$3.1 billion spent on little K-cups last year... too bad the k-cups are not (at all) environmentally friendly

Although I over paid for my SoloFill reuseable k-cup (see my previous posts below or use the search box to the right) I have used it so many times in the last few weeks that it has paid for itself over and over again multiple times (even if I did pay $5 too much by purchasing it locally at Bed, Bath & Beyond instead of ordering it online for less than ten bucks).   I love coffee of all types so I may brew a k-cup, use a reusable cup, make a traditional 'pot' of coffee or use a French Press, my espresso machine or even my Mr. Coffee Iced Frappe Maker... the list goes on. 

But I DO think about the waste in all those little k-cups.  Last year I even started to save them in a bag.  I would painstakingly cut the aluminum lids off, empty the coffee grounds on the garden and tried to use the little plastic cups for seed sprouting.  Very labor intensive and in the end, the cups were thrown out anyway.  So... that plan failed.

While reading the news (I'm a news junky) I always stop to read 'coffee' related news.   These two articles were interesting on the prolific use of k-cups and the effect they are having on our environment.  I'm just putting a couple snips here but you can go to the source for the whole article.

Source:  Mother Jones

When Keurig launched its specialized brewing system in 1998, it might have come off as a bit niche. Not anymore. According to a survey by the National Coffee Association, nearly 1 in 5 adults drank single-cup-brewed coffee yesterday, making it the second most popular way to brew after the traditional drip methods—and far more popular than espresso machines.

The single-serve method has experienced impressive growth: According to the Seattle Times, while US consumers bought $132 million worth of coffee pods in 2008, they forked over $3.1 billion for them last year, compared to $6 billion for roasted coffee and $2.5 billion in instant coffee. Keurig also has similar brewing systems and pods for tea and iced beverages, and will roll out a system for Campbell's soup later this year.

Critics warn that the packaging needed for these systems comes with environmental and health-related costs. By making each pod so individualized, and so easy to dispose of, you must also exponentially increase the packaging—packaging that ultimately ends up in landfills. (And that's to say nothing of the plastic and metal brewing systems, which if broken, aren't that easy to recycle either.)

  Journalist Murray Carpenter estimates in his new book, Caffeinated, that a row of all the K-Cups produced in 2011 would circle the globe more than six times. To update that analogy: In 2013, Green Mountain produced 8.3 billion K-Cups, enough to wrap around the equator 10.5 times.

Green Mountain only makes 5 percent of its current cups out of recyclable plastic. The rest of them are made up of a #7 composite plastic, which is nonrecyclable in most places. And for the small few that are recyclable, the aluminum lid must be separated from the cup, which also must be emptied of its wet grounds, for the materials to make it through the recycling process. Even then, chances are the pod won't be recycled because it's too small, says Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist at the National Resources Defense Council.

Keurig just released a sustainability report announcing that the company plans to make all coffee pods recyclable by 2020, among other ecofriendly efforts. The company says it's evaluating the type of plastic used in the cups, exploring potential biodegradable and compostable packaging, and coming up with an easier way for customers to easily prepare them for recycling.

Some competitors already have recyclable or biodegradable versions of this single-serve pod; Nespresso's lid and pod (Nespresso Tea Coffee Compatible Pod) is made entirely from aluminum. A Canadian brand, Canterbury Coffee, makes a version that it says is 92 percent biodegradable (everything save for the nylon filter can break down). Finding a substitute is an interesting challenge, says Keurig spokeswoman Sandy Yusen, because coffee is perishable, and so the material used must prevent light, oxygen, and moisture from degrading the coffee.

Another reason to look beyond plastic is a concern with what could leach out of the material when heated. Yusen confirmed that the #7 plastic used in K-Cups is BPA-free, safe, and "meets or exceeds applicable FDA standards." But new evidence suggests that even non-BPA plastics can test positive for estrogenic activity.

"No. 7 plastic means 'other,'" says the NRDC's Hoover. "You don't know what it is." One concern with this plastic mix is the presence of polystyrene, containing the chemical styrene, which Hoover warns is especially worrisome for workers. A possible carcinogen, styrene can wreak havoc on the nervous systems of those handling it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The chemical also shows up in tobacco smoke and home copy machines, and in the Styrofoam used in food containers.

One concern with this plastic mix is the presence of polystyrene, containing the chemical styrene, which Hoover warns is especially worrisome for workers. A possible carcinogen, styrene can wreak havoc on the nervous systems of those handling it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…

"Keurig would not tell me what types of plastic go into its #7 blend, 
saying the information was proprietary, nor would it confirm or deny 
the presence of polystyrene in the mix."

