Convenience is expensive. Well, at least when it comes to using a machine to make coffee one cup at a time.
Keurig knows the price of convenience, and it charges accordingly. The company makes the biggest-selling line of single-cup brewing machines on the market, and the vast assortment of Keuring-branded coffees capsules that go inside them.
Its brewing machines cost anywhere between $80 and $250 each, and its patented, premeasured K-Cup capsules, which let you brew a single cup of coffee with no hassle or mess, set you back between 75 cents and a buck a piece. That’s four to five times the cost of conventionally brewed java.
It hasn’t stopped single-cup coffee from becoming one of the fastest-growing segments of coffee sales worldwide. But Keurig foresaw a thorny problem that would turn the cash hurricane of K-Cup capsule sales into a drizzle: the patent for its K-Cups expires in September 2012, and a shiver of profit-seeking sharks are circling, waiting to pounce with cheaper generic versions. Around the same time, Starbucks will release its own competing single-cup coffee and espresso maker, the Verismo. What to do?
Keurig’s answer: its just-released Vue brewer, which uses new single-cup Vue packs. They’re incompatible with K-Cups, but they actually improve on the K-Cup technology, if not the taste.
Although the Keurig Vue V700 brewer looks a lot like its predecessor, it’s more versatile. An intuitive, color LCD touchscreen on top can be used to adjust the output — brew temperatures can be customized, from 187 to 197°F, and brew sizes can be adjusted from 4 to 18 ounces to accommodate espresso cups and travel mugs. Improving upon one of K-Cups’ weak points, the Vue adds an extra setting for producing stronger brews that slowly pulses the water through the Vue cup.
There are separate settings for making tea and espresso drinks, but no matter what’s being brewed, the thing lets off a whine like an aging oil derrick.
Here, take a listen (or download an MP3):
The original K-Cups are what I’d call environmentally challenged — after brewing a single mug of coffee, the entire plastic cup, along with its sealed grounds, must be trashed. The new Vue cups improve on this design slightly by suspending the coffee or tea filter bag in its plastic container. After the cup is spent, the filter bag can be removed and the plastic container can be recycled. Still less friendly than a paper filter, but an improvement.
There are around 30 different coffee and tea Vue cups available from such brands as Newman’s Own Organics, Tully’s, Celestial Seasonings and Green Mountain Coffee (Keurig’s owner). The choices are varied enough to please most palates, and all make quite acceptable, if not stupendous, brews. One glaring exception is Keurig’s attempt at producing what it thinks is a “Cappuccino.”
Because the Vue is a coffee brewer and not an espresso machine (just like the Keurig predecessor) some engineering compromises had to be made. It does not have a milk frother, and there is no pressurized water system, which is needed to make espresso. Instead, the Vue uses a two-step process to brew a cappucino. First, it sends nearly boiling water through a Vue cup filled with a powdered mash-up of non-fat dried milk, cream, sugar and lactose. Second, you process a separate Vue cup with espresso grounds, then mix the two cups together. The nasty result closely resembles something you get from a gas station vending machine. The moral here is that one shouldn’t expect a single-purpose kitchen appliance to perform like a bescarfed and tattooed barista — especially when it’s constructed of fragile (cheap) plastic.