Two industries were revolutionized by instant, single serving, DRM-equipped pods. They offer their fanatic user bases a middling experience between curated artisan collections and low quality Folgers and Napster MP3s, respectively. One of these products is still a popular environmental menace.

Keurig cup-based coffee machines have been popularized over the past few years for providing unprecedented convenience in the caffeine industry, with 1 in 8 American homes containing the unit.

60 billion K-cups have gone into landfills since the craze began. The plastic used in its proprietary coffee pods is non-recyclable, but even if it were, individual packaging will never be sensible or efficient for America’s favorite drug. Single use packaging is wasteful on premise, so finding a biodegradable or aluminum replacement is not a solution, just a slight mitigation of insanity. The terms, “reduce, reuse, recycle,” are not equal in importance, they’re said by priority. Keurig machines are also critiqued for their poor results: the water isn’t hot enough for optimal coffee extraction, brewing at 192.5ºF, below the recommended temperature. If you need more reasons to dump your Keurig, check out Dear Coffee, I Love You‘s article. That said, you don’t have to be part of this. There are solutions to your caffeine addiction that are cheaper, tastier, and more conscious, while still being quick and easy.

The Beans

Check out your grocery store. QFC (Kroger) in Seattle stocks various local roasters, including world-renowned Stumptown and Zoka. Packages that print a recent roast date are preferable. You’ve probably already got preferences and tastes, but I do recommend against French and other dark roasts.

The Grinder

Most coffee-fanatics believe the grinder is more important than the brewing method, and all of those people would advise against option 1.

1. Store ground

You can either grind bulk-bought whole beans in your local grocery store, or buy pre-ground bags. Always store beans in a dry, dark cabinet – never your fridge or freezer. That said, you’ll never maximize your coffee-game if the beans aren’t brewed within 15 minutes of grinding.

2. Purchase a grinder

Think of coffee and air as Superman and kryptonite. Once you’ve ground beans, they have more surface area and less protection from the elements. Beans taste best if brewed within 15 minutes of grinding, so once you’re in this beautiful and aromatic world of fine coffee, you’re going to want a machine for that. Almost any brewing device will taste good with high quality freshly (and correctly) ground beans, while no fancy machine can make stale beans taste good.

You want a grinder that can consistently bring beans to a wide spectrum of levels, from espresso fine to french press coarse. Many cheaper electric grinders use spinning blades, which cut beans at random. No matter what coarseness setting you’re at, you’ll get inconsistency, and generally bad coffee (though still likely better than months old pre-ground pods). Burr-based grinders are more expensive, but actually grind the beans. Cheaper flat disk burr grinders require more speed and thus heat, while more expensive models use preferable conical designs.

The cheapest method is by hand (Hario, $22). If you don’t want a morning workout, the Capresso Infinity is an $85 highly recommended conical burr grinder. A step up is the Baratza Encore, which retails for $130, but comes down to $100 on their refurbished store. Using any of these will make pre-ground coffee taste like damp crackers.

The Brewer

Now for the heavily diverse and subjective part, the method. All will taste unique, but with good beans and a fresh grind, you can’t go wrong with any of them. The vast majority of cheap traditional auto drip coffee makers produce water far too cold for a good cup, similar to the Keurig, and unlike your regular or electric kettle. For this reason, we’re going to explain exclusively manual products. The $140 Bonita BV1800, approved by coffee lovers, is one notable exception.

1. Infusion – $10-$30

The name sounds more complex than it is. You’ve got quite a few options, but they all work on the same steeping principle that produces full-bodied coffee. French presses are great for making cups in bulk, but for when I’m solo, I love the near-pod convenience of repurposing a single-mug infuser. Simply grab a mug, place the metal infuser inside the mug, dump two scoops of coarsely ground coffee into the infuser, pour not-quite boiling water, and wait 4 minutes. Once you’re done, dump the remaining solids into your compost bin, and simply wash the simple contraption. Full immersion methods will admittedly allow more dregs in your final cup than a traditional filtered machine, but the bitter taste of them can be avoided by simply skipping the last millilitre of your drink, while providing an arguably better cup for the rest of the coffee. Advanced users looking to feel like Walter White can check out a siphon pot.

2. AeroPress – $30

The AeroPress is the cheapest and easiest espresso device you should buy. It uses air pressure to force water through tightly packed, finely ground beans, letting you skip the 4 minute wait of infusion and most of the cleanup. It requires small, round filters. Having both ultra-budget options lets you further experiment with various coffee beverages that will ultimately lead to a pretentious obsession. Add water for an Americano, frothed milk for a latte, or play around with recipes for sweetened drinks.

3. Pour Over Dripper- $7-$20

Simply place the plastic, ceramic, glass, or metal dripper on top of your mug with a filter holding beans, and pour. Pour over produces a lighter-bodied, cleaner cup with less bean fines than full immersion. It also requires significantly less time, effort, and cleanup, all nice for someone coming from a K-cup. Ceramic or glass is definitely preferable. Hario makes a variety of quality models.

 

While more of process than these options, the De’Longhi EC155 is a great $85 espresso machine with a built-in steamer, allowing you to make café-grade cappuccinos and lattes from your home or office.

And one final drink you can easily make with your newfound grinding abilities:

Cold brew is simple and great for iced coffee. Place water and ground beans in container, leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours, filter, refrigerate for 2 hours-5 days, enjoy.

 

Image Credits

Featured: Tyler Simpson

  1. Keurig.com

  2. By Hustvedt (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

  3. By Leland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

  4. By jaymiek by Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaymiek/2676379386/) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

  5. By User:GorillaWarfare (Own work) [CC BY-SA 1.0], via Wikimedia Commons