its quality versus your budget. The last thing you want to do is throwing it away because of its poor quality that the maintenance cost may be higher than the price you purchase.

3. Filter Coffee

This is for those who value coffee’s flavor and aroma enough to take time brewing and waiting for it. Essential equipment that you need to make filter coffee is a scale, a grinder, a timer, a kettle, filters, and a cup. Then you choose a coffee maker you like: French press, Aeropress, pour over, siphon, Chemex. The Brew Guide gives a simple explanation of how each coffee maker is different from one another. It may help clarify which one is more suitable for you.

Filter methods will normally take 3-4 minutes to brew one cup which is a bit longer than brewing espresso coffee, but it gives you experience that you will appreciate. You will discover that each kind of coffee beans has its own uniqueness. There are a number of factors that can affect its taste, the challenge is, a lot of factors you can not control. To bring out the best of its character, you have to go through a series of experiments. People, therefore, perceive filter coffee as both art and science, and it’s why they are fascinated about it. In terms of sustainability, I’ll go for a metal filter over paper or cloth filters because obviously, it can be cleaned easily and recycled. However, it depends on the coffee maker you pick as well. Metal filters can only be used with certain methods. Paper and cloth filter waste are more acceptable than K-cups after all.

Painting of Handground coffee grinder
Painting of Handground coffee grinder

4. Hand Grinder x Small Automatic Machine x Reusable Filter

Let me share my way of making coffee that allows me to have a decent, quick, and zero-waste coffee every morning. Even though I’m a big fan of a tiny espresso machine, I cut off this choice because I’m on a tight budget, I live in a small apartment that has little space and no private kitchen. I ended up buying a small single-serve, automatic coffee maker, a hand coffee grinder, and a reusable filter cup. All of these are ideal for me in terms of time efficiency, limited space, sustainability, and low budget. This coffee maker was the only item that I took advantage to buy on Black Friday,  so I purchased it for lower than 30 USD. Among those digital, fancy, many-button machines, I chose this one that has the simplest functions: only one button for brewing, a water container, and a place to load ground coffee. I think the more complex it gets, the riskier it will be for dysfunction.

I invested more for a hand grinder. ‘Handground’ is the brand that I use. Not only it looks elegant, but also it has the best functioning design ever. The handle is designed for turning vertically while most of the hand grinders’ handles are designed for the opposite which makes your hand tired easily. Since I’m a handcraft person, this hand grinder really serves my personality. Another good reason is, grinding coffee beans right just before you brew, prevents coffee from losing its flavor and aroma than having them ground in advance. Hand grinding still wastes your time? There are electric grinders for you as well then. Another benefit of those is, you can grind other beans or nuts, too. It’s also a smart investment.

Shop Coffee Beans Mindfully

Recently, my boyfriend was kind enough to buy me Fair Trade, Organic Bolivian Blend beans from Trader Joe’s that packed in a round container. After I finished the whole thing, I went to a bulk shop in town, Central Co – Op , Seattle and filled up the container with new Peruvian beans from coffee bulks. That’s my ideal way to shop coffee package-free and leave no waste behind. If you cannot access bulk shops in your area, at least you can choose to buy beans in a paper package from a store.That’s already kind enough.

My everyday coffee routine is pretty simple, yet neat. I hand grind beans, fill the ground coffee into the filter, load it in the machine, pour water in the tank, hit that brewing button. Then, boom, delicious hot coffee is ready for me. Easy, quick, clean, cheap and no waste. You can be as creative as you want by adding sugar, milk, cocoa powder, or creme. I used to add a bit of almond milk, but now I’m already comfortable drinking black coffee.

Through all these alternative brewing methods, I accept that brewing K-cup coffee is the fastest and easiest, that’s why it’s so famous. But I’m here to speak the truth about its effects and point out the other great ways for you to consider. You may get irritated or uncomfortable at first about the change, but at some point, you will own that discipline and will be so proud of yourself. At least, you switch one habit. It may sound small, but it affects the environment largely in a long term. And it will inspire you to be more mindful with other habits as well.

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