Watts (chipotle) wrote,

Return of the (coffee) pod people

Okay, I’ve been using the Senseo I wrote about for three months at work… mostly. As time has gone on I’ve been making more time to brew better coffee at home, or even stopping for coffee at coffee shops on the way in–the very thing that having the Senseo was supposed to prevent me from doing. Clearly, there is trouble in Podville.

Part of the problem is that the Senseo’s damnable fake crema–foam it produces on top of the coffee–deadens the flavor. The rest of the problem is that even many of the “good” pod coffees, well, aren’t good. I lucked out by trying BetterPods first; of their two big competitors, PodHead is hit and miss, and CoolBeans–not cool at all.

In addition to the pods, there’s another system from Keurig called the “K-Cup” (and most recently a new system from Kraft that uses “T-Discs,” for the “Tassimo” brewer). In the picture to the right, the little cups there are K-cups: single servings of coffee, and the plastic cup there is actually the filter.The Keurig is an entirely closed ecosystem: they’re the only people who make K-Cup coffee makers and only people who get licenses from them can make K-Cup coffee. This is the main reason I didn’t look too much at it, initially. However, I’ve noticed two things since then that made me reconsider it:

  • Keurig has a clue when it comes to licensees. If you’re stuck with a few brands, having them be Green Mountain, Gloria Jean’s, Van Houte, and Celestial Seasonings isn’t that bad. (Diedrich I’m dubious about, and I haven’t tried Timothy’s yet at all.)
  • You aren’t stuck with a few brands. Unlike the other systems, theirs is designed in a way that makes a little coffee filter for your own coffee pretty easy to pull off. The high-end Keurig that Williams-Sonoma sells comes with such a filter, and it’ll be available separately for the other machines shortly.

But, heck, I can’t afford another “coffee torture device,” as tugrik has dubbed my collection. (Given that the Keurig machines actually have blades that puncture the K-Cup from top and bottom, it may apply well in this case.) Sure, my birthday is coming up, but… well, I tell myself that I’ll only get one if I can do it entirely with money from the change jar.

Sadly, tragically, I can. Even the tax.

(It’s a big change jar, you see.)

So, at lunchtime, I go to Fry’s and pick up the machine in the picture above, the B40. This is the no-frills version–no timers, no programmable cup sizes, no pimped-out blue backlighting. It has a power button and a “make coffee” button.

The first thing I notice compared to the Senseo is that the Keurig is built like a tank. It weighs more empty than the Senseo does full of water. Even so, it’s not louder brewing–although it’s not quieter, either, which I’d hoped it might be. Even though the machine isn’t taller, the spout is considerably higher than the Senseo, which had trouble handling normal-sized coffee mugs; this one could probably handle a travel mug (although it’d still only do eight ounces of coffee). The Senseo is cute enough, but this machine looks like it means business.

So how’s the coffee? Well, I’ve only tried two of the sample packs it came with, and naturally, some of the varieties I’m most interested in aren’t among the ones they include. Green Mountain’s “Nantucket Blend” is a mild–really too mild–breakfast blend type coffee, but it’s still head and shoulders over more than half the pods that I’ve had. No fake crema, and it actually tastes like, well, coffee. The paper filter in the K-Cup (c’mon, of course I took one apart) looks more like Chemex paper than Mr. Coffee, and the grounds are completely saturated. I also tried a flavored coffee, Gloria Jean’s “Butter Toffee.” I’m only slightly ashamed to admit I liked it–it reminded me a lot of “Toffee Coffee,” a drink that a Florida-based coffee chain makes with toffee syrup and whipped cream.

Is it worth the price? Hey, for spare change, I can’t argue too much.

Tags: coffee, tech
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