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John's World: Insanely Expensive Coffee, Anyone?

02:34AM Jan 07, 2013
John Phipps

There are still several coffee drinkers left in rural America, although they are rapidly being replaced by Mountain Dew and Diet Coke imbibers, even in the cold, gray light of morning. I’ve given up trying to appreciate this trend, but I hold it up as powerful evidence of caffeine addiction in this country.

The traditional hospitality offering of a "warm beverage," as often pointed out by The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, strikes a note of gracious conviviality. The trouble is, brewing a cup of coffee to offer a guest—let alone to drink yourself—has become a hassle in comparison to other kitchen efforts.

Take Hot Pockets, for example. Despite widespread doubt about whether these delicacies should even be classified as food, there is no dispute about their speed of preparation. Americans have shown time and again that it’s about what we want now—not what we’ll regret consuming later. (And you will, trust me.)

Finally, I can have at least one thing around the house just the way I like it

As we have become more accustomed to unnatural foodlike substances with an average cross-sectional temperature in the "edible" range—cold inside, blistering hot on the surface—our tolerance for delivery times measured in minutes instead of seconds and requiring even minimal kitchen skills has dwindled.

Enter the Keurig. While the professional journalist in me knows to avoid brand names, let’s face it—Keurig is the Kleenex of single-cup coffeemakers. The stunning simplicity of this machine is matched only by its users. I can even refill the water reservoir on ours (if I have to). Thanks to the Keurig’s cunning ingenuity, the number of people who can now make a decent cup of coffee at home has significantly jumped.

For me, it has been a game changer. Finally, in my autumn years, I can have at least one thing around the house just the way that I like it. To my recollection, this has never happened before. All I have to do is choose my favorite flavor—blueberry half-caff, just like truckers drink—pop in the little cup and push the button.

I should mention that it works better if you place your mug under the outlet first, but you catch on to that pretty quick. And if you want more, just lather, rinse, repeat.

Better at home. Consumers who no longer flinch at forking more than $6 for an exotic tank-mix at Starbucks are easily led to the conclusion that buying individual Keurig "K-Cups" isn’t such a bad deal. That’s because few of them can do long division anymore.

In a moment of bad judgment, I ciphered out what my morning cup of Joseph costs: 70¢. Oddly, this is about the same expense as brewing an entire pot, drinking two cups and throwing the rest out the next morning. And way less than buying a new coffeemaker after it boils dry in the afternoon. (I’ve done that a few times.)

An unadvertised bonus of K-Cups is that they are the perfect size for cross-kitchen wastebasket-tossing contests. And of course, the Wi-Fi is free at my house.

In addition, you never have to drink bottom-of-the-carafe, extra-hearty slurry, or have to forgo imbibing altogether because taking the dregs entails a guilt trip to make the next pot. No need to pretend to wash out the coffee pot, either.

But wait—there’s more! No arguments are provoked among shared users about what kind of  coffee to stock or how many scoops to use per pot. No wonder our social compromising skills continue to atrophy. Coffee group members can now all be alone together.

When unexpected company comes, we can offer gracious hospitality in the form of the traditional warm beverage. From hot chocolate to chai latte (no idea) to Sumatran Extra Bold, you can accommodate a global range of tastes with almost no effort other than inventory management. It’s like Martha Stewart marrying Old MacDonald.

The real importance of the Keurig is how this approach to self-centered, on-demand, maximum-choice food consumption could be extended to other parts of our diet. I need not point out how the world is crying out for single-serving (about 20) fresh cookie machines. Or the most obvious adaptation of all: the single-serve draft beer machine.

John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report." Visit for station listings. To view past columns, visit or