The “Single Serve” Revolution

By Richard Eber

The days are long gone of Juan Valdez praising the attributes of Columbian coffee or patrons at 5 star restaurants thinking they were being served high end product when consuming Folgers Chrystal’s. We are currently living in a society where consumers are demanding convenience and quality with their cup of morning “Joe”.

Local franchises Starbuck’s and Peet’s, who reside on the top end of coffee world” are providing both of these attributes both at their store’s and with their pods to take home.  These one cup wonders made popular with the Keurig brand have become increasingly popular especially if consumers don’t desire multiple mugs of their favorite brew

As might be expected, there is a large discrepancy between not only the quality, but also the price of these single serving units.  Testing a large sampling of my regular French Roast blend, I tend to favor Peet’s rendition slightly above Starbuck’s.  Both are good and possess the finish one might find at one of their stores.  I just happen to like Peet’s because of not liking the burnt finish of their principal competitor.

If these criteria would settle the whole question of Keurig K-cup clones, then the whole matter would be settled. But there is also a question of price.  The high end pods are double or triple the cost of their considerable competition.  Because of the disparity between brands, I like most Keurig devotees, have ended up experimenting with different vendors.

As might be expected the warehouse Stores Costco puts out an excellent product under their Kirkland brand.  While it might be a notch below in finish to gourmet brands, it cost less than half when purchased in large lots.  In addition, Costco passes the second use test.  This means that when a pod is used twice, a decent cup of coffee is produced.  Such an attribute is important for consumers who are trying to get bang for their buck.

Safeway store brand is close to Kirkland in price and quality. It is also not necessary to buy in such large quantities.  This leaves us with traditional brands such as Folgers, Maxwell House, Donut Shop, and a large group of other choices that supermarkets offer consumers.  I have tried many of them when they are sold at a discount.  Quite frankly, it is difficult for me to distinguish between them as they seem to be generic in a similar manor to comparing brands of commercial orange juice.

Sadly, the coffee pods sold at Trader Joe’s join this list of mediocrity.  Quite frankly, the store that historically has offered their customers superior salads, tomato sauce, ice cream, macaroni & cheese, and just about everything else,  disappointed me with their French  single serves.  While they passed the second cup test, they weren’t any better than anything the grand dame Mrs. Olson could muster up.

The last category and perhaps the most important one to discuss are the single cup boxes that are found at the Dollar Store.  Sold in small boxes of 4 or 6 for a buck, these Keurig want-a-bees hold an important place in my heart.  With a passable taste, the value at 16 cents for a cup of coffee versus 65 is a disparity that is not to be ignored.

While the Dollar Stores brands  fade into the dishwater class with a second use, they are a useful tool for use in middle class and below households including mine.

In addition, the Dollar Store, much like their competitors, features a bunch of other flavors ranging from Vanilla to Hazelnut.  As a purest, I stay away from these gimmicky concoctions, but I am not too proud to admit I shop at discount stores from “99” cents up on a regular basis.

If recent history is any indication, prices are dropping on all levels for Keurig authorized or clone single serves.  As consumers continue to demand a better product, we can likely look forward to improved quality and value for America’s sacred drink consumed one sip at a time.

Richard Eber studied journalism at the University of Oregon. He writes about politics, culture, education restaurants, and was former city and sports editor of UCSB Daily. Richard is president of Amerasa Rapid Transit, a specialized freight forwarder.

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