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Basket of coffee podds
George Clooney, how are you going to do me like this?
I was innocently keeping up with Allison Kaplan's terrific shops blog when the news knocked the sustainably grown, fairly purchased Peace coffee right out of my hands. The Swiss mega-company Nestle, suffering the tragedy of sluggish growth lately, is putting its future in the hands of us Minnesotans by opening a Nespresso store at the Mall of America.
Before they do, let me rant.
Coffee pod coffee—from K-cup to Nespresso—is bad, bad, and very bad. It tastes bad, it's horrible for the environment, and it's a financial horror of such extreme catastrophe that if you bought top-shelf wonder coffee for the next 70 years instead of Nespresso you'd have enough money for a small house. Let's break it down:
It tastes bad.
You know what coffee nerds do? We grind coffee just before we make it. Here's why: There are dozens of volatile and fleeting flavor compounds that are released just when you grind the coffee and then vanish. Coffee in pods is stale—no matter whatever fancy lingo pod-makers attach to it. It's flat, it's nothing. If you tell me it's good enough for you, I will tuck you under my wing and tell you you've been leading life in black and white, when it could be in color. Then we will raise a warm cup of Joe and celebrate your better life. I was talking to Greg Hoyt, founder of Dogwood Coffee, and he put it quite well, "It doesn’t get rotten like fruit or nuts—so it's hard to describe. But I really love pistachios, and I can tell if a pistachio is over. It can be just missing something—there’s no life left in coffee that's old." Yes, that's exactly it. Pod coffee tastes like the life got sucked out.
It's an environmental catastrophe.
Europe has had coffee pods longer than we have, and that's why they're banned in Hamburg. That's not least because billions and billions, enough to circle the earth again and again, end up in landfills every year. They're in landfills because they're typically complex little bits of layered technology meant to withstand the brewing process. Recent claims that they can be recycled are mainly bogus, not least because the coffee is densely clumped in the cup, and recycling facilities aren't equipped to have people standing around rinsing them out. If you do that yourself at home, you may as well have made coffee! Well how about biodegradable cups? They're around—and they're not all that biodegradable. We have one planet, folks, do not break this one because we don't have a backup plan.
It's financial suicide.
Why doesn't anyone ever do the back-of-the-envelope math on this? There are about 5 or 6 grams of coffee in a typical Nespresso cup, says Nespresso. There are 454 grams in a pound. So, let's be generous and use the 6 gram measure, and ask ourselves if 6 goes in to 454, and it does close enough, we get 75 Nespresso cups from a pound of coffee. Using current Amazon prices we see that Nespresso goes for as low as 70 cents for that 6 grams—that works out to around $52 a pound, folks. A pound of good coffee from Peace Coffee costs around $16; you can typically pick it up for sale for less. So! If Jane drinks 50 pounds of coffee a year how much money will she save grinding her own darn coffee? For Nespresso pods she will have spent 50 x $52.5 which equals $2,625. For locally roast fair trade coffee, 50 x $16 = $800. Jane will save $1,825 after tax dollars every year by grinding her own coffee—which tastes better, and is better for the environment. If Jane does this starting at 21 and dies peacefully at 91, Jane will have saved $127,500! Which is more than enough for a nice little house in Cloquet. Invested with compound interest over 70 years it's straight up bank. I haven't even bothered here with the math on the coffee makers themselves, but a bottom level Nespresso maker costs $99 and will have to be replaced every couple years, while an entry-level coffee grinder will run you $20 and will last decades, while a French press or Chemex will cost you around $30 and last as long as you don't drop it. Yes, the high-brow approach here costs half as much.
It prevents happiness.
Finally, you will just be happier if you grind your own coffee. You will learn to appreciate the differences in coffee, because you will get the opportunity to taste flowery notes, lemony notes, chocolatey notes—all the notes. You will get the satisfaction of competence, and working with your hands. You will create a universe in which you will learn and grow—not one in which you are pampered and are spoon fed a more expensive and lesser product. "The enjoyment of coffee does necessitate a bit of work," says Greg Hoyt, "and those prepared pods, whatever they're called, remove the potential joy of coffee from us—in my opinion our time spent in enjoyment of good coffee is worth more than whatever we're trading away. We owe it to ourselves as a society to actually take the small amount of time that can produce something that really tastes great. What do they call it when everybody looks away from something bad, when everyone refuses to face it? That's what pod coffee is, we've been able to continue this farce that the convenience is a benefit to us when it's not. People are going to think: you're just trying to sell Dogwood coffee. My point is not that you have to buy Dogwood coffee, it's that you're getting ripped off, and you're missing out."
So in conclusion: George Clooney, come on by. I'll make you a really good cup of coffee, and we can talk about whether you ought to give up your Nespresso thing—because I'm pretty sure you already have enough to buy the whole of Cloquet, and probably most of Otter Creek, too. Is it worth making the world worse, just for a little bit of money?