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KitchenAid ProLine Grinder Update: drip’s the best

I wrote a review of a KitchenAid ProLine Grinder a few days back.

In it, I pointed out that while billed as a near commercial level grinder, it was unable to grind fine enough to make espresso in my Rancilio Silvia. I recently cleaned and re-calibrated the unit, and a selecting 5.5 on the 1-8 setting dial delivered chunky, uneven pieces, perhaps suitable for a French press.

I blamed the burrs, which in my opinion were not sharp. They seemed to be made of a soft metal that did not keep the edge. I ordered a replacement set and comparison of the two burrs will come up in a future entry.

Anyway, after further fiddling, I found I could create a decent DRIP coffee grind at about 6.5 out of 8. This made a nice drip cup and worked well in a Kurig as well. But the point is made: If I have to dial it to 6.5 out of 8 to get a grind fine enough to just make a decent drip coffee, there is no way this device can put out a fine espresso grind, new burrs or not.

I will prove myself right or wrong in a future entry when I install the new burrs. Meanwhile, the KitchenAid ProLine Grinder is more of a wood chipper than a coffee grinder.

Review: KitchenAid ProLine Coffee Grinder

A photo of the KitchenAid ProLine Coffee Grinder
Stylish and imposing, the KitchenAid ProLine Grinder has a fatal flaw.

A machine that looks the part,
but fails to deliver.

KitchenAid is a brand that evokes a sense of heavy duty service and product overdesign. Anyone over 40 has their mother’s KitchenAid Mixmaster up in the pantry or on the counter, possibly the same unit they watched in action as a little kid. KitchenAid products are highly regarded and command a premium price at stores.

Based on the legacy of the brand, a buyer might expect KitchenAid to produce a coffee grinder that’s the best of the best, ready for generations of grinding.

Unfortunately, they have not.

The KitchenAid ProLine Grinder is a flawed machine, and the flaw comes down to the design and manufacture of one important part.

Let no one say that the grinder itself isn’t a beautiful design. It lifts styling cues from the Mixmasters of the past, and uses a hopper and container system that reduces static fly-away issues and keeps the device looking really clean. It is darned heavy as well, just like your Ma’s Mixmaster.

But users will notice that this is not the machine for grinding espresso. Not even close. Espresso requires a very fine grind, in some instances just microns sort of a fine powder. It also needs to be very uniform in consistency or the pressurized water will sneak by the “boulders” in the puck and yield a watery shot. This machine was never able to grind to anywhere near this fineness. Even after several attempts at re-calibration, the very best I could get was a chunky grind applicable for drip coffee. If you’re interested, here’s KitchenAid’s page on cleaning and recalibration.

Chunky, non uniform fragments of coffee at step 5.5 out of 8 (8=finest)

So what’s up with this problem? An assembly problem? No, it’s a beautiful machine. An issue with the hopper? Nah. It all comes down to what may be the very heart of any coffee grinder: the burr plates.

The burr plates are the teeth of the system. They break up the coffee beans into small, hopefully uniform particles of ground coffee. The grinder has a powerful, slowly rotating motor that will smash the beans as they fall between two burr plates. One plate is spinning, the other is fixed. A good set of burr plates will cut into the beans instantly and pulverize them to a specific uniform consistency.

But not in the KitchenAid. The edges of the cutting pattern has very little of the sharpness needed to bite into the beans. As discussed on several internet forums, the plates seemed to be cast from a metal that loses what little edge they have very quickly. I noticed my grinder outputting a coarser grind within a few months of use. Cleaning and adjusting did no good, and after a recent tear down for cleaning it seems the burr plate is no more than some textured ripples in the metal. This is after only moderate home use.

Image of KitchenAid Burr Plate
The Achilles’ Heel. Does that look like stainless steel to you?
Photo: Via Facebook

For the record, some 3rd party vendor sites indicate the burrs are made of stainless steel. I have examined the ones out of my machine and they are made of a completely different metal than the ones from my Gaggia MDF, which are clearly made from a very hard steel that holds its edge.

