Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Coffee Pods

Like many of you, my morning coffee routine involved popping in a Keurig or Nespresso pod and filling up a thermos on my way to work, these pods cost about 50 cents each on average, average is also the nicest word to describe the coffee in these pods.

If you follow the drip coffee ratio that most roasters suggest of 1:16 to 1:17 (grams of coffee to milliliters of water), your K-cup is designed to make you about 6 fluid ounces of coffee. Yes, most Keurig machines have different size options, but you’re just drinking more diluted coffee when you pick anything larger than the 6 fluid ounce size. The “strong” setting on your Keurig machine just adds an extra 30 seconds to your brew time to try and improve the extraction.

I was curious how much coffee is actually in one of these pods, the answer is 7-12 grams for a K-cup and about 5-6 grams for the small Nespresso pods. For Keurig you’re paying about $1.42 per ounce of coffee (at 10 grams per pod) and $2.58 per ounce of coffee for Nespresso (at 5.5 grams per pod). A quick search will show you that “premium” coffee usually costs about $1 an ounce and local roasters charge about $1-1.50 per ounce of specialty coffee, so about $16-24 a pound. With pods you’re paying about $23-41 per pound of coffee.

The frugal side of me wanted to find a better option. Why am I paying premium prices for stale below average coffee? The most common answer is, convenience. People need to get their coffee and get out the door. You may be saying well it is cheaper than Starbucks and tastes about the same. While we have to give credit to Starbucks for growing the coffee culture in America, Starbucks coffee is not recognized as good coffee in the specialty coffee world. Compare that to coffee you can get at a shop that roasts their own single-origin beans or does made to order pour over and the difference will be huge.

I found an old ekobrew reusable K-cup in my cupboard and bought some pre-ground coffee and started to use that. However, with more reading I learned that you really need to grind your own beans as everything about coffee centers around freshness. You want fresh roasted beans that are freshly ground before you brew.

There are plenty of articles out there talking about the waste generated by these pods, I won’t get into that because so many others already have. I do know some offer recycling programs also, but my main argument against pods is that you are paying premium prices for below average coffee. For less than the amount you spend on pods, you could be getting premium specialty coffee in exchange for a little convenience.

I started researching better ways to make coffee and eventually landed on the pour over method. It sounds like a pain at first, but after some practice I think it is pretty easy with only a few minutes of your attention required. If you don’t have the time for that I’ve written about other methods for single servings and better convenience.

If pods work for you, then keep using them. In talking to friends and family, I noticed so many of them were deliberate about what they purchased and consumed, but when it came to coffee they were paying a lot more for the convenience of pods. Once they realized with a little more effort and less cost, they could get amazing coffee many of them switched over.

Here are some follow-up posts you might find interesting:

Check out our recommendations and product reviews.

How to Make Pour Over Coffee

The first time I saw pour over was at Blue Bottle in San Francisco, seemed like a cool way to make coffee. After a lot of research this is now my go to morning coffee process. It seems like a lot of work, but once you get the hang out it, it only requires a few minutes of your attention.

I like pour over because you can make some of the best coffee with a relatively low-cost method, you can get a great pour over setup for under $100, less if you have some of the items at home already. If you go down the rabbit hole of espresso you will quickly realize to get the best results requires a lot of investment in time and especially money. To do espresso properly requires at least $450 for a semi-pro machine and $280 for a good espresso grinder at the higher end you’re looking at $3000 machines and $680 grinders.

Things you need (there are links to the items in this kit on the recommendations page):

This is the James Hoffman technique, there is a video I made down below of the process, I have written it out with some additional detail. I know it seems long and complex, but after a few times it becomes second nature and only requires a few minutes of active attention. I mention this because I can do this with two toddlers screaming for breakfast, so I think most people can manage this. If the times and amounts are a little off, that is ok.. you will refine the process to make it work best for you.

