I Hate K-Cups

The insta-cup mania that has taken hold of the coffee world has finally convinced Starbucks to join the crowd. While Peet’s hasn’t succumbed just yet, how long can it be? There is no doubt that the idea of a quick, fresh one-cup shot of joe with no muss or fuss is appealing. You know what isn’t appealing though? The cup of coffee.

For me, it is possible to brew a passable cup if I use a dark roast and make the smallest cup the machine will allow, which often means using two capsules for a decent amount. But using a simple manual drip cup and ground coffee takes only a bit more time, and yields a much better product.

That is just part of my objection to the K-cupafication of America. Even when purchased wholesale, the cost of each capsule is at least 50 cents, and is often more than a buck.

I am not going to argue that a nine dollar pound of coffee is enough to make 100 cups of coffee in a coffee maker. Yes, often a few cups of each pot goes to waste, and the pot gets stale quickly sitting on a burner for a few hours, but it is still half the cost of the K cups.

But here’s more of a direct comparison. A 24 pack of Green Mountain Coffee costs about 15 dollars, but a pound of coffee will easily yield 40 strong two-tablespoon cups for nine dollars. And in the end, you toss biodegradable grounds and paper instead of a plastic cup.

Still, most of the people in my office who lobbied for the Keurig are perfectly happy with the coffee it brews and thrilled with the ability to choose a brew a cup at a time.  For me, though, a K cup is the MP3 file of coffee. Just like music that has been compressed, filtered and billed as a more compact but equivalent version of the original recording, in reality it is a trade-off of quality for convenience, and most listeners have no aural skills to tell the difference. Moreover, they have almost a contempt for people who bemoan the loss of quality, as if someone shouldn’t bother to improve the good-enough format.

I love the idea of the instant single cup coffee maker; there are some espresso machines that do a great job of delivering a single shot from a capsule. But is it too much to long for a Blu-ray equivalent of a K cup to come along?

Great Finds from 2011

There has been a tremendous amount of cooking and eating going on in the month of December. Now that the smoke has cleared, it’s a good time to pass along some of the food discoveries that improved my cooking in the last year.

J. Martinez & Company Coffee Roasters This boutique coffee roaster from Miami delivers estate coffees and their own excellent blends at reasonable prices. You can order Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee—the rarest in the world from two different estates. Yes, it is 50 bucks a pound, which is, of course, ridiculous. Until you taste it. For half the price you can get Jamaican High Mountain, which despite its name is just coffee. But really great coffee. There’s an excellent estate Kenya AA and Kona, and their private blends are well worth trying at 11 dollars a pound. Plus, you get to choose from 4 grinds and two roasts so you can order coffee just the way you like it brewed.

Marshalls Creek Spices Once you try spices from this small-batch packer you’ll never go back to supermarket bottles. It’s obvious from the moment that you open the box that these actually look like fresh leaves that are dried instead of flakes of unreliable provenance. The prices are actually better than premium spices at your local grocer and they have some blends that you won’t find anywhere else—including a few great mixes that have no salt. While you do pay for shipping, it is a single fee per order, so clear your shelves of your old spices (you should do it once a year anyway) and restock from this site.

Homemade yogurt Without sounding like a granola-cruncher, my sister turned me on to how easy it is to make your own yogurt. It is as simple as heating a gallon of milk to 180 degrees, cooling it to 130 degrees, stirring in 1 cup of plain fresh yogurt, and then dividing it up into Mason jars. I use 8 oz containers, but any size works. Place the closed jars in a cooler, cover with a bath towel and pour a kettle of boiling water onto the towel. Close up the cooler and open it next morning or after about 8 hours, and put the yogurt in the fridge.  If everything works right, you will have a thick custard-like product without additives. The better the milk, the better the yogurt; the longer it stands the tangier the result. Mine usually has a little clear whey floating in the jars; you can pour it off or stir it in. Add fruit or a teaspoon of preserves and it beats anything you can buy in a store at a third of the cost.

The Kobe Beef Store Wagyu Cattle are the source of the best steak in the world. If you know that the best beef in America is labeled Prime, then you should know that the Japanese marbling scale puts Prime as an 8 out of 13 levels, and Wagyu is labeled 1 through 5. The meat is also known as Kobe beef, named for the Japanese prefecture famed for the product. Raising Wagyu in the Kobe style calls for exacting techniques in feeding and handling—the cattle even get massages. Many ranches in the US have begun raising Wagyu, but the meat is ridiculously expensive—sometimes over $100 a pound.

I stumbled on this store on eBay of all places, and took a chance on an order. At $18 a pound it seemed like a worthwhile risk. And the product turned out to be the real deal. Individually sealed one pound steaks are perfect for two people. Now they have their own site, http://www.kobe-beef-store.com. A ten pack of New York strips is $199. Sure, twenty bucks a pound is still plenty expensive, but once you try these, you’ll see they are worth the money. They also sell 10 lb packages of ground Wagyu that make incredible hamburgers and meat loafs.

Butter blanching This is so easy, I can’t imagine why I never tried it before. Blanching greens can help them keep their color, but go a step further, and cook them in a quart of boiling water with the addition of a tablespoon of salt and a stick of butter. Spinach, kale, mustard greens, even broccolini and asparagus will work great using this technique. Just dunk the vegetables in the boiling butter-water, cook until nearly tender (in the case of greens, it could be as little as thirty seconds, and drain over the pot.  You can add a few drops of olive oil or a squeeze of lemon to finish the dish, or a sprinkle of parmesan. It’s much easier than sautéing and scales up for a crowd better, plus the flavors are fresher.

Do you have any techniques or products that made your gustatory life better last year? I’d like to hear about them.