I have found a replacement set of burrs for the KitchenAid on an auction site. In a later blog entry I will compare new and old burrs and update the grinder’s performance.

The only other comment I have currently on the KitchenAid ProLine Grinder is the fragile ground receptacle. This small customized bowl fits perfectly under the grinding chamber, minimizing static flyaway. It also looks really nice as part of the overall design. The down side is the bowl is made of rather thin glass and will crack or chip with a forceful bump. Think wine glass sort of thickness. Because this bowl is constantly being handled, chances of cracking this vessel is pretty high. It’s not cheap either. A scan of online parts resellers show prices between 25 and 35 dollars in June of 2019.

We’ll see how the new burrs help, but if you’re considering this grinder for 200 dollars, I suggest holding out for another 100 dollars and getting a Barzata Sette or even a Rancilio Rocky. The extra dollars are worth the trouble.

or even a Rancilio Rocky. The extra dollars are worth the trouble.

Finding the perfect grind with my Gaggia MDF Grinder

When I first stepped into the world of coffee-as-a-hobby, my gear of choice was Gaggia. It offered an approachable price point and seemed to be a few rungs up from the espresso machines available at big box appliance stores.

The Espresso DeLuxe was a fine little beginner’s machine, and soon I lusted after a grinder that could do more than my “chopper” grinder’s whirling blades. I wanted something that would give me that fine, magic powder that would extend my shots and yield that mythical crema.

I stayed brand loyal (for cost reasons) and bought a Gaggia MDF Grinder. It was stout, heavy and had that mid-1990’s look and feel to it. It had the built in doser that I never really ended up using, but most importantly it had what seemed to be endless click stops for adjusting the grind. It wasn’t cheap – I recall $299 USD price tag. All reports I read indicated it was made to last, so I took the plunge

Losing My Steps – The cleaning accident

The MDF performed well for me, grinding both store bought roasts and my own attempts a roasting. I learned my way around the grind settings, picking my favorites for French press, drip, and espresso. I made a point of cleaning the MDF fairly often, as many of my favorite beans were oily and left a good bit of residue in the machine. During one cleaning, an accident happened. Once could say it was a “mis-step”.

The Gaggia MDF comes apart easily. Here are instructions on how to do it.

I had taken off the hopper and unscrewed the heavy brass carrier that holds the top grinding plate. As with all grinders, there were pockets of packed coffee grounds stuffed in the corners. I turned the unit over and shook out the old bean dust. Unfortunately, that’s when the accident happened. An essential part fell from the grinder and into the trash. Two indexing pins (they sort of look like dark metal bullets with a spring in the back) dropped out and I didn’t notice they were gone until I reassembled a few days later. Of course, the trash was long gone by then.

The indexing pins for a Gaggia MDF Grinder
These are getting rare, these are indexing pins for the Gaggia MDF.

I looked around on line and found the part at Whole Latte Love. For some reason I didn’t actually order them at the time. I’m not sure why I didn’t, perhaps my interest in coffee was on the lull, or I was making due with a KitchenAid Proline Coffee Grinder I had gotten hold of. I would try to use the once proud MDF every so often, but I had to now HOLD the hopper at the correct grind number while grinding, something that never gave good results.

The Gaggia MDF wound up sitting in my parts box for about six years.

Unused. Forgotten.

I recently experienced a rekindling of the coffee hobby with the gift of a Rancilio Silvia espresso machine. I tried using store-bought ground coffee, but found myself unhappy with the resulting too-fast shots and lack of crema. I went back and dug out my old Gaggia MDF.

I knew I had to fix the indexing problem. The indexing “bullets” were still available, but the compression springs were not. I had to try and hunt around at hobby shops or online to find these tiny springs. Wanting to get this grinder back in service, I chose to try a “mod” or modification that coffee forums had suggested. It allowed the MDF to become “step-less” and do away with the indexing bullets.