  1. Boil the water in your gooseneck kettle, use filtered (preferably soft) water that is freshly boiled, not water that has been sitting in a warmer.
  2. While your water is warming, using the recipe sheet and on the resources page, grind your coffee by weight to a medium/fine ground. If your coffee comes out too bitter, adjust the grind coarser. Adjust finer if it lacks flavor. Ideally keep going finer until it becomes bitter then adjust it coarser again to ensure optimal extraction.
  3. Insert and rinse the V60 filter paper in your dripper using hot water from your kettle or I use a Zojirushi hot water warmer to do this (the kind I told you not to use for the brewing the coffee), if I am making larger batches sometimes my gooseneck won’t have enough water to rinse the paper and make the coffee. This cleans out any paper taste and also heats up the dripper and carafe. Dump the water after the rinse.
  4. Set your carafe, dripper and wet paper on the scale and tare it to zero then pour in your ground coffee and confirm the amount. It could be less than you put into the grinder due to grinder retention, if it is a gram or two off, I wouldn’t worry too much. Give your dripper a little shake to level out the grounds. Tare to zero again before pouring water.
  5. For this example let’s use 30 grams of ground coffee in your dripper and 500 ml of water, since one ml of water weighs exactly one gram so I use them interchangeably. With your scale at zero, start the timer and pour in a circular pattern 2-3 times the weight of coffee with your freshly boiled water. So 60-90 grams of water for the bloom. Give it a gentle swirl and let it saturate for 45 seconds. This is called the bloom, it helps to release gas and wet the grounds.
  6. Your timer is now around 0:45, within the next 30 seconds pour in a circular pattern approximately 60% of the water. So we want to hit 300 grams by the time the timer hits 1:15. Try to pour the flow to agitate the grounds sufficiently without creating channels in the coffee bed. Some will say don’t pour on the paper, but I think it is ok and I do it to get grounds that are stuck on the paper back into the slurry.
  7. Continue pouring the rest of the water with the goal to finish within the next 30 seconds, around when the timer hits 1:45. After all your water is in take a spoon and give it a gentle stir clockwise and another one counter-clockwise. Once the water level drops down to safe level give it another swirl to flatten out of the coffee bed. Throughout these pours we want to retain as much thermal mass in the dripper as possible, so try not to let the water draw down too much while pouring.
  8. Now let the coffee draw down fully, which should finish at about 3:30. Give the coffee a stir (not swirl) in the carafe before pouring. If your drawn down is much slower or faster than 3:30 try to adjust your grind size finer if it is too fast or coarser if it is too slow.
  9. Try it without milk or sugar first after it cools a little, see if you can detect any notes. If you want to add milk or sugar, you can do so, but try to get a taste of the coffee black first.
  10. If you want to nerd out, use your phone to take down some tasting notes on the type of coffee and if you like it, or if next time you should adjust the grind or whatever comes to mind. Coffee is personal, like wine or food, some people love certain types and others hate it, it is all personal preference.

They make machines that try to replicate this process so you can put in your coffee and just press a button and go. I know people that like them, but I enjoy the process of making it this way. If time is an issue, they may be good to look into. Check out our blog post about how to roast your own coffee at home here.

I’m Ready to Ditch Pods, Now What?

The most common reasons people cite for using pods is that it’s convenient or they need to be able to make only one serving at a time. Let’s try to tackle these:

I just don’t have the time to make coffee in the morning. If you’re willing to grind your coffee the night before and place it in the coffee maker before you go to bed, you have many great options available to you. You can basically use any coffee maker that has a timer or the ability to be used with a timer. The Technivorm Moccamaster series is an excellent coffee maker that is highly recommended, however it doesn’t include a timer. Since its power switch can be left in the on position, a workaround for this is to hook it up to your smart plug and set it to turn on and off at certain times. You can even set it up to turn on by saying “Alexa, turn on coffee maker” while crawling out of bed. If you don’t want the trouble of that the OXO Brew 9 Cup is an excellent choice with a timer function, if you have one of their other kitchen appliances the look and feel will be familiar to you. Both of these brewers are great machines, check out all our reviews and recommendations for other options.

Here is a full list of home brewers that have been certified by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). Any of these will brew excellent coffee from your excellent beans. Unless you plan to transfer your coffee to a travel mug or cup within 20 minutes of brewing, pick a model with a thermal carafe over a warming plate.

They make brewers that have built in grinders, but those have mixed reviews and reliability issues. For best results you should have a standalone grinder. Those brewers will make better coffee than using pods, but for that extra effort of a separate grinder the results will be better and offer a lot more versatility for other types of brewing also. Also some of the lower end models don’t even offer grind adjustment which is a big part of making good coffee.

Make cold brew. Cold brew is easy to make in large batches and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Use a coarse grind with a 1:8 ratio of grams of coffee to milliliters of water and let it in steep for 24 hours in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally. After that use a sieve to remove the large grounds then run it through a paper filter. Add milk or water to taste. This is one brewing method where you don’t need to use your best and freshest beans, for many this is actually the way they use up stale beans without wasting them. Reduce the ratio to 1:4 for cold brew concentrate and add water or milk to taste. I did another post with more detail about cold brew if you want to check it out.

I need the option to make only one serving. All of the coffee makers mentioned above have the option for making different brew sizes, however for most of them that means adjusting the amount of water in the machine as most will brew until the water runs out. For a multi-serve brewer where you can select a brew size, check out the Ninja CM401. If you are willing to spend a little more time you can look into the pour over process which is my personal favorite. Brewers such as the Hario Switch (makes about 14 fl. oz) or AeroPress (makes about 6 fl. oz) are great at making single servings and easy to use at the office. Your pod machine doesn’t offer size choices, only selections for how diluted you want your coffee to be. So if you think the Keurig is making you a 12 fl. oz. cup, it’s actually making you a 6 fl. oz. cup with twice the water.