 Source: Grist.org

The problem, as you noted, is the K-Cups, and how they contribute to our throwaway culture. Each wee plastic cup has a filter sealed inside by an aluminum foil lid. “The polyethylene coating of the foil — as well as the process of heat-sealing the various elements — makes recycling difficult,” says Keurig. So not only are millions of K-Cups being manufactured, transported, and used every day, but after about 60 seconds, they’re destined for the landfill.

What a coffee conundrum. “Does it make sense to put fair-trade coffee in a disposable petroleum-based package?” asks writer Lillian Laurence. Indeed, it’s a bit puzzling. Why would Keurig, whose corporate mothership is the fair trade and organic coffee company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, sell a product that creates so much waste? (The irony was not lost on The New York Times last year.)

Keurig admits the problem in its site’s “sustainability” section, saying “We understand that the impact of the K-Cup® Portion Pack waste stream is one of our most significant environmental challenges.”

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Review Time: Eight O'Clock Caramel Macchiato Ground Coffee

  Call it a whim, call it what you will, but this "strong, hot, black, coffee" kind of girl bought a bag of Eight O'Clock Caramel Macchiato ground coffee yesterday.  If you've read Coffee Talking for any amount of time over the years you know I don't particularly care for flavored coffee and especially not in the Spring or Summer.  If I do venture into the usually terrible world of flavored coffee it's in the middle of a freezing cold day in winter and probably in the middle of a raging snowstorm.  Other than a snowy, cold day you just don't typically find a flavored blend in my hands.

So what happened?  I don't know.  I was purchasing k-cups for my Keurig but since I also purchased a new, different reusable k-cup - the SoloFill,  (I posted about that here) I've been purchasing bags of whole bean coffee as well, and sometimes, if I'm feeling particularly lazy and I know I'll be using the whole bag up within the week, I'll even venture into the ground bean variety (gasp!), I know, right?

So there I am, 3 boxes of k-cups in my cart and I'm perusing the ground and bean variety as I have a coupon for Starbucks in my hot little hand, when what do I spy? Eight O'Clock Caramel Macchiato Ground Coffee.  I looked away... but then I looked back again.  Right next to the always available and usually quite awful vanilla and hazelnut was a brand of 'caramel' flavored that I haven't tried yet.  Have I tried caramel flavored coffee before?  Of course!  Almost every brand out there it seems like.  But I hadn't tried Eight O'Clocks version previously and for whatever reason, even on a mild, spring day, it sounded good.
Product Description:
  • This blend is crafted from strictly high grown premium 100% Arabica beans
  • Medium roasted coffee
  • Prominent notes of coffee and caramel highlighted with the essence of foamy, steamed milk
  • A true coffeehouse experience in the comfort of home
  • Kosher certified
Here is why I DIDN'T want to try it;   because in the past 15 years I have yet to taste a caramel flavored coffee that was any good.  In all the brands I've tried in the past (think of the top brands you'll find in most grocery and household stores across the USA)  the caramel is either barely there, or so fake and chemical tasting that it's a disgusting cup of ruined coffee. 

I also don't doctor my coffee with tons of milk, creamers, or sugar.  I like my coffee black and strong, so when I have a flavored coffee I will add just a dash or smidgen of sweetener.  I want to enhance the flavor to bring it out, but I do not want to taste 'sweet' in any way, shape or form.  For this reason, I can always taste the true 'flavor' of the coffee as it's not covered up with milk, cream and sweeteners.

My rating is Wow.  Very, very good.

I will actually go so far as to say it's probably the best caramel  'flavored'  coffee I've tried.  It absolutely has a real caramel taste.  A buttery caramel.  Not a faked, heavy chemical caramel.  Buttery and smooth with an aroma that actually matched the flavor.  I used just half of a small packet of Splenda as my sweetener - perhaps 1/4 teaspoon (?) and I suspect those with a sweeter tooth than I would enjoy an even stronger, buttery, milky caramel flavor by adding a touch more.

Here's a good reason to give it a try:  Eight O'clock coffees are affordable.  Very affordable.  Like, half the price of the 'big huge in your face' brand names.  They've been around forever, it's a well known brand name and it's carried in most stores around the USA.  I currently was on a huge 'Italian' blend kick of theirs, so I decided to give in to the caramel craving. 

