Single cup coffee makers are all the rage right now. Whether you go for a Keurig, a Cuinsart, or any other popular brand, “k-cup” coffees are the quick and easy way to brew high quality beverages. Typically all a person needs to do is select the desired beverage, insert the cup, set the correct brew size, and then press one button! It sounds terrific.
But is it a good investment, particularly in this economy where so many families are struggling to afford the basics? Let’s break down the costs and compare them with traditional coffee makers.
K-cup style coffee makers range in price, depending on brand, model, features, and retailer, between $100 and $300. To get a sense of overall prices, I checked major retailers Walmart and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Their entire K-Cup beverage makers fell within this range, though sales can reduce this somewhat.
Traditional basket and cone drip coffee makers, by contrast, start at around $15 and can go as high as $200 for top brand units offering extensive features – such as built-in coffee grinders, duel carafes, specialized water displays, and other specialized extras. Non-powered single cup drip coffee makers (perfect for camping) can sell for less than $10, making this traditional choice also the most economical.
K-cups offer a broad range of beverage choices, all using the unique k-cup pod. Depending on the beverage chosen, brand, and quality, these k-cups cost anywhere from $8 for 16 k-cup servings to $60 for a package of 72 servings. Since literally dozens of brands and styles of beverages are available, it pays for k-cup users to shop around to find the best deal.
Compare this with your typical 10 oz. can of automatic drip coffee from a major brand sold at your favorite supermarket. A 10-oz can yields from 50 to 90 servings, depending on how much coffee you put into the basket at one time. These ten ounce cans typically sell for $3 to $7, depending on brand and store promotion. Specialty brands may cost more, but typically yield no less than 30 servings per pound and usually far more than 30 servings per pound.
Traditional basket/cone drip coffee makers typically use disposable paper filters which sell for anywhere from $2/package to $10/package, depending on brand, retailer, and number of filters. Over time, these disposable filters add up. Fortunately the options for permanent filters has increased with time. Manufacturers now sell nylon or gold-coated nylon permanent filters for a modest cost of around $10-$20. These filters do wear out over time and are not biodegradable.
In response to the high cost of buying k-cup pods, permanent k cup filters similar in design to the ones used in regular drip coffee makers are now starting to become available. I found one set of two permanent k cup baskets on Amazon for about $15, similar in cost to what a nylon permanent filter (1) will cost you for a drip style coffee maker.
The newest coffee filter options are machine washable cotton filters for drip coffee. Major retailers do not yet sell them, but you can find hand-made coffee filters at craft shows and on etsy.com for typically less than $5 each. Simply insert the filter as you would a normal paper filter, with the closed seams facing the coffee (right side towards coffee), fill with coffee, and brew as usual. After the coffee is finished, simply dump the grinds (your acid loving plants love used coffee grinds), rinse out, and set to dry. Hand or machine wash about once every week or two. I use these and alternate between two such filters, enabling me to launder one while using the other.
Unlike paper filters, these fabric filters let the coffee oils come through, producing a richer and more pleasing flavor. Best yet, cotton coffee filters are 100% biodegradable, making them the greenest of all choices for making your morning coffee.
Because of the size and shape involved, fabric style permanent filters are unlikely to be producible for k cup makers, even with a minimal seam allowance. These coffee makers require a ridged pod to work properly.
In summary, k cups are your most expensive home brewing option. If you drink just one cup of coffee per day every day, you will spend $20 or more in the month for your coffee compared with about $5 with drip coffee. Entry level k cup machines cost around $100 compared to entry level drip machines which average around $20. Even with the cost of filters, k cup coffee costs you at least 5x what drip coffee costs, an expense that may be greater than buying ready-brewed coffee at your favorite restaurant, convenience store, or coffee shop.
For me, the choice is clear: I’m sticking with my drip coffee maker and fabric filters!