The method is described here in a 2009 post on home-barrista dot com. It involves disassembly of the unit down to unscrewing the upper plate carrier, cleaning all the coffee dust and oil from the actual grinding area, and then wrapping the fine threads with teflon pipe wrapping tape. The teflon tape is wrapped around the threads 5 layers deep so the act of screwing the upper plate carrier (and thus adjusting the fineness of the grind) requires a good bit of hard twisting. This stiffness will keep the grinding plates at exactly the spot you selected, making it possible to grind at 2.5 steps or 3.75 steps.

I did the mod (after a complete cleaning of all parts and surfaces) in about 10 minutes. It was truly easy and works exactly as billed. Now, I have my grinder set to about a 3.25 setting or so and getting store-bought whole bean coffee to yield great flavor and amazing crema.

If you have one of these grinders, they are worth cleaning and putting back in full service. Do this modification if you dare, so for my results have been worth it. If anything CLEAN your grinder by taking it apart, as there is no substitute for a detailed wipe down and wash. Your coffee will thank you for it.

Keurig Tip: DON’T wait for the “De-scale” warning to come on!

Have you noticed that the Keurig you got about 10 months ago is sounding horrible? Rattling and groaning with each sip of fresh water?  Before you start cursing the cheap build of the K-line of machines, there is one remedy you need to try.  I did, and it possibly saved me from buying a whole new machine for the new year.  It might save you too.

I don’t know about your Keurig use, but the one in my household gets beaten on pretty severely each day.  Maybe 6 cups are brewed each and every day without fail.  The big cups too, so what is that?  Six times grande times seven days times four weeks times twelve months …. what, about 23 thousand gallons of brew?  Well maybe not that much, but it’s still a lot.  And that water has a tendency to leave deposits and gum up the machine.  You need to pay attention to that scale, because it is a silent killer.  It is the cholesterol of the Keurig, and soon your K will be DOA if you don’t clean it out often.

I employ a very simple (and recommended) process of cleaning the device.   I offer the following for entertainment only and if anything at all goes wrong at any time in any place in the known universe I can’t be held responsible.  In other words, use this at your own risk.  (Sorry, lawyer repellant)

First, run all the water out of the Keurig by dispensing hot water until the “Add Water” light starts to blink.   Then remove the water tank and empty out the water that remains.  Put it back onto the machine.  Then fill it completely to the rim with WHITE VINEGAR from a gallon container.  PLAIN WHITE Vinegar, please, nothing else, nothing flavored.  Allow the Keurig to suck some of the vinegar into it’s plumbing.

Run a large cup through your machine to make sure that there’s nothing but vinegar in the device.  Then let it sit for about 5 minutes.  Run another cup through.  You will get a wonderful cup of hot vinegar, a great way to open your sinuses.  Then after another 5 minutes, run another cup through.  Keep tossing the old vinegar and refilling the cup every 5 minutes until the “Add Water” light blinks on.

Pop off the tank, dump the remaining  vinegar.  Rinse under the tap completely until the smell of vinegar seems removed.  Then replace the tank on the Keurig and refill with clean tap water.  Run this too through your machine, except you need not wait 5 minutes in between.  Just run it through.

If you have no interest in being super detailed, you can simply stop there.  Rinse the holster with tap water and refill with your preferred source of brewing water and you’re done.  This should eliminate most scale and keep your machine happy and clean.

Do this every three to six months (depending how much minerals are in your water) and your K machine will thank you with many happy, trouble free cups of java!

Are you being green, or are you being cheap?

When I was a kid, mom and dad would buy soft drink by the six pack.  We would open each 12 ounce can by it’s pull tab pop top.  I would quickly consider the killing power of the aluminum pop top, perhaps running my thumb daringly along one side.  Just as quickly, my tadpole brain would turn again to the sweet soda awaiting me.  With a practiced flick of my hand the pop top would go sailing into the street.  Or the grass.  Or into the water … but never in the trash.

I can't tell you how many of these I happily ripped from the top of soda cans.

A few long chugs later (young boys never sip carbonated drinks, you can’t build up a decent belch that way) the can was ready for disposal.  In those days the can was really a CAN, rolled and stiff.  It wouldn’t collapse in your hand unless you were Larry Czonka or that guy on “Kung Fu.”  I was limited to stomping on it with my foot, twisting it into an angular arc. Sometimes this too would find itself dropped into a bush or  behind a park bench.

