Why the Single Serve Wool Works

I actually do understand why single serve coffee systems can be useful to certain people in certain situations…and yet…and yet…there’s just something about them that I can’t get down with. This isn’t an indictment or an incitement, just a spirited “roast” of all things single serve. I love reader choice, so you can decide what’s truth and what’s style.

Single serve system at the bakery counter in a chain grocery store.
Single serve system at the bakery counter in a chain grocery store.

We’re consumers. We are self proclaimed shoppers and buyers and purchasers. We are the nation of waiting in line until our toes fall off so that we can get that Xbox or iPhone or pair of Jordans. We know what we want and We Will Get It. Limited Editions, Short Supplies, and Exclusive Launches can’t stop us. We know our way behind the velvet rope of shopping. When the clock strikes midnight and the bookstore clerk slashes the packing tape off those boxes and Harry Potter 7 emerges, We Will Be There. Nothing, not weather nor distance nor price nor obstacle can get between us and Our Product; we shall have the Thing We Want. We consume with conviction.

We are also the generation that Extreme Coupons and then goes home to watch shows about other people Extreme Couponing. We don’t pay for TV or movies or music. We willingly drop fat stacks on the Stuff We Want, but we will in no way be duped into paying a lot for stuff we can get for less—or for free. Buying a DVD? Money suck. We know better. No one can pull the wool over our consuming eyes.

Then why in the world are we paying $50-60 a pound for mediocre Dunkin Donuts or Green Mountain coffee served in K-cups? If someone tried to charge us that at the grocery store checkout for a bag of beans we’d raise our eyebrows at the clerk and say, “Um, no.” But if you’re buying K-cups or single serve coffee pods that go in one of those nifty little hole-punching, pod-flipping devices, ‘Um, yes,” that’s what you’re paying.

Single serve coffee is the single most packaging intensive and jaw droppingly expensive way to consume coffee.  It looses in every sustainability category by virtue of its gargantuan packaging, and it is exponentially more expensive than even the beloved Venti Caramel Macchiato of the ‘90s. And yet we lap it up like puppies at the springs of Eden. We ask ourselves, “Why didn’t anyone think of this before? Why did I wile my mornings making a pot of coffee when I could just pop a pod and go?”

We penny pinch and bargain and scrimp- until we come upon a product that revolutionizes something mundane into a task that feels futuristically Jetsons enough to be sexy, and then we through caution to the wind.

When we buy single serve coffee we can’t even get to the part where we consider the absolutely absurd price because we are so proud of ourselves for being advanced enough and cool enough to no longer make coffee, but to have a machine that makes coffee for us. There is magic in that little mechanized arm and the hum and whir of gears doing stuff.

A sputtering and gurgling Mr. Coffee feels like the ‘80s. The ripping filter that spills grounds everywhere, the wait for the coffee to be done, and the hissing drips sizzling to their death on the burner when we impatiently pulled the pot out too soon because who has time for all this?! Always remembering to make a strong pot for so-and so-and a weak pot for someone else. Having to endure the burden of remembering to buy coffee and filters. Sure, Mr. Coffee afforded that nice smell of brewed coffee wafting through the kitchen that made us hum “the best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup,” and feel for a moment like the glowing woman in the commercial, but letting that go is a small price to pay for the consistent perfection of single serve.

No grounds spilling on the counter. No goo-hardened-to-crust of burnt coffee on the base of the machine. No waiting. No ratio guessing. Just a good cup of coffee quickly, neatly, and exactly same every morning (unless of course you want to be dangerous and get one of those mixed pod packs that lets you try a new flavor whenever the fancy strikes- without committing to buying a whole bag of it!!!) And at the end of all that success you can even lob the spent K-cup across the room into the trash can to feel an extra three points of awesome before 8am.

This is how a morning should unfold; this is the way the future of coffee is meant to be. Don’t try to tell me otherwise; I’m a Consumer, and I Know.

Starbucks worked long and hard to get us to fork over $4 for our lattes, and other brands of specialty coffee have invested millions to break us of our tightfisted habits when it comes to getting our morning cup. And then the Keurig comes along and overnight gets us to pay well over ten times any price we ever thought we’d pay for a pound of coffee.

They pulled it off because we don’t drink coffee in pounds, we drink it in cups. That’s a big part of why Starbucks’ coffeeshop culture took off; we finally had someone to make coffee us in the ratio in which we consume it, at the at which pace we craved it in the morning, all with a sexy aesthetic that we were dying to participate in. Single serve machines just shrunk the barista, made him a sultry robot serving only drip coffee, and put him on our kitchen counters where he crossed his heart and promised to always clean up after himself, for the small price of a steep annual salary.

And we said yes. We said yes because we drink coffee in cups and he makes it in cups. He makes it in the portions in which we consume it, and the way he makes it just seems too cool to be real life. And we love stuff that makes us feel as impossibly unstoppable as Inspector Gadget, because who didn’t spend youthful hours seated slackjawed in front of the TV, dreaming of being a Power Ranger or someone with reality-defying accessories?

It’s too bad that somewhere between Mr. Coffee and Starbucks and  K-Gadget we missed the sleek French Press and Italian Espresso pots and failed to notice the seductive shine of other—less expensive and environmentally destructive—home brewing options that are also neat, consistent, and exciting. French presses and Italian espresso pots don’t offer the kick of futuristic robot high, but they do provide the allure of foreign craftsmanship, and they still give off the wafting aroma of freshly brewing coffee, an aroma with a singular romance all its own, one that we’ve kind of missed during our futuristic fling with the little robots making coffee for us (while eating all of our money and only shitting out little dishes of coffee grounds covered in foil).



  1. I got some refillable pods to use in the Keurig at work. It’s still more wasteful of grounds than regular brewing, but it means I don’t have to put up with nasty overdark and/or burned coffee from the shared pot, and my Colombian coffee lasts longer since I don’t have to share it. The package had four baskets for $7. I’m going on a year with the first basket and it’s still in good shape.

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