Does the Keurig make good coffee?
For Christmas my wife bought me a Keurig 2.0 machine. Now I’m a bit of a coffee snob. I own a pretty good espresso machine, I buy good coffee, I grind my own beans and I rarely, if ever, use our drip coffee maker. But, with a new baby boy and my work schedule I haven’t had much time to make myself a good cup of coffee as I rush off to work in the mornings so my wife thought it would be a good gift for me. And to be honest, it is. The thing’s pretty convenient and actually doesn’t cost me anything extra (since I grind my own beans and will be using Keurig’s re-usable k-cup once it arrives in the mail).
But the question is: does the Keurig make good coffee?
Well, yes and no. It all depends on how you use it.
What makes a good cup of coffee? Part 1: The Beans
This of course varies by taste and each person is a little different, but generally speaking coffee, like wine, comes in two varieties: good and bad. Bad coffee is either brewed improperly (more on that later) or starts with poor beans. The best beans are Arabica beans and the best coffee to buy is coffee that comes from a single plantation, if at all possible, or at the very least the same region. Blends of coffee mix beans from various regions and it typically means a mix of high quality and low quality beans.
This all comes down to personal preference. Perhaps you like the taste of Folgers (I do not). My personal preference is for Arabica (as opposed to the cheaper Robusta) beans preferably from the same estate, which happens to cost a pretty penny. I try to get them as fresh as possible but that’s not really an option where I live, a few thousand miles away from where they are grown. I’m not going to recommend any specific brands, you’ll have to try them out for yourself.
Generally speaking it’s best to buy beans and grind them yourself. I’ve tried freezing beans and not noticed a difference between that method and storing it in an airtight lightproof jar at room temperature. Some people swear by freezing your beans, others do not.
Depending on how you make your coffee will depend on how you grind your beans. A french press will require a courser grind, if you’re making turkish coffee (my personal preference if I have the time) or espresso you need a fine grind. Drip coffee makers and percolators go somewhere in the middle, and really depends on how strong you want your coffee. Finer grind means more surface area which means more coffee particles suspended in your coffee solution (more on that later).
Lastly, you need to determine what roast you’ll be buying. A light roast will make a mellow coffee, a bold roast will make a very strong (tasting) coffee. I prefer a medium roast, although this depends on the type of coffee. Some coffee snobs detest flavored roasts; I do not and buy them from time to time but I typically purchase whole arabica beans, medium roasted, from a single plantation or at the very least from a single location, never a blend. This makes good coffee.
What makes a good cup of coffee? Part 2: The Brew
There are two factors that influence the taste of coffee. This part is science, although what you believe tastes good is again up to your personal preference. The first factor is Percentage Extraction and Total Dissolved Solids. Percent extraction is the percent of coffee particles extracted from your grounds. Total Dissolved Solids is the amount of solid particles suspended in the aqueous solution we call coffee. The two are different and often confused.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the optimum range for both quantities is this:
Or if you don’t want to decode the image its Percent Extraction range between 18 and 22 and Total Dissolved Solids range between 1.15 and 1.35. Your own personal taste preference may vary of course, but these two factors influence a brew’s weakness and bitterness. You can see from this chart that a proper ratio of water to grounds will yield the corresponding percentages in your brew, assuming the correct temperature of water.
Proper temperature for brewing coffee ranges from 91–94 °C (195–202 °F) depending on your taste preferences. Again using this temperature will yield results reflected in this chart with some variation. I prefer my water to be slightly below boiling, so I let my water reach boiling and then let it sit for a minute or so before I pour my grounds into the french press. But, as I’ve said, this is up to personal preference and you’ll need to experiment yourself.
So for example, let’s say you want to brew something that fits right in the middle of that optimum balance profile in the chart above. I’m using a French Press method as reference because my drip coffee maker can’t control temperature. So you’d begin by placing 1/2 gallon of water in your kettle and 3.75 oz of fairly coarse grinds in your press (you can reduce the volume/mass so long as you preserve the ratio). I typically allow the water to boil and then let it sit for a minute (if you really want to be exact you can use a thermometer and wait until it has cooled off to 202 °F, since boiling in most location is at 212 °F). Place your water into the press, stir with a wooden or plastic (not metal) spoon and allow the coffee to sit for about 3 minutes. Press down on the press and you should have a good cup of coffee.
An aside: the metal spoon could chip your glass press which is why I use a plastic or metal spoon.
So how do you know if you’re brewing good coffee? Well my rule of thumb is if you can’t drink it black it’s not good. Now, you can prefer the taste of cream and sugar, but your coffee should at least be drinkable black. If you have to use cream and sugar to mask the flavor my guess is that its too bitter.
How does the Keurig compare?
In all honesty the Keurig makes a pretty decent cup of coffee. I’ve read some articles by purists to say they dislike the taste of the coffee from Keurig machines but I’d hazard a guess that if you performed a blind taste test with these experts they’d perform about as good as a sommelier is at distinguishing between wines; they operate at chance levels.
But does the machine brew a good cup of coffee, according to these values? Well let’s take a look at how the keurig brews.
First, let’s start with the water. According to Keurig:
The factory settings are 192 degrees Fahrenheit (89 degrees Celsius) for K-Cup®pods and 197 degrees Fahrenheit (92 degrees Celsius) for K-Carafe™ pods.
That’s a bit low, which will mean a slightly weak coffee. Which, if I’m being honest, I’d prefer a slightly weaker brew than a too strong (read bitter) brew. Bitter means you have to mask the flavor with cream and sugar and I usually drink my coffee black, or sometimes with a little cream. Rarely (but not never) with sweetener.
Now, as far as the proper ratio, how does the Keurig do? Mine offers a water volume from 4 to 10 oz in 2 oz increments. Well I don’t have a kitchen scale but by my rough calculations the K-Cups contain about 12 grams of grinds, or 0.42 Oz. So, knowing our ratio we can see that if we brew a roughly 8 Oz cup of coffee (rounding up) you should get something close to the proper brew. Of course if you have your own re-fillable K-Cup then you can determine your own mass of grinds and volume of water. This article recommends 15g which is probably a good benchmark.
So how did the Keurig rate? As you would expect it’s a little weak, but honestly not by much. My wife got me a big pack of K-Cups of various coffees and depending on the type of coffee I prefer the flavor of a 6 Oz brew or an 8 Oz brew. As far as the flavor it’s not that bad. I’ve done a taste test (not blind) and I still prefer my French Press coffee, but not by much. When my re-fillable K-Cup comes in the mail I’m going to do a blind taste test and see if I can tell the difference using my own grinds.
So in conclusion, the Keurig tends to brew coffee a little on the weak side, but not terrible coffee. It’s mainly a convenience factor and I’ll be honest, it’s quite convenient. A tad wasteful but once I get my re-usable K-Cup that won’t be an issue. People who decry the Keurig because they think it makes a bad cup of coffee either have a very odd taste preference or are being biased against the machine. It doesn’t make the best cup of coffee, but it doesn’t make a bad cup either.