How Does a Keurig Work?

The Keurig has been on the Coffee Whisperer’s test bench for about two months now.  I’m impressed.  Does it make the absolute best cup of coffee that I’ve ever had?  No.  But it does create a perfectly drinkable cup with the lowest effort of any coffee system, including instants.  How does the K system make this happen?  How does it turn ground coffee into brew in under a minute?  It does this by blending together two traditional ways of making cafe:   It is part drip, part espresso.  A glimpse inside a K cup will illustrate this.

This cutaway view will show you what you’d see if you tore a used K cup apart … there’s a paper filter bonded to the top of the cup.  The cup holster assembly punches a hole in the top foil and pops a smaller passageway  in the bottom.  The 192 degree hot water is pushed through the top hole under pressure and moved through the grounds.  While not extremely high pressure, it IS greater than standard drip coffee makers that rely on gravity to pull the hot water down through the coffee and filter medium.  This pressurized process allows the 8- 10 ounces of water to move through the device in under a minute, extracting the flavors of the final product.  So while there are qualities of a drip system in place, the water mimics the characteristics of a pressurized espresso system.

The difference comes into play when it’s time to clear the spent grounds.  A espresso machine will require a swift rap on a knock box or trash bin to release the coffee “puck” and then a rinse under running water to clean the portafilter.  Then there’s some brushing to clean the metal screen that distributes water from the group head.  The Keurig requires a lift of the handle and cup removal.  We’ll talk later about the need or wisdom of running an empty shot through the machine as part of regular maintenance.  But here’s the real magic of the Keurig:  it’s EASY.  It’s easy to use, and easy to clean.  No brainer, grab a cup and you’ve got it  … coffee maker.  That is indeed the attraction of this system, you can’t make a fresh cup any easier.  Are there some downsides?  Any compromises?  Yes, sure.  But you get a solid cup without a bunch of hassle.  Actually no hassle.

And that’s how a Keurig works.   Basically.    There’s buttons and features and stuff.  But if you’re interested in how the coffee comes out….well, there you are.

The Blizkeurig!

They – Are – everywhere!

Leading up to the holidays, I noted that just about every store in my area had Keurig machines available for purchase.  Not just a couple, but damn near all of them, or so it seemed.  Sure the big-boxes had them, but also fashion-department stores, electronics stores, even home improvement centers had rows of coffee machines and stacks of small “kup” boxes.  It seems that the Koffee juggernaut had staged a world-wide conquest.  And if the picked over shelves were any indication, the blitzkrieg had been successful.  I decided that it was time to learn more about these machines, as they now seem to be firmly entrenched in homes across the globe.

Making fun of Keurig.

I have in recent months (now years) made fun of the Keurig coffee machine.  When I first looked at one, I immediately thought back to my very first career job, working in a place that had a coffee vending machine.  You may know what I’m talking about: a big, refrigerator-like device that had an itty bitty little door that would put on a show for 25 cents.  After eating your quarter a little paper cup would drop down and a stream of hot brown liquid would pour in.   This brown liquid was a mix of “brewed” coffee with a dusting of some instant flavor and coloring.  A healthy hit of powered creamer and sugar got this close to drinkable.  Close.  NOT drinkable.  I unfortunately associated this sad performance with the counter top Keurig.

The old coffee machine of the bad old days.

 Giving the Keurig a break.

While the Keurig could be accused of putting on a similar show, it is not fair to lump the K-machine into the same catagory of those old change-stealing machines.  For starters, the brewing technology is rather interesting.  Unlike that old refrigerator that tried to make coffee, Keurig says there is no “instant” flavorings or other accelerants to make up for a very brief brew time.  They’ve also made a brewing system that at the heart of things is very clean, very convenient and attractive on the countertop.  You’re always about 45 seconds away from a Keurig brewed cup, and that alone is reason for looking into this device.

And look into I will.  I turned a thoughtful but mis-sized clothing gift into a “Special Edition” Keurig, and I’ve been testing it since Christmas.  I will have a running report on the system, it’s ups and downs, and what I think of the available coffees for the system.

 

 

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.

Pea In Your Coffee?

A recent article on Foxnews.com indicates that the country of Cuba, known for it’s “cafesitas” is investing millions of dollars into revitalizing it’s coffee economy.

The money, 9.5 million dollars of the island country’s dwindling funds, was spent modernizing it’s production techniques.  The goal is for the country to supply it’s own people with the valued crop, something that hasn’t happened in many years.  Cuba still imports a large portion of what it needs in java.

In the past, the need for coffee was so bad in Cuba the coffee suppliers began mixing peas in along with the roasted beans.  The article does not make clear what sort of peas are used, but indicates that the stretching of their coffee product began in 2005.  People have become so used to the mix they comment that true 100 percent coffee now tastes strange to them.

This was a country known for their coffee output.  The article notes that in 1960 Cuba harvested 60 thousand tons of coffee and was a major exporter.  This year the crop was just 6 thousand tons and Cuba imported another 12 thousand tons just to cover the country’s needs.  The reason for the fall off is blamed on citizens moving to the cities and the lack of upkeep on coffee farms in the country.

