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.

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.