Coffee snobbery

I start each day with a cup of coffee. I have done so since I became a teenager because children drinking coffee was not as uncommon in Sri Lanka as it is in the US. While I like coffee, I don’t drink a lot, with at most one other cup during the day, usually in the afternoon, with an after dinner cup of tea. But despite my fondness for the beverage, I am definitely not a coffee connoisseur. I drink instant coffee and add milk and sugar to it, a practice that is scorned by the purists.

But coffee aficionados can bring to their beverage some of the same zeal that one finds with wine drinkers, describing it with the same level of loving detail that is baffling to me. When I am traveling and go to a coffee shop for my morning fix, I am usually bewildered by the array of choices that are presented to me. I meekly ask the barista to give me a small regular coffee and they usually pick something suitable for me.

But now I read about an even more micro-level of personalizing coffee called ‘single cup brewing’ that requires a special coffeemaker and is becoming the craze, even though it is more expensive than even so-called artisanal coffees and generates an enormous amount of packaging waste.

For the unfamiliar, single-cup coffee comes in individual portions, encased in plastic capsules or packets that you put in a special coffeemaker to brew one cup at a time.

The coffee comes sealed in pods and pouches, shelf-stable until it’s plucked from the cupboard and popped into a machine that coaxes a personal cup from it in seconds. Afterward, the spent capsule gets tossed in the trash. No preparation. No cleanup.

However, this convenience has a dark side: “It creates a huge amount of waste. In fact, it’s already producing hundreds of millions of pounds of unrecyclable trash for the nation’s landfills each year.” Others have said that it in addition it produces terrible coffee.

In his book The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, Blue Bottle founder James Freeman railed against single-serve coffee. In a passage dubbed “A Special Place in Hell: Pod Coffee,” he blasted producers for hijacking the trappings of excellence while delivering a craft-less cup. “Pod coffee is bad and wrong,” he wrote. “[I]t teases people into an industrially produced product masquerading as handcrafted.” After figuring out the brewing ratios and extraction times of two popular pod brewers, he concluded that it’s simply impossible for them to make a truly tasty beverage.

I think I will stay out of this debate because my views about coffee are similar to that of David Mitchell (starting at about the 2:20 mark).