Must Have Items To Up Your Coffee Game

Two things you must have if you want to up your coffee game:

Weight vs. Volume

Some of you who have done cooking or looked up a famous chef or baker’s recipe knows that many of them don’t use volumetric measurements. Pretty much any baker or cook outside of the U.S. can instantly recognize an American recipe because it uses volume measurements like teaspoons, tablespoons, cups, pints or quarts.

If you want to make your life easier with coffee, use the metric system. Grams of coffee to milliliters of water (this is where the kitchen scale comes in). A milliliter of water weighs exactly 1 gram so it makes this incredibly easy. Most roasters recommend a ratio from between 1:15 to 1:17 for drip and pour over coffee.

Here is a quick cheat sheet for grams of coffee to milliliters of water following the widely recommended ratio of 30 grams per 500 ml or water or 60 grams per 1 liter of water. Another way is to divide milliliters of water by 16.7 for grams of coffee needed, or say I’m at the end of a bag of coffee and only have 37 grams left, multiply by 16.7 and I know to use 618 ml of water for my brew.

Here it is in cups and fluid ounces, with rounding for convenience. Useful if your coffee brewer only lists cups. *This is based off US cups of 8 fluid ounces. Cups can mean 4, 5, 6, or 8 ounces of water depending on your brewer, try to figure out how many fluid ounces you are using vs. cups to avoid the wrong ratio.

If your coffee recipe involves number of scoops per cups of water, consider switching to a weight based recipe. Coffee beans come in all different sizes and water content and using a volume measure like a scoop is not at all precise.

Check out our post about kitchen scales.

Burr Grinder

The single most important thing to adjust the taste of your coffee is the size of the grind. It is recommended that you don’t alter anything else about your coffee recipe other than the grind size to adjust the taste. So if your coffee is too bitter, the solution isn’t to add more water to dilute it, the answer is to adjust your grind coarser. If your coffee is weak or sour you need to adjust the grind finer. The only way you can get a consistent and even grind, is to use a burr grinder.

A blade grinder works like a food processor or blender and just chops your coffee beans into inconsistent chunks of coffee. Invest in a burr grinder, this will cost anywhere from $80-140 for a decent electric grinder.

For each type of coffee you get, ideally you should adjust your grind finer and finer until you taste that bitterness you don’t like, the adjust it coarser just a little to know you are getting the ideal extraction level.

Check out our grinder recommendations here and our review of two of the most popular entry level grinders here.

Best Value Kitchen Scale

As I mentioned before a scale is one of the most important things you can use for better coffee. Don’t use scoops, tablespoons or volume to measure your coffee. You should weigh it and follow the ratios shown here for making filter coffee. One exception is if you know the exact weight per “scoop” of your coffee and you don’t have a scale handy, such as at the office or somewhere else.

I tested six different kitchen scales for use with pour over coffee and general kitchen use. The best one I found was the FEESPEC Coffee Scale with Timer. I tested scales from about $10 to $75 and this one worked the best. Fun trivia, a penny weights 2.5 grams and a nickel weighs 5 grams if you ever need to test a scale’s accuracy.

Here is the rundown:

  • The FEESPEC Coffee Scale with Timer, quick startup, accurate, includes a timer and accurate down to .1 grams. There is a little lag when using it for pour over, but at this price point it works well. I also like that you don’t need to long press for most functions, only to restart the timer.
  • My existing kitchen scale that I got for $10 about seven years ago, it was only accurate to 1 gram and didn’t have a timer. Worked well, but it was time for an upgrade to have better accuracy and a timer.
  • The Hario V60 Drip Scale, accurate down to .1 gram, but only has the ability to weigh in grams. Also I learned that at higher weights it starts rounding to the half gram. Living in the U.S. there are just times I need to know ounces and pounds. There was a bit of lag when using this to pour over and it also has a built in timer. Didn’t feel the scale was worth it at this price point.
  • The OXO Kitchen Scale with Timer, for the price it just didn’t perform to my expectations. The startup time was slower than the FEESPEC and requires a long press to turn it off. It is accurate down to .1 grams and has a built in timer.
  • The Salter High Precision Stainless Steel Digital Kitchen Food Scale, which wasn’t actually high precision as the scale would round to the closest half gram so that was one out right away.
  • The KitchenTour Coffee Scale with Timer, this is actually the exact same scale as the FEESPEC with different branding on it so I went with the lower price model.

What is the big deal about scales? Also, are these really value scales? People who make espresso often use scales that cost $140 to $225 so these are definitely on the lower end of the spectrum for coffee scales.