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Morning coffee for $124 per pound

Sure, K-cups and other 'pod' brews are convenient. They also cost a lot more.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 13, 2013 12:02PM
Logo: Espresso machine with mug, close-up (nd61, SuperStock)About a year ago The New York Times reported on the cost of "K-cups,"  those coffee-and-filter pods that capitalize on a modern mindset: that we're in constant, desperate need of coffee yet far too busy to brew it ourselves.

Instead, you just plug in a pod and moments later get exactly one cup of your favorite joe. Faster than heading to a coffee shop, and you don't have to tip a barista. But while it may be cheaper than takeout, single-serve brew is considerably pricier than coffee by the pot or by the pound.

How much more expensive? It's hard to tell at first glance since pods are measured in grams rather than ounces. After doing the conversions on two brands -- 10-packs of Nespresso Arpeggio and 12-packs of Folgers Black Silk -- The Times provided a jaw-dropping reveal: Consumers were paying $50 to $51 per pound.

But that was last year. I redid the math and guess what? The price went up.

The 10-pack of Arpeggio currently costs $6 on the Nespresso website, making the per-pound cost $54.43 per pound. What's really surprising is that a 10-pack of Arpeggio costs $13.73 on Amazon, which translates to an astonishing $124.55 per pound.

A 12-pack of Folgers Black Silk costs $17.98 on Amazon, or $81.64 per pound. That price drops considerably if you buy a trio of 12-packs for $21.96; at that rate you'd pay $34.58 per pound, which is a lot less than the Times' 2012 price. (The reporter did not state where the coffee was purchased, incidentally.)

Trimming the price

As evidenced by the Folgers example, coffee pods are cheaper in larger quantities. That's especially true if you're a warehouse club member. When I checked the Costco website, prices for three different brands ran from 45 to 59 cents per cup.

I couldn't do the per-pound math because it isn't clear how many grams are in each K-cup. The brands noted above work out to about $1.50 per cup for Folgers and from 60 cents to $1.37 per cup for Arpeggio.

Incidentally, "K-cup" specifically means the pods produced by Keurig. But some people use the word to mean any single-serve coffee, the way "Band-Aid" has become synonymous for "adhesive bandage."

Other single-serve brewing systems exist, such as Senseo, Tassimo and Bunn. Even Starbucks, a company with a vested interest in bringing you to its stores, has gotten into the act with "Verismo," a system whose pods work out to about $1.08 to $1.49 per cup.

Another way to cut the price is to load your own pods. Consumer Reports recently rated three brands of reusable cups, based on a $10-per-pound average coffee price. The magazine concluded that the best refillable brand -- Keurig's own K-cup Adapter -- could save a cup-a-day drinker up to $195 a year.

DIY brew is much cheaper
According to the Times article, today's consumers tend to think about the cost of coffee on a per-cup rather than per-pound basis. Again, while K-cups are cheaper than some coffee shops there's simply no comparison to the kind you make yourself.

Based on that $10-a-pound Consumer Reports figure, and using brewing recommendations from the National Coffee Association, an 8-ounce cup of coffee will cost 21 to 42 cents (depending on the strength of the brew).

If yours is a proletarian palate, the savings can be even greater. Supermarket coffee can be had for $5 a pound or less, which would yield cups of mud for about 11 to 21 cents apiece.

And if you're somewhere in between? Mix the higher-octane beans 50/50 with the grocery store brand. If you find the taste suffers, experiment with the ratio until you find a frugal brew that doesn't disappoint.

While DIY brew is cheaper, our love affair with one-cup brewers shows no signs of slowing down. The NCA's 2011 survey noted that noted that 46% of respondents said they'd heard positive comments about single-serve systems, compared with 33% in 2007.

Not a green choice

Coffee pods produce a lot of waste, however. Their foil lids and inside filters are potentially recyclable with aluminum and paper products, respectively. However, the individual elements must be peeled apart and rinsed clean.

The plastic from K-cups is not recyclable. Another Keurig system, called Vue, uses plastic that can be recycled where polypropylene/#5 plastic is accepted. The company website notes this is possible in "about half of communities in the United States."

It's unlikely that K-cup recycling will ever become widespread. Some folks can't even be bothered to separate paper from cans and bottles for curbside pickup.

How many people will go to the trouble of separating the plastic cup from the foil lid and the filter material (and washing them if necessary) every time they have a cup of joe? After all, some of them are too busy to put coffee and water into a machine and press "start."

Do you buy single-serve coffee pods?

More on MSN Money:

Feb 13, 2013 2:50PM
Idiots and their coffee are almost as stupid as idiots and their cellphones.  No one knows how to sit back, relax and have a cup of fresh brewed coffed in peace and quiet anymore.
Feb 13, 2013 2:31PM
a good Mr Coffee & hole beans , $10 a pound grind fresh in the am & you will never drink anything else , just pick your brand , Eight O Clock or World Market Brand are great hole bean coffee's less than $10 a pound with lots of roasts....from the mild to wild! Oh use filtered water & your rocking
Feb 17, 2013 12:50PM

I am purchasing a furnished condo and there's a Keurig machine in the pantry. I never owned one but will only purchase a reusable cup for the novelty of it all.  I'm a tea drinker for the most part and I work out of my home, so I've never thought about owning one.  This is the "original" style and there's no place on the counter for it (what's up with the design anyhow? The thing is HUGE and only makes One Cup of coffee??!!) .  Personally I love my 4 cup coffee maker for those times I need a coffee "fix". 

Consumer waste of money.  I rank it right up there with cigarettes in terms of cost and when budgeting, neither are on my list of expenditures.  Apparently our economy is much stronger than we're led to believe if this gadget is so popular!