The final littering crime was interestingly the one that concerned us the least.  We would take the clear plastic ring and often toss it into the waterway and watch it float away.  It was small, nearly invisible compared to the twisted metal can … but as we all know now, it was a danger to marine life and for all practical purposes it would never fall apart and go away.

Back in the 1970s, we didn’t really understand.  We thought it was all about keeping things pretty.  “Keep America Beautful” was the saying on TV.  But beauty was only a small part of it.  Something that every schoolchild knows and understands.

The first real anti-pollution campaign, circa 1971

Fast forward to modern day.  We are a smart, green, earth-loving population.  We also love our coffee.  So a great many people have raised an eyebrow to the Keurig system and it’s disposable plastic cups.  How can an educated, love-the-mama coffee drinker continually toss plastic and foil cups into the landfill with every cup of joe he consumes?

Some folks just shrug and toss back their java.  No belching, however.  There are others that look for a better, cheaper way to love their Keurig and love-the-mama.  And that is a reusable cup system.  We’ve looked a a few here at the Coffee Whisperer, and now here is one that seems too simple to work well.

But it does.

My-Kap is a small, plastic top that will fit into the open top of a used Keurig coffee cup.  It has the look and feel of a poker chip, and you have to fight the urge to flip it into the air like a movie gangster.  It has a hole in it’s center for the infusion of hot water.  If you’re like me, you’d guess this thing is too simple to work well in the long run.  It’s got to leak or make a mess or something.  But in practice working with it is very simple.

A My-Kap set, available from Amazon. Note the brush is NOT to scale.

You have to start with a freshly used K-cup.  Yes, you are reusing the plastic cup … and the paper filter inside.  Yes, I know.  Reusing a coffee filter?  It does sound bad, but in practice the offense is small.  More on that later.  Preparing the used cup is simple.  use a scissor or a small knife to enlarge the entry hole in the foil top.  You are trying to preserve the paper filter inside, so don’t get too crazy with your cutting.  Just enlarge the hole enough so you can get a finger in and start slowly peeling the foil back to the cup’s edge.  The foil might give away cleanly, or it might leave a small strip along the top of the edge.  This won’t matter, as the My-Kap slips inside the lip of the cup and form it’s seal there.

VIDEO: Preparing a used K-Cup Video

To clear the old coffee out of the cup, simply hold the cup under running water.  The old grounds are flushed out easily, and for coffee that’s reluctant to leave My Kap supplies a small brush.  The brush helps to clear out the folds of the paper filter with a few whisks.  The brush came with a 3-Kap retail package from Amazon, which cost about 10 dollars.

After cleaning, you can immediately reload the cup with coffee, or set it aside to allow the paper filter to dry.  I found I can fill a cup with about a heaping tablespoon of ground coffee.  A medium grind, or a grind intended for “drip” seems to work the best.  Once filled, simply press the My-Kap disk into the top of the cup, in a fashion similar to plugging a bottle with a cork.

Then, simply load the cup, and use it just like a regular Keurig cup.  The quality of the coffee is really pretty good, perhaps better than mesh screen based replacement cups, since those seem to deposit more sediment in the bottom of my cup.  The paper filter seems to block most of the sediment and gives you a fairly clean cup.

VIDEO: How to refill a K-Kup using My-Kap system

On the subject of the filters: it is easy to raise an eyebrow over reusing a paper filter.  The filter does absorb a good bit of the oil and fine sediment that would make a cup bitter.  But in practice, I found the contamination I expected wasn’t really very apparent.  I didn’t note a great deal of degradation over multiple uses and I didn’t detect any real “cross-contamination” between coffee flavors.  Now, I did not try this with a flavored dessert coffee with a strong additive, so your mileage may vary.  In spite of my findings, many folks would prefer a clean paper filter and the folks at My-Kup is providing paper filters and templates to construct entirely fresh Keurig cups.  I did not try the paper filters; as I think the hassle factor in “gutting” a little plastic cup and re-lining it with fresh paper totally negates the convenience of the Keurig system in the first place.  My advice, try the replacement kaps first, and if you can’t handle the old filter, move to a mesh screen solution.

