Beverage Brontosaurus: Keurig, I love you, but you’re bringing me down

I’ve never really been a morning person. When the dawn breaks and the sunlight starts pouring through my window, I have occasionally hissed or thrown things — sometimes even the clock — at the intruding rays of light. People who know me well tend to stay out of my way in the morning. People who love me won’t let me drive a car until at least noon.

I wake in a stupor and stay angry that the day has begun until well after breakfast. Most days, I don’t even remember what I’ve had for breakfast. When I lived in my old apartment on Huguenot Street, I pressed snooze so often every morning that I swear I developed a fan club. I’m fairly certain an old guy with a harmonica would stand outside the window, mimicking the alarm as it went off. That also might have been a dream.

So, as you would imagine, coffee is important to me. Coffee has always been important to me. I guess it started in my hometown, during high school, when I started going to a dingy, broke-down coffee shop in a sketchy neighborhood. With scuffed floors, smoked-stained walls and a Soviet hammer and sickle flag flying over the cash register, it was a place for dissidents, punk rockers, teens and poets.

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Since then, no matter where I’m living, I’ve always looking for a coffeehouse where the smoke still lingers. As far as espresso drinks go, moving out East has been a rude awakening — I found myself living in a barren, caffeine-free wasteland in which people somehow imagine that the swill Dunkin’ Donuts serves constitutes a “good cup of coffee.” It seems that, like Mexican food, the coffee gets better the farther west you go.

In New Paltz, the closest thing I’ve ever found to recapturing the spirit and feel of that old dive coffeehouse of my youth was The Muddy Cup, now known as Cafeteria. (For the sake of clarity, let it henceforth be known as “The Mudditeria.”) But even there the coffee is sub-par to what I grew up with. It’s good enough to drink, definitely an espresso, but something’s missing.

I brew a lot of coffee at home, and I’ve tried just about every machine — from home espresso makers, to those little four-cup Mr. Coffee pots, to a French press. Recently, I’ve fallen prey to the Keurig K-Cup machine.

For those of you who still don’t know, Keurig makes a single-serving coffee maker. The premise works this way: Slap in a cartridge shaped like a half-and-half packet, bring down the lever, press a button and one single cup of coffee is all yours. It takes just a few seconds.

Flavor-wise the coffee is not the best, but it’s also surprisingly good. It’s somewhere between coffee that’s been burned to piss in an old-fashion percolator and coffee from one of those little four-cup machines. On the flavor totem pole, it’s still well below what you get out of a French press or one of those glass vacuum coffee makers popular in the early 1900s.

Back in February, The New York Times ran an article about how much more those single-serving coffee cartridges cost than buying a regular bag of coffee. It can be $8 to $12 per 12-cartridge box, depending on where you shop. Sometimes they go on sale, but mostly they’re full price. The gist of the article was that despite the added cost of the coffee, people snapped up 4 million K-Cup machines for Christmas 2011. Nespresso also sells a similar machine — a K-Cup clone — that also did brisk business in the holiday season. Coffee cartridges for both machines are now a multi-million dollar business.

When I read that article, I was left with a different impression: Where are all those little plastic cups piling up? They’ve got to be in a landfill somewhere, causing much more of a problem than a used coffee filter and a pile of grinds. Coffee is compostable, but who would take the time to knife open each cartridge and dump out the grinds? K-Cup machines also have an accessory that allows you to put a single serving of your own store-bought coffee into the machine. But why would you go through the trouble of cleaning it multiple times a day? Especially, when you can just pull out the Mr. Coffee and have more than one cup of sweet, sweet java waiting?

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