Feb 14, 2013 9:52PM
buy a bunn coffee maker 3 minutes and your favorite coffee. cheap 10 cups
Feb 17, 2013 4:11AM

I've had Keurig machines for five years and almost always use the refillable My K-Cups with my own freshly ground Colombian Supremo coffee beans from Costco at a cost of $5.50 per pound.  It makes me a fresh delicious cup of coffee whenever I want one with no waste.  I put the used grounds onto my shrubs.


However, I do enjoy having some of the pre-filled cups on hand for guests and for when I want de-caf coffee.  I don't use enough of de-caf to warrant letting it sit around and get stale.  I also use my Keurig machine to provide hot water for a cup of tea.

Feb 13, 2013 1:45PM
I think the K-Cup/pod machines are nice options for a place like an office break room or something like that; you can accommodate more individual tastes that way.

But I'm not paying that much.  It's crazy.  I use my electric tea kettle and a coffee press; it only takes a few more minutes, and my coffee is still fresh and I can make as much or as little as I need.
Feb 16, 2013 8:42PM
i have a Black & Decker single cup brewer i got for 10 at a KMart it is not that hard to measure out a tablespon or so for a single cup
Feb 16, 2013 3:27PM
No.  I agree with the report.  DIY.
Feb 26, 2013 6:43PM
I have always felt that keurig cups are a terrible waste of paper and resources and unbelievably expensive.  If you live alone it might make sense, but even then it's still very wasteful and expensive.  It's not that hard to make a small pot of coffee with a reusable filter, and it doesn't take any longer than the single cup. 
Feb 14, 2013 4:48PM

There's a lot of us that depend on coffee in the morning to get our day going, and some may not have as much time as others to brew, sit down, breathe, and to really enjoy a cup.  Thus, the convenience of single serve coffee brewing systems works best for individuals with a busy lifestyle, like me.  I like bold coffees, and I found the French Roast OneCups made by Rogers Family Company at my local Costco for $27.99 for an 80-count box; that's about 35 cents a cup.  It's satisfies my palate completely, and my wallet is hit too bad.  There's no plastic cup so it's more environmentally friendly, and you get the full flavors of the coffee much like a French Press brewer.  Kudos Rogers Family!

Feb 15, 2013 8:56PM
I suggest you purchase your Keurig at Costco.  Mine stopped working less than a year and only using it maybe 50 times.  Costco took it back, no questions asked.
Feb 13, 2013 1:58PM
My daughter wanted one for Christmas and I did buy her a machine.  She loves it.  Life's little enjoyments, I guess.
Feb 26, 2013 6:47PM
if you work long hours and it's hard to get up, k cups are a nice quick way to get out the door, leave little mess, and enjoy a variety of different tastes. we all waste money, so why does it really matter.
Feb 15, 2013 8:52PM
I use mine for parties and guest but it's much easier to just make a pot of coffee for me and my husband.
Feb 26, 2013 11:21PM
It's ridiculous to buy single-serve coffee pods.

Feb 26, 2013 10:37PM
I found the coffee Trader Joes carries.....amazingly great coffee. I can afford to buy any type of coffee for home that I brew every morning....a full pot for me & my wife...a pot-and-a-half on the weekend mornings. I don't mind paying a lot for coffee if its good.....will easily pay fiftteen-plus dollars for a twelve ounce bag of Starbucks. The Trader Joes' coffee is anywhere from $6 to $13/ thirteen ounces. I did a rough estimate on cost per pot...we use about eight heaping scoops of coffee for five big cups of coffee. The cost per pot is about .....Seventy five cents to maybe $1.50..per Pot!....that's about no more than 25 cents per cup.
Feb 26, 2013 9:44PM
I love my expresso machine that makes single cups from fresh ground beans every time. The initial cost is high, but the quality of the coffee and the inexpensive per cup price has made it great for our family.
Feb 26, 2013 8:00PM

I have had several styles of coffee makers, but currently have a cheapie $8.99 coffee maker from WalMart.  I hop the parking lot into the next and stop at Starbucks for Espresso, which is um,,,11.99 per pound.  For each 2 cups of filtered water I use one scoop (2T) espresso.  I can make 2 to 12 cups of coffee depending.  I have stainless steel thermos that keeps extra cups fresh enough.  I also have a cappuccino maker, and make it as often as I want.  Rather than get someone else's well intentioned brews, I get it when and how I want it.  I am not one for flavored coffee, and find some inferior when making what I/we want.  There are 5 or 6 brands that work okay for us, but we stick with what is tried and true.  i've never costed out how many cups for the pound of coffee, I just know it satisfies my likes, when others do not.  I'm happy with my cheap method of brewing. I prefer to grind my own beans, and even if I did that, and the brown paper filters, in time, I spend less than 60 seconds making the coffee, and perhaps 5 making the cappuccino. 


For the pod people, they now do make baskets for some of them, easily much cheaper than the other methods.

Sep 6, 2013 11:13AM
We use single serving K-cups. Because we rarely drink more than 1 or 2 cups per week and we like several different kinds of coffee we save time and money with K- cups. No more throwing out unused coffee and no more cleaning up coffee pots.
Feb 26, 2013 11:58PM

You think 100 bucks a pound is idiocy?  I've heard of some particular type of coffee that costs that much a "cup".   And to make it even more ridiculous (as if that isn't enough) the beans that make it are collected from the excrement (yeah, you read that right, the poo, if you will), of some kind of animal that eats them.  Ya can't make this stuff up. 


Think I'll stick to caffine free diet Mt. Dew.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.