VIDEO: Cleaning a My-Kap prepared Keurig Cup

I found a few negatives with the My K-Kap.
First, I found my assembled kups would leak around the top a bit.  This isn’t a show stopper, as the excess water simply runs around the holder and then down into your coffee cup.  There’s a wipe up factor, and the leaked water will leave some sediment that will, over time, goop up your holster.  Popping the holster out of the machine and giving it a quick rinse is simple and something you should do anyway.

Next, if you wish to reuse the used cup (I’ve gotten 5-6 uses out of a single cup, just turning the cup so the bottom hole is freshly punched each time) you have to rinse the silly thing out.  This involves removing the My-Kap insert.  You need to a tool to do this easily, as there’s no exposed edge for you to pry upward.  I used the handle of the supplied brush, or you can use the tine of a fork.  The folks at My-Kap have an accessory to do this, but a fork seems to work fine.  But again, there’s additional hassle factor, and that is not what made Keurig what it is.

My take:  I thought that the My-Kap was going to be a half-baked solution to reusing Keurig plastic cups.  I felt that the whole-cup solutions discussed elsewhere on this blog would clearly be the “right” way to tackle the waste problem (and cost problem) inherent in the Keurig system.  But I was wrong.  The My-Kap approach is simple, very cheap, and really not that much of a hassle.  You can get about 4-5 easy reuses of the old cup, radically driving down your cost per cup of coffee.  It works, and as long as you’re willing to deal with a paper filter that’s no longer virginal ( I like “seasoned”) it makes a pretty good brew.

Best of all, you’ve saved another few ounces of plastic from being landfilled.  There’s a pop-top sitting buried deep in a Florida landfill with my name on it.  I didn’t know any better then.  I do now, and with a small bit of effort I can save some money and in a very small way help keep the world beautiful.

 

The Ekobrew Reusable K-Cup Review

The Keurig coffee maker can make good coffee.  It can make it neatly and quickly.  What it can’t do is make a good, cheap cup of coffee.

The problem is simple:  to make it easy and quick, the K-Cup manufacturers have to do a lot of processing to get it ready for you before you buy.  They have to grind, dose and seal each of those little cups.  All that processing equals greater cost for you, the end user.

But what if you’re willing to take on that processing yourself?  Buying your own coffee, grinding and packing it into a cup would certainly trim down the overall costs.  Keurig has a solution of its own:  The “My K-Cup” kit.  But at 17.99 at Amazon it is not the cheapest nor simplest solution out there.  This kit also requires you to pop out the cup holster for use, which is a bit more hassle.

But Keurig is not the only game in town when it comes to reusable cup solutions.  There’s the Ekobrew reusable cup.  It’s 10.99 at Amazon.

The Ekobrew jumps out ahead of the My K Cup on design and ease of use.  Instead of several individual parts, the Ekobrew is one single piece, including a hinged top that swings completely clear of the basket for easy filling.  There’s nothing to lose, and more importantly, nothing to remove from the coffee maker as the My K Cup requires.  Once loaded, it acts just like a regular pre-packed cup.

It is easy to load as well.  The My K Cup’s mesh basket is very lightweight on it’s own and needs a couple of stabilizing fingers to keep it from tipping while filling with coffee.  The Ekobrew has a bit more heft and stayed in place for me.  This isn’t a big deal, but I found that balancing the coffee bag, filter and spoon required one more hand than I came equipped with.  The Ekobrew scored points for me here.

Once loaded, just snap the hinged top closed and drop it into your coffee machine.  Unlike manufactured cups, there IS a specific orientation for the cup to sit … the writing on the cap must be toward you.  This positioning allows the exit needle at the bottom of the holster to fit into a recess molded into the cup.  Otherwise you’d punch a hole in the hard plastic bottom and probably ruin the holster.  It would be hard to make such a mistake, as the cup won’t “feel” right as you set it down in your machine… it would wiggle and rattle and I found myself rotating the cup looking for the correct “fit,” which I found inside a half turn.