While those of us who aren’t very familiar or interested in Cuba and it’s history will only glance at this and move on, there are others of us who realize the impact of this downfall in coffee history.  A primary symbol of Cuba, along with its well known cigars, is the coffee it produces.  A “cafe cubano” is a supercharged hit of dark, rich espresso served with healthy spoonfuls of sugar.  It is so rich that only the hardiest of drinkers will down it without the aid of a small side of ice-water to sip it down with.  The drink is part of the Cuban culture, it is “As American as apple pie” if you want to think of it that way.  To know that they are struggling to keep themselves in coffee could be compared to Florida citrus growers cutting their orange juice with tap water to make it go farther.  It is a sad story for a country once rich in many things, not only coffee.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/04/07/cuba-invests-5m-coffee-importing/

Friday Mug o’ the Week!

Here’s a cup for a knock out drink of java

Spring Break kept thing quiet at The Coffee Whisperer these last few weeks, but I had to bring you this submission from a reader:  Here’s the perfect cup for a really strong cup of brew:

The “Fisticup” can be purchased for those you’d like to rough up at the following URL:

http://www.x-tremegeek.com/fisticup.html?&cm_mmc=Mercent-_-Google-_-NULL-_-3200329&mr:trackingCode=0F99DD07-70DD-DF11-9C39-001517B1882B&mr:referralID=NA

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

Friday Mugshot

Every Friday, I’ll be posting a real coffee drinkers and their real mugs.   Their coffee mugs, I mean.

I’ll be posting more in the weeks ahead…. reader submissions are welcomed!

Our first portrait … is CJ of Austin, posing with his mug that says it like it is.

I love the smell of coffee, but…

It happens like clockwork.

Like the sun rising.   I will be in my office here at work, quickly putting together an afternoon pot of something nice; and someone will walk by my open door.  Sniffing.

“Gosh, gosh that smells … nice!”  they say.

Being the nice person that I try to be, I will offer a cup.  I keep a stash of styrofoam dixies around just for these moments.  But usually, the response to my coffee making efforts is spurned.

“Oh, no,” comes the rejection, “I love the smell of coffee, but I can stand the stuff to drink.”

What is that?  Come on, what IS that really?  You like how it smells so much you’re willing to stand at an open doorway and sniff someone’s personal office but you wont’ accept a cup?  A FREE cup?  Maybe it’s the health thing.  They don’t understand my home roast has less caffeine than Starbucks.  Maybe it’s fear that they will become addicted, which is a real danger, by the way.  Or maybe … maybe it’s me.  They noticed my humped back, or my wild eye, or something caught in my teeth and they can’t stand to look at me.

When rejected and rebuffed in this manner, I will simply nod and say:  “Maybe next time.”   This is met with a similar nod and a quick dash from my door.

I then simply pour myself a cup, return to my paperwork, and perhaps scratch a bit at my hump.   Their loss.

Coming Up: Time to Roast Your Own!

Next up:  save money and roast your own beans!

If you check out prices lately, you’ll see that the little brown bean is costing a good bit of silver.  Still want the very best coffee, but at a cut rate?  Time to roast your own and pocket nearly half the cost!

We’ll show you several roasting methods, links and Internet store fronts that will help you get started!

195 Degrees of Separation

Making Good Drip Coffee Is Easy

There is not a great deal of mental ability required to make drip coffee.

The simple list of ingredients is quite short:

1.  Coffee, ground to a fairly course consistency… consistent grain size is more important that anything else with drip.
2.  A permeable membrane, better known as a filter.  A paper cone works; as does an athletic sock.
3. Gravity.  Fairly common no matter where you live.
4. Water.  But it must be the right temperature.  That’s what this entry is all about.

It is widely accepted by those who know their coffee that the perfect temperature for making drip is…

195 degrees Fahrenheit

A cloth filter device for making cuban colador coffee.

A cloth filter device for making cuban colador coffee.

The water that your pour over the ground coffee must be 195 degrees.  This is the temperature for properly releasing the flavors and oils trapped inside the grounds.   This is where the Mr. Coffee machines of the world fall down; they do not get the water hot enough to reach 195 degrees.  To be fair very few machines do, and those capable cost well over 250 US dollars tp purchase.  But you don’t have to spend a wad of money to get the water right, you just need to count.

Bring the water to a rolling boil on your stove.  Rolling, angry boil is what you’re after.  Simply take the vessel off heat, count to 5, and the water will have dropped from it’s 212 degrees Fahrenheit to just about 198-195 degrees.   Lift the container and simply pour.  Folks have found that this method of getting water to correct brewing temp is accurate and is consistent.   Fill your filter completely with the hot water, and let gravity do it’s job.  The idea is to have the water infuse with coffee as it passes through the filter.  I have found that the right amount of time for 2 cups of water to pass through my Chemex coffee system is about 5 minutes.  Longer than that means the ground were too fine and the filter clogged up.  To much less than that means the ground was too coarse and the coffee will taste weak.

So, when diving into the simple pleasure of making a cup of drip, shoot for the magic “five count” to target the perfect water temperature.  It is a time honored technique that will never let you down.