"Eight O'clock started as a store brand way back in 1859 
when the Great Atlantic and Pacific Company opened its doors 
and the whole bean coffee that would later become Eight O'clock was 
among its signature products. By the 1930s Eight O'clock 
reigned supreme as the #1 coffee brand in the US. During this time, 
one out of every four cups of coffee consumed was Eight O'clock. 
Today this remains as America's best-selling whole bean coffee 
and is the fourth largest national coffee brand in terms of volume"

You can find Eight O'clock coffee in almost any retail store in the US, however you may not be able to find all their flavored blends.  No worries, the caramel, as well as the hazelnut, vanilla, cinnamon bun and a whole host of other flavors as well as their original blends are available online at retailers like Amazon for cheap.  Like, sometimes $5 for a bag of 11-12 oz. ground! It's worth a try... and at that price you won't be out much if you don't care for it.

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Roasting Green Coffee Beans at Home

Something I've never done, never really wanted to try and never thought about is roasting my own coffee at home.  I didn't give it a thought until I was studying ways of saving coffee for long term storage and saw message boards where people have purchased and stored green coffee beans and then were discussing ways to roast them to make them useable.  It sounded like a huge hassle to me!

However this weekend I was reading one of my favorite 'go to' sites I always find interesting things to read and learn from; Mother Earth's News.  They had an article about how to roast green coffee - and it looked pretty darn simple!

With a stove, a heavy cast-iron skillet, a whisk and a colander, it appears if you are quick and can stir continuously and don't mind a little smoke, you certainly can roast your own coffee.  They also suggest doing the process on a grill outside to alleviate the smoke issue if you don't have a powerful exhaust fan and open windows to clear the smoke.

  • Gather 1 1/2 cups of green coffee beans as well as a few roasted beans to use as a comparison for the color of the roast you hope to achieve.
  • Place the colander in the sink. The larger the colander’s holes, the better it will remove the bits of chaff clinging to the beans.
  • Preheat the pan over medium-high heat. You want the pan hot enough that a drop of water will dance across it and disappear quickly, but not so hot that coffee beans will scorch. If you have an infrared thermometer that can be aimed at a surface to gauge its temperature, shoot for between about 500 and 550 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • When the pan is hot enough, pour in the green beans and begin stirring immediately with your spoon or whisk, and don’t let up. Keep the beans in constant motion.
  • About 5 to 10 minutes after you put the beans in the pan, you’ll hear the “first crack” that signals the beginning of the progression from light to medium roast. It will sound like popcorn popping. When the continuous popping of the first crack begins to fade, you’ll have a light-medium to medium roast. If you continue until a fainter, second crack begins, you’re entering dark-roast territory. (Coffee beans expand as they roast. Occasionally, a bean may pop out of the pan, but using a pan with high sides will corral most of them.)
  • While you are listening to the beans, check their color as best you can without pausing in stirring. Work quickly when matching a roasting bean to your comparison bean. A second set of hands can be helpful during this process. In addition to color, Daniel Bowersox, head roaster at Z’s Divine Espresso in Lawrence, Kan., recommends waiting to remove the beans at least until the edges have slightly rounded and the mottled color you observed early in the roast has fully disappeared into an even color all over each bean.
  • When most of the beans in the pan have reached the roast color you’re aiming for, pour the beans into the colander and stir, stir, stir. Beans should be free of most of the chaff and cool to the touch within 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Store in an airtight container for use over the next several days, grinding the beans right before you start a pot of coffee. Freshly roasted beans are actually best 12 to 24 hours after roasting.

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What I'm Drinking This Morning: Eight o'clock Coffee - Dark Italian

This morning, in my cup is a surprisingly delicious coffee for the frugal price (compared to other brands of the same blend).  It's by the very affordable and readily available 'Eight O'Clock Coffee' people and is their 'Dark Italian' roast.  So good!   It's bold and dark and wonderful without a hint of bitterness or any bad aftertaste or really, anything negative at all.  I'm completely smitten by this roast right now and bought 2 more boxes of k-cups at the store this weekend after giving a try last week.

From their own website, here is how they would describe their product;


From Latin America to East Africa, our blend is crafted from strictly high grown premium 100% Arabica beans. Our darkest roast delivers strong aroma and subtle flavors of chocolate and caramel with a bold, full-bodied finish.


Bold, chocolaty and full bodied

My comments to their description?  I don't taste even a smidgen of 'chocolate' - and I hate chocolate, so if it were there, I'd taste it!  I would say full bodied and bold are good descriptions but nothing chocolate, fruity, floral, oaky, vanilla or any other obnoxious undertones to ruin a perfectly good cup of coffee.  I have 3 kinds of k-cups on hand at the moment and overwhelmingly for the last 3 days I've chosen this blend over the rest. 

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