Saturday, June 25, 2011

A good cup o' joe at $.03 per cup!

When we went on vacation recently and stayed with my aunt and uncle, we were spoiled rotten by endless cups of really good coffee, so much so, that it took me a good three days before I could tolerate the poor method of brewing I'd been practicing most of my life and the inferior cups of coffee that would result.

My uncle had been given a Keurig single cup coffee machine with countless boxes of different flavored pod refills to publicly demo. at a local department store.  We were amazed that all the hype we had been hearing about the Keurig was justified.  Each cup tasted like the best coffee shop cup o' joe, fresh and hot, bold and rich.  I was elated to see that Newman's Own had a pod of their own organic coffee.  Impressive all around.

We were told that, though the Keurig is a higher priced machine than traditional models and the pods are more expensive to buy than coffee by the pound, it prevents waste because you don't have to brew coffee by the pot and throw what hasn't been used down the drain when it gets cold or sits too long on the warming pad.  It made sense and we were definitely sold, especially when we learned that Keurig sells a reusable filter that you can fill yourself with any coffee you like in place of buying the pricy pod refills.

When we returned home from our trip, we began to research.  The lowest price we could find at the time in-store or on the web was around $100 for a lower-end model and the price increased with more elaborate versions.  The pods were pretty expensive at our local discount store and we figured that we would end up spending almost a dollar per cup after buying the machine, depending on what deals we could find on the refill cups.  Still a lot cheaper than coffee shop coffee, so buying one would be a good idea for people who frequently make stops to buy individual cups of coffee and a lot more convenient for almost the same quality and taste.

Still, though we love coffee shop coffee and LOVE the Keurig and find coffee in any form a daily luxury as well as a necessity, we just couldn't bring ourselves to commit to buying a system that would cost so much and would brew such high-priced coffee in our home.  We decided we would rather spend money on quality beans and use our French press at home, which we were doing often following our trip.  It didn't make sense to use the twelve cup brewing machine we had been using, even though we rarely brewed twelve cups, especially if we could really tell the difference in taste. 

Our French press is one of the best things we've ever purchased, but I have two problems with it.  The first is that to make a really flavorful cup, it is recommended that you steep the coffee for five minutes. The other thing I find frustrating is that even if I take it from boiling to the end of the required brewing time, I have to hurry to drink it before it gets cold.  It's very good coffee, though, and I love the fine silt that settles to the bottom.  I hate coffee grounds in my coffee, love the almost chocolatey silt of French pressed coffee.

Another thing I worried about with the Keurig is the plastic cups with aluminum lids.  Two things I try to avoid coming into contact with food that we eat often is plastic, because of the carcinogens that can be released, and aluminum, because of the possible correlation between this metal and Alzheimer's disease.  It is believed that lower quality plastics can leach into food over time, and that acidic foods can leach aluminum into foods, especially if heat is involved.  Keurig coffee cups are made with both.  BUT...they are only being heated once and discarded.  The coffee grounds are dry when stored in the cups so I don't see how leaching could be a problem.  Then I realized that I was brewing acidic coffee every day in a plastic coffee maker, through a plastic hose.  If I was going to reap the potentially harmful, possibly carcinogenic properties of plastic on a daily basis, that was how I was going to do it.  So I only worried about the materials the pods are made of for about thirty seconds and headed off to inspect the model offered at my local department store to decide if my husband would be getting one for an anniversary gift or not.  Gotta love a man who will be happy with a kitchen appliance as a gift!  That's how the French press and our espresso machine found places in our home.

When I got there I came across the old Senseo pods that had come out before the Keurig.  Senseo pods are made with our favorite coffee, Douwe Egberts.  Douwe Egberts is a commercially sold, originally Dutch coffee that is distributed by the Sara Lee company.  It is so good that the first time we tasted it, which happened to be in a little diner in Silverdale, Washington, just like in the old t.v. commercials we had to ask the waitress what brand was served.  When Senseo pods first appeared in our grocery store, we bought a package to see if it would brew in our regular home coffee maker.  It was terrible.  Weak, bitter...just awful.  We figured you needed the special brewing machine to get a good cup of coffee out of those pods. 

While looking for the Keurig, I noticed that Hamilton Beach had a single brew machine for use with the Senseo pods.  I couldn't find one of the old Senseo machines, just the Hamilton Beach Single Serve Coffee Maker which was under $30. It had an adjustable tray that lets you fill a regular coffee mug or a taller travel coffee tumbler. The wheels in my mind started turning while the Douwe Egbert label made my mouth water.  I took a gamble and put it in my shopping cart.  There was only one type of Senseo pod in the coffee section which was disappointing, but I guessed that if it made that great Douwe Egbert coffee we love it would be fine if there were not a multitude of flavors like the Keurig offered.

Gift-giving day arrived and along with other gifts I'd chosen for my husband, he seemed excited about the coffee maker and set it up immediately to try it out.  It made a weak, bitter, cup that tasted nothing like the Douwe Egbert's we love.  We tried again with a coffee filter and a single serving of coffee from a bag we already had, twisting the top of the coffee filter closed tightly to prevent any grounds from escaping.  It was perfect.  Fresh, strong, and very, very hot.  It took a little longer to brew than you would think for one cup, but no longer than the Keurig had taken when we used my aunt and uncle's.  The only problem was that I couldn't see using an entire coffee filter for one cup of coffee each time we needed one.  I was sure there was not a reusable filter basket available for the Hamilton Beach like the Keurig sold as an accessory. 

The next morning a solution hit me and I just had to try it.  I remembered that we have two of those stainless steel, mesh ball tea strainers with the little chain that you use for loose tea. 

I figured the coffee grounds would go right through it, but decided to give it a try. 

It's almost as if someone in the Hamilton Beach coffee maker testing lab had designed it for use with a mesh ball.  It fits in the hole perfectly, even when the top is closed.

Guess what I ended up with?  A perfect cup of coffee with no grounds, but a fine settling of dark silt at the bottom like my French pressed.  I couldn't wait for my husband to come home from work so I could make him a cup.  He loved it and went right out and bought three different bags of coffee to experiment with.  His favorite part I think, was doing the math to find out that because he had chosen coffee on sale, his cup had come to around $.03.  He stressed that regularly priced coffee would be about double that.  Gotta love it, and gotta love him!  We haven't used the 12-cup all month.  One thing we did notice is that with a certain brand of French roast, because it was a finer grind, we did get some grounds in the bottom of the cup.  We have four other bags going now with no problem.  

So I am not bashing the Keurig with my little review here.  I love the Keurig and I know that if we had one we would be happy as clams, even while growling at the price of each new package of refills that we would have to buy, but the Hamilton Beach makes so much more sense, even if I'm growling every time I spill coffee grounds on the counter when I'm filling my little mesh ball.

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