Single Cup Brewing- Types, Benefits, and Costs

By Steve O’Brien
The greatest benefit to single cup brewing is that there is never any waste, and more importantly in my opinion, the coffee is always fresh and never over-extracted. We offer several types of single cup brewers. Each has their own advantages and disadvantages. They generally will fall into one of three categories.

The POD System
Ground Coffee is packed into a tight fitting filter bag referred to as a POD. Each POD is designed to brew one cup of coffee. In order to brew a coffee POD you will need to use a special POD Brewer. There is a wide variety of POD Brewers available. Some are automatic, meaning they are hooked up to a water line while others are Pour Over models, meaning you will need to manually fill the water reservoir. The nice thing about PODs is that in an office setting you can store many different varieties of coffee, and each person can choose the type of coffee they want. Generally speaking, this is the most economical form of single cup brewing. Although most brewers will offer a selection of cup sizes, the one thing to keep in mind is that you are using the same amount of coffee to brew both a small cup and a large cup, meaning that the large cup will be more watered down and therefore weaker than the small cup. To calculate your cost per cup, just divide the price per package of PODs by the number of PODs in the pack.

Cup Coffee
Although there are a few different systems on the market where ground coffee is sealed into a cup, probably the best known product of this type is offered by KEURIG. The containers of coffee are known as K-Cups, and they offer a wide range of coffee choices. K-Cups are little plastic cups that have a filter built into them and inside the filter is a portion of ground coffee. Each cup is then sealed with a foil lid. When a K-Cup is placed into a brewer and the brewing process started, the foil lid is punctured by a hollow tube through which hot water flows. Simultaneously the bottom of the plastic cup is punctured and the brewed coffee is able to flow through into the person’s cup. A nice benefit is that the coffee is always fresh because it is stored in a sealed package until you brew it. Like the POD system, in an office setting, many different choices of coffee are available. Also similar to the POD system is the fact that same amount of coffee is used to brew both a small cup and a large cup, so the large cup will be more watered down and therefore weaker than the small cup. Although there are now competitors to Keurig in the market place offering different cups, in general, this is the most expensive single cup serving option. To calculate your cost per cup, just divide the price per package of K-Cups by the number of K-Cups in the pack.

Gourmet Single Cup Coffee Machines
At the top end of the single cup brewing systems are the Gourmet Single Cup coffee brewers. These are fully automatic brewers where you select the beverage you want by either pushing a button or touch screen. In general you will be limited to 1 to 4 varieties of coffee as opposed to the POD or K-Cup systems that offer many varieties. However, with the  Gourmet Single Cup brewers you usually will have a choice of hot cocoa or flavored cappuccino, and with some systems you are able to mix the coffee with the flavors. Some of the machines will dispense pre-ground coffee into the brewing chamber for your beverage to be prepared while others have a built in coffee grinders,  These are the Bean to Cup brewers. With these, your cup of coffee will be freshly ground. Unlike the POD or Cup systems, the strength of the brewed coffee will remain uniform regardless of the size of cup because the machine knows to use more coffee for a larger cup. With the Starbucks I-Cup machine, we are unable to adjust how much coffee is used to brew each ounce of brewed coffee, but on others we can make that adjustment. For this reason it is impossible to accurately compare the cost per cup brewed in a Gourmet Single Cup brewer to other single cup options, but in general your cost per cup will be lower than your cost for a K-Cup, but higher than using PODS.

As long as you establish a good system of keeping these machines clean, they are very reliable. The routine daily cleaning process takes only a few minutes a day and basically just takes putting the machine through an automated rinsing cycle. In addition, every time we make a coffee delivery, our representative will clean the machine from top to bottom. Then, every 3 months, our service tech will perform what we call a “Deep Clean” where we will exchange the brew group and restore the machine to “Like New” condition. By employing this preventive service, we keep emergency service calls to a minimum. These  Gourmet Single Cup machines are quite expensive, costing thousands of dollars. Coupled with the expense we incur to keep them operating problem free, we reserve placing these machines to only high volume locations. To calculate your cost per cup, just divide the price of a pound of coffee by the number of cups you will get out of that pound of coffee. Depending on how your brewer is calibrated, this should range between 28 and 40 cups per pound.

Cost – Single Cup Brewing vs. Decanter or Airpot Brewing
One truth about single cup coffee brewing, regardless of what brand of coffee or what brand of coffee brewer you are using, is that you need to use more coffee to make a good cup of brewed coffee than it would take if you were brewing into a glass pot or an airpot. The reason is that when brewing a single cup of coffee, you don’t have the steeping time that you do when you brew a full pot. No one wants to wait for even 60 seconds for their cup of coffee to be ready. The answer is to use more coffee and brew faster.
Starbucks is very particular about maintaining the quality of their product, and they want the cup of coffee that is consumed in the office place to replicate the cup of coffee you would purchase at one of their stores. The amount of coffee used to brew a cup of coffee when brewing coffee in a Starbucks I-Cup brewer is hard wired into the machine. For this reason I will use the I-Cup for the comparison. You will use 2 grams of coffee to brew each fluid ounce of coffee. What this means is that when you prepare an 8 ounce cup of coffee, you will have used 16 grams of coffee. Given that there are 454 grams of coffee in a pound, this means that one pound of coffee in an I-Cup will yield 28 cups of coffee containing 8 fluid ounces. In order to achieve the same flavor, Starbucks has determined that you would have to use 2 ½ ounces of coffee to brew a 64 fluid ounce decanter of coffee. In so doing you will get 6.4 pots from each pound of coffee. Each pot will contain 8 eight ounce cups of coffee, times the 6.4 pots you will get out of each pound, or 51 cups of coffee.