Sunday, January 22, 2017

Complicated Coffee the Easy Way

Making coffee used to be relatively simple.

You bought a can of ground coffee, put some in a percolator, or French press of drip coffee making and pressed a button, or otherwise operated the apparatus. 
The result was "coffee," if not by taste, at least by definition. 

I've never tasted the same coffee twice.  That is, even following the same method, one cup  inevitably varies from the next.  Other consumables always taste the same: Almond Joy, Mars bar, McDonald's; Juicy Fruit, Coca-Cola.

The mysterious Keurig K250
Coffee is complicated. Coffee beans contain about 1,000 chemicals, some of which are more soluble in water than others. What is coffee, the beverage?

Whatever starts out in coffee beans changes when the coffee is roasted. Compounds break down,  and others are formed. Lots of organic chemistry happens between the bean-stage and the familiar roasted coffee, which has that yummy coffee odor.

Then it's added to hot water, for more transformation.

A mixture of soluble compounds, micro fragments of beans, chemicals adsorbed to the fragments, chemicals that react with minerals in the water, chemicals modified by heat, and chemicals that react with each other when introduced to hot water.

Coffee contains caffeine, which increases blood pressure, induces wakefulness, alertness and at higher levels, agitation, tremors, heart arrhythmias, and, presumably at some dosage, death. At normal consumption levels, coffee is a mild stimulant. 

Many people are in the habit of drinking a cup or two in the morning and then perhaps another cup or two in the afternoon. 

Just as individuals are becoming more isolated, coffee-making is increasingly solitary. The culprit is Keurig, what I consider the first digital coffee maker. It used prefabricated cartridges of coffee that are plugged into the machine. The Keurig pumps water through the cartridge, producing coffee.

Aero Press 
The operator never has to see or handle coffee beans or grounds and only has to keep the reservoir filled with water.  The coffee seems okay, but what the Keurig offers is convenience.
 However, making one cup of coffee at a time is a triumph of packaging -- each "K-cup" is an assembly of plastic and foil, and coffee. 

The New York Times calculates that K-cup coffee costs about $50 per pound, while conventional Starbucks is about $12 and Dunkin Donuts roughly $9. Keurig coffee is about 66 cents a cup versus DIY coffee, which is about 28 cents a cup.  

And while you can buy a drip coffee maker for as little as about $30, the least expensive Keurig machines start at about $100.
Quisanart drip maker

An engineer friend told me that Keurig machines contain complex computer-driven mechanisms. The body is filled with circuit boards, microchips, pumps, valves, filters, and sensors. 

I hate to admit this, but lately I've been drinking Keurig coffee. It's so easy. Just pop in a pod, push a button, and in less than a minute, voila. 

So, my Aero press, French press, siphon, percolator, and drip coffee machines are temporarily idle. As are my electric grinders and manual bean grinders.

Soon I will tire of K-cups, I suspect. Meanwhile, someone needs to determine the chemistry of coffee making. Right now, I just need another cup.

Hario hand grinder
Hario single cup drip maker

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