Just run the Keurig as you would normally do.  Remember, there is a bit of exploration to be done here as you find the right amount of coffee and right serving size to best work for your tastes.  As with the My K Cup, it is advisable to stay with a drip grind for the cup.  Any finer and you risk clogging the mesh and making the brewing cycle too long.

Once done, I suggest rinsing out the cup pretty quickly, even while the cup is still warm from brewing.  This makes for easy removal of the wet grounds simply with a running tap.  Let the grounds dry and you’re in for some scraping and washing.  Do it, it only takes a minute while the grounds are still wet.

How’s the coffee?
I made some tests with the same batch I used for the My K Cup tests, Peet’s Major Dickason’s blend decaf.  I found it to be quite pleasing and robust, not too bitter or oily, which is something I worried about when using a non-paper filter system.  The only downside is there’s a good bit of silt left over at the bottom of the cup, a sign that some smaller particles slipped by the mesh and wound up in my cup.  This is not a big deal, ask anyone who uses a french press…. but be aware that you won’t want to see if this cup is good till the last drop.  You’ll wind up with a small taste of coffee silt if you do.

Who wins???

For my money, the Ekobrew takes it between these two “roll your own” solutions.  It preserves the Keurig’s simple use mandate, it is easier to load and pops out of the machine without an issue.  It is also about 7 bucks cheaper at Amazon and can be found elsewhere on the web for less.  Grab one and give it a try.

But what if you want to take the “green” thing even a bit further?  I mean, the Ekobrew doesn’t really recycle the old plastic cups, it just replaces it.  What about a system that really live up to the “save the mama” doctrine and puts those old cups back into service?  We’ll look at the “K-Kap” system next time.

 

Do It Yourself K-Cup: Keurig’s Solution

The idea is to save money.  Save the planet as well, a tiny little K-cup at a time.
I have always said the greatest thing about the Keurig is how darned convenient it is … pop in a cup, press a button and pop the used cup out.  Factoring in the clean up process there is no other form of coffee making that’s easier than this.  But the cost of that bit of convenience is rather high … about 21 dollars a pound of coffee, by my estimate.  How can you use the cheap stuff in your Keurig so it doesn’t cost you a fortune in little cups?  You use an aftermarket reusable cup, that’s how.

There are several different brands out there, each taking a slightly different approach to the “no deposit, no return” goal we seek.  Keurig has their own, called “My K-Cup.”  The “My K-Cup” is the most elaborate of any of the reusable solutions I’ve seen, not only having a rewashable mesh basket but an entire holster that replaces the regular black one that comes with the coffee machine.  The black one has the puncture needle in the bottom, and since the mesh basket has no need for this the gray colored “MyKC” omits this and simply funnels the coffee down into your cup.  So, or a holster, a mesh screen coffee basket and a screw on top, you will part with about 17 dollars at Amazon.  Not great, but not really that bad if you can go from 67 cents a cup of coffee to say … 35 cents.  The device would pay for itself in a single change of seasons.

But what sort of coffee does it make?

You have to practice with it.
Oh, sure … there’s little black markings inside the little black cup to help you get the right amount of coffee.  That is, if you can see the little black markings.  But the first set of brews were not all that good, a little off.  But with more practice and patience I was able to get it to a state of … just okay.  I got it to qualify as perfectly acceptable, drinking while doing other things coffee.  Not great, stop in your tracks and thank the coffee gods -coffee.  But that’s okay.  If you want heart stopping, bring tears of joy to your eyes coffee, you’d have a 750 dollar Rancillo Silvia on the counter, not a Keurig.  But there is some work ahead of you to get the most from this device.

I used some pretty good coffee to start with.  I got a bag of Peet’s Decaf Major Dickenson’s, which is a darker roast that should hold up nicely to the Keurig’s short brewing time.  I find that lighter coffees suffer with the K- treatment, the water just isn’t in contact with the grounds long enough to extract the lighter flavors.  Darker does better, and the Maj. D. did just fine.  I used pre-ground, as this is pretty close to perfect for drip (what the Keurig calls for) and the particles are pretty uniform in size.  If you grind your own, beware of the blade type grinder, as they chop the beans up and have very irregular size.  If you don’t have a burr type grinder (more expensive but worth it) just buy it pre-ground and keep the bag sealed to air whenever it is stored.

