Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Will Convenience Kill Coffee?

When people find out that I am a coffee enthusiast, they are often led to ask one of a few common questions. The most common used to be, "What do you think of Starbucks?" (I few of my blog posts have mentioned the company in various contexts, but I do not have a single answer.) Almost as common is "What do you think of Dunkin' Donuts?" (Here I have both a smattering of blog posts and a standard answer.)

In recent months, these questions have been replaced by "What do you think of the Keurig?" Initially, I tried to be positive, because Keurig is owned by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, a growing regional roaster that I believe to be committed to ethical sourcing of coffee. I have met GMCR employees in Nicaragua, and one of my best coffee-farmer friends routinely wears a GMCR hat. (It is not just the hat -- I've met GMCR people in his house.) Besides, the Keurig provides flexibility, and gives people the option of fair-trade coffee at their local hairdresser or garage. What could be wrong with that?

Still, I had misgivings about the waste and the cost. An article on the blog of North Carolina-based Muddy Dog Roasting helped me turn the corner. Muddy Dog argues persuasively that the Keurig could be the beginning of the end for great coffee. I hope this is wrong, but we are moving rapidly beyond the slippery slope, as I am now seeing Dunkin' Donuts and even Folger's in materials from Green Mountain. These are not good signs, especially as the convenience of the machine is lulling people into a willingness to pay $20 to $30 a pound for mediocre or even bad coffee.

NOTE: Right after I posted this in April, an online Keurig retailer offered to commercialize my main coffee page. I would not and could not have done it anyway, but I found it amusing that the offer came right after I had finally come down from my Keurig fence-sitting. More recently, the blogger Caffeinated Calm -- who has considerably more coffee experience than I do -- offered a deeper critique of both Keurig and its parent company.

November 2011 update: Back in March the blog Dear Coffee, I Love you has provided an even more detailed critique, entitled Love Keurig? Nope.

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