Friday, January 4, 2013

Caffeinated Math

Last year, around this time, Braz gave me his old Keurig, having gotten a shiny new one for Christmas.

A Keurig, if you're not a coffee drinker or have been living under a rock for the last few years, is a single-serve coffee maker. There are some knockoff variants on the market, but the Keurig is pretty well accepted as the standard.

I drink a couple of cups of coffee(1) a day at work, but it's a bad idea for me to have caffeine in the evenings. But the Keurig is great for weekends, or days that I'm working from home. And I did eventually find decaf K-cups, too, for my evenings. I don't drink as much coffee in warm weather (I never really got into iced coffee) but now that we're back to winter, I've been enjoying my Keurig a lot(2) lately. Especially for the last few weeks, because between school holidays and this cold I've had all this week, I've been working from home a fair amount.

Yesterday, I had to go to Target to restock my NyQuil(3) supply, and while I was there, I needed to refresh my stock of decaf K-cups.

But then I looked at the little filter converter doohickey. Now, I've been saying for about six months that I should get one, but I just haven't gotten around to it. I know for a fact that it's a good $5 more expensive at Target than on, say, Amazon, but I just forget about it when I'm on Amazon. So I went ahead and just bought the dang thing, and two bags of ground coffee.

Then I came home and made coffee, and it was fine. Now, just out of curiosity, let's do the math. A box of 12 of my grocery store's generic-brand K-cups costs about $7, $6 if I get a coupon, so let's say about 50 center a cup. That's not the cheapest over-the-counter cups you can get -- I bought a box of 80 cups from Sam's Club for $37, which is only 46 cents a cup, but they don't sell decaf that way, so it took me like eight months of weekends to get through them all, and I had to find a place to store them in the meantime. Poking around on Amazon does not improve that price, but I only poked for about a minute, so just to make the math easy, let's say I managed to get the cost of a K-cup down to 40 cents.

A 12-oz bag of pre-ground coffee beans, at Target, costs as little as $7, but let's say I'm going to get a more expensive variety and take it up to $10.(4) Out of curiosity, I weighed my coffee before I put it into the machine this morning, and it came up at 10 grams. The K-cup box I still have says each cup is 9.5 grams of coffee, so that's about right. Twelve ounces is 340 grams, so a bag of coffee makes 34 cups. Even if we knock off one cup's worth of coffee for measuring differential, that's 33 cups of coffee at about 30 cents each.

So it's 10-15 cents cheaper, per cup, to use the filter and pre-ground coffee. Which doesn't seem like all that much, except that there are some other, nonmonetary, benefits:
- One 12-oz bag of coffee takes up approximately the same space as a 12-count box of K-cups. I can fit 66 cups' worth of coffee in my cabinet where previously I could only fit 24, tripling the space's effectiveness.
- The filter is more environmentally friendly, since the trash generated is merely coffee grounds instead of coffee grounds and a plastic-and-foil cup.(5)
- I can buy preground decaf coffee in a wider variety of flavors. Or, I should say, a variety, since K-cup decaf is pretty much only available in one flavor: coffee.(6)

So the filter pays itself somewhere between 120-180 cups of coffee. (Less, actually, if I keep buying cheaper ground coffee.) Assuming an average of one cup a day -- not unreasonable, since I'm only using the Keurig in the evenings on weeknights, and not every weeknight, but I do sometimes have multiple cups on weekends -- then the filter pays for itself in 4-6 months. (It would've been 3-4 months if I'd bought it on Amazon.)

Will the filter's mesh hold out for a whole six months or longer? We'll see.

Whew, that was a lot of work. Now I need a cup of coffee...

(1) Terminology: Strictly speaking, a "cup" of coffee is 6 ounces, but when I say "cup of coffee", I mean "mug of coffee", and when I say "mug", I mean "one of my enormous 16-20 ounce megamugs."
(2) "A lot" is relative, mind you -- I discovered about two months ago that if I have more than two mugs of coffee in the space of about six to eight hours, I get some pretty bad heartburn. Still, I'm averaging 32-60 ounces of coffee a day, which seems like a fair amount to me.
(3) Cue about 95% of readers singing the Dennis Leary song: "We love you, you giant fucking Q!"
(4) You can go higher than this, of course, but let's face it -- the $7 bag of coffee is probably about the same quality as the K-cups I was buying, so rounding up to $10 is being generous to the K-cups.
(5) It's possible, though I think unlikely, that the bag the beans come in is approximately the same amount of plastic-and-foil as a 12-count box of K-cups, but it's certainly less than 33 K-cups.
(6) Yes, I know you can get syrups to put in plain coffee. But I'll note that adds to the cost and also note that sugar-free coffee syrup is not available in a wide variety of flavors.


Lynn said...

Well, admittedly, it does add costs, there are PLENTY of sugar free syrups out there. You do have to ship them, because you're correct in that a grocery store usually only carries hazelnut, chocolate, and vanilla.

However, you can mix the flavors with soda water for Italian Sodas, which I imagine Penny would like.

And you know I'm a coffee snob, so I'll point out that Moca and Bean There sell coffee (ground or fresh bean) for about $14 a pound... also, keep in mind that flavored beans will "taint" your filter. Particularly strong flavors will build up and then your plain coffee will taste like your mint chocolate chip or your maple nut crunch will taste like your raspberry cream.

Samantha Luck said...

I love this post. (and I LOVE my Keurig) :) Our Walmart has a Green Mountain hazelnut decaf that is pretty good. I like the convenience of the K-cups, but I can't argue with the math or the storage problems. I didn't care much for the first reusable filter I got, but then I found the ecobrew. If your current filter doesn't last, I'd recommend one of these:

Happy coffee drinking!