I found a few quirks with the MyKC design.  First, you do have to swap holsters whenever you want to roll your own.  Not a big deal at all, but I’ve already gotten frustrated calls from home when I forgot to put the original holster back in and a family member couldn’t get her regular cup to work in the machine.  Loading the coffee in the mesh bag was a challenge because you need three hands:  the basket/holster won’t stand up on the counter due to the holster’s tapered bottom.  If you have holster in one hand, coffee spoon in the other, then you need to hope your bag of ground coffee won’t fall over while you’re spooning out the dose.  I found a way around this:  I stand up the mesh basket/holster assembly in a demitasse cup while I hold the spoon and bag in my now-free hands.  The lid screws on easily, but you are warned not to over tighten …. the plastic might break.

Actually brewing with the MyKC is no different than any other K-Cup device.  The brew runs out the bottom and a shot of steam/air clears the upper piercing needle.  I noted that the flow of coffee seems faster and greater than with a regular plastic cup.  I wonder if the additional time the water is in contact with the grounds gives the standard cup an advantage, allowing a little more extraction and a fuller flavor.  I found that a full basket/large mug setting got me a decent flavor and boldness.  I think that running a small mug would make it quite strong … maybe to some folks taste, but if I want strong I’d rather use an espresso.

Cleaning is simple, but I recommend doing it immediately after brewing.  Just pop out the assembly, pop open the top under running water and rinse out the basket.  You don’t want the grounds to dry to any degree, as they will “set” in the basket and turn to a hard crumbly substance.  This makes for a clean up thats at least twice as long and will mean lots of coffee grounds under your fingernails.  Just do it when it is wet, and it will flush clean with just holding it under the tap.

All the parts are machine washable, and I’d recommend that after a few days.  The coffee oils do cling and begin to discolor the plastic.  Keeping parts like this perfectly clean is important for flavor, so make a point to run them through with the dishes when you think of it.

All in all, My K-Cup is a good add on for the Keurig.  Points off for the additional hassle of having to change cup holsters and NOT being able to stand the holster up while filling with ground coffee.  Points on for a well built and easily cleaned mesh basket that looks tough enough to last a good long time.  Keurig also sells extra baskets so you can reload for guests with a minimum of rinsing and drying.

There are other choices in the “roll your own” category of K-Cup replacements.   We will look at another popular choice, the eko-brew, in the coming days.

Roll Your Own K-Cups

Prices are out of control these days.
Gasoline continues to flirt with all time highs, that 50 cent candy bar now costs a dollar, and the charge for a gallon of milk makes you think there’s gold in them there utters.  And coffee is no exception.  The price for a pound of bulk roasted beans is well over 10 dollars at this writing (that’s the cheap stuff) and the the more you process the coffee, the more expensive it becomes.  Ground coffee costs more … oh, it might have the same price as a pound of bulk beans, but didja notice that its only 14 ounces of coffee, not a full pound?  Uh-huh.  And the slow rise doesn’t stop there.  Instant coffee is really steep in price, with those pre-packaged paper “pods” not too far behind.  Any coffee that requires grinding, forming, freeze-drying, ice-crystalling, bagging or boxing adds more pesos to the pound.  And the creation of K-cups are no exception.

If you’ve got the feeling that those little plastic cups are expensive, you’d be right.
I’ve not actually put it on a scale or measure, but I think most coffee K-cups hold about a tablespoon to 1-1/2 tablespoons of coffee.  Maybe about 14 grams by weight.  Right now, I can get a 24 cup package of Caribou Blend for 16.99, or about .67 cents a cup.   That means you’re dropping 67 cents for 14 grams of ground coffee.  There’s 454 grams in a pound.  Do some loose math and you’ll see you’re buying coffee at about the cost of 21 dollars a pound.  Sure there’s the cup and the filter inside and the manufacturing cost, but still … you’re spending 21 dollars a POUND on coffee this way.  That’s pretty steep.   And beyond that, there’s the MORALITY of the K-cup versus Mother Earth.

Imagine a world that, when viewed from the cold, vast, emptiness of space seems to be nothing  but a wide ocean of heaving gray and black.  No land, no animals, simply little gray dots upon more gray dots, falling and rolling over one another.  That is the future of earth if this K-Cup thing goes unchecked.  Humanity will drown in plastic, lose its way in punctured foil.  Billions upon billions of used K-Cups will overflow from the landfills like wrathful vengeance from heaven.  And man will be snuffed out under an avalanche of little plastic cups with a hole in the bottom.  Ugly picture, but one that is coming if we don’t find a better, more earth friendly way to conserve the resources our Keurig’s consume.  And that brings us to the topic of this entry:

Save the mama, save your wallet:  roll your own K-Cups!

There are several ways to get this done.  Here are but a few:

If the Keurig was a muscle car, The My K-Cup would be a factory aftermarket part.

First, Keurig has the “My K-Cup” system that you can buy for about 16 dollars at the time of this writing.  It replaces the snap out cup holster in your machine, holds a mesh and plastic basket and has a screw on top that mimics the hole punctured in the foil.  I’ll talk about the “My K-Cup” in a coming post, but a quick “pro” is you can isolate strongly flavored coffees (think hazelnut or holiday blends) from contaminating other coffees you make afterwords.  A “con” is you have to snap in and out some parts to make the thing work.

The ekobrew, for those who wish to decrease their Keurig's coffee-footprint.

Then there’s the ekobrew Cup, a direct replacement for the disposable K-cup.  No special holster, it behaves and handles like a regular little cup.  It has a permanent cup with an attached lid and wires mesh sides.  About 10 dollars, but they’ve been spotted on ebay for much less.  The upside is it requires no holster change, so its easy.  The downside is it tends to coat the holster in fine grounds and requires a “blank shot” of water to rinse the system.

There’s the EZ-Cup, a truly roll-your-own K-cup that has disposable paper filters inserted into a solid, non-disposable plastic housing.  About 14 dollars and you have to keep a supply of these little tiny paper filters.  I haven’t used them, so it will have to wait for my full review.  The itty-bitty paper filter does seem to be a hassle, but we’ll wait and see.

I hope that bush isn't to scale, or I'm going to lose it pretty quickly!

For the real recyclers among us, there’s the Kaps for K-Cups, which allow you to reuse the cup and built in filter by giving you a snap on cap that is snapped on once the punctured foil is pulled away.  They even give you a little brush so you can brush the old grounds out of the filter!  Yum!  3 Kaps  for 10 dollars.

I have tried the Keurig and the ekobrew cups.  I have plans to at least try as many alternative forms of “cups” as I can stand.  But I get the impression that the the first two are the most popular, so I’ll be putting together my review of these little reusables in the next few days.  They all should technically save the earth from ecological destruction and stretch your coffee-addiction dollar to the max.  But how do they work, and more importantly, how do they TASTE?

I’ll let you know.

Friday Mug o’ the Week

A special cup when your brew … isn’t what it should be.

Available from Amazon.com, this very special cup needs to be preserved for very -uh special brews.

It is also great for jasmine teas and the like.  Think about it.

Drink Deep, Ladies!

I rarely post Web news about coffee, but this one deserves attention.

It seems that women with a love for the bean have less chance of suffering a stroke than those who turn down a darned good cup o’ joe.

As posted on the WebMd Web site:

Women who drink a cup or more of coffee each day may be less likely to have a stroke, compared to women who drink less coffee, according to new research in the journal Stroke.

While I’m not sure if I’d pick up a copy of “Stroke” magazine at the supermarket, it IS good to see that continuing studies reveal that coffee offers positive health benefits.  Raise your cups, to your health!

Here’s the link to the full article on WebMD.com:

http://www.webmd.com/stroke/news/20110309/coffee-may-lower-stroke-risk