Why not single serve coffees? Here’s why!

Single serving

Coffee is not always something I’m willing to wait for.

Sure, on the weekends I’m happy take my sweet time brewing up a nice a cup at home, or meander out to a local café and wait for the good stuff. But that patient, relaxed weekend morning demeanor just doesn’t seem to transfer to my weekdays.

So believe me when I say that I do understand, on the one hand, why single-cup, pre-packaged ground coffees have exploded with such popularity in the last couple of years. I may have even gotten through a few days at previous workplaces on this type of brew before my days at Ethical Bean. On the other hand, by scratching the surface a little we can really see that the trade-offs made for convenience simply compromise too much.

Every once in a while we’ll get inquiries about an Ethical Bean option for the single serve machines. Truth be told the single-cup servings may win for convenience, but continue reading below to hear why we think we – and you- can do a little more to get a way better (and tastier, cheaper, with a smaller footprint) cup of coffee.

The environmental trade-off

The highest criticism of the single-cup coffee makers is the waste they create with every cup. The majority of consumers are using the small, non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic cups that end up directly into the trashcan, and then into the landfill. Having taken a lot of flack for this, research and development is now going into creating a more environmentally responsible version of the cup. Unfortunately their attempt to create a reusable option to fill with your own preferred coffee, well, continue below for more on that.

Reusable options

After I started working for a coffee company and began chatting with friends about some bad-office-coffee norms, I began researching the reusable cup options to brew (what I hoped could be) a better cup of coffee with higher quality grounds. Unfortunately this plan didn’t get very far at all, as review after review I found spoke of grounds in the coffee, counter, and a general mess that did not come with a better tasting cup. A big kudos to those who have made reusable cups work for them and are enjoying better coffee because of them. However if you still find yourself yearning for a sharper coffee, read on.

Taste and freshness suffer every time

Mass produced, pre-ground coffee stored in heavily heat-resistant plastic for goodness-knows how long can lack in terms of taste and freshness (surprising, I know). As strong advocates of using fresh green beans, roasting small batches frequently, and then encouraging high turnover of beans on your kitchen counter, it’s hard to imagine how Ethical Bean could ensure good taste and consistent freshness with the limitations of a plastic cup.


Despite all of the above, you never really know until you try, right? So that’s exactly what happened in our quality assurance lab. Armed with a single-cup brewer and a reusable cup, our Director of Coffee tried to get a decent cup out of the machine. Instead, he found that over and over – regardless of blend, grind, or the type of reusable cup – a good extraction was next to impossible. A piping hot torpedo of water would come shooting through the cup, leaving untouched, dry grounds in its wake. Conclusion? Cease and desist.


Time and again, those looking into the cost efficiency of single disposable cups have found it the most expensive way to brew coffee. Second only to visiting a café every time you need a cup, single serving cups have been found to cost the equivalent of over $50/pound. Really what we’re talking about here is the TV dinner of coffee. So it depends on how you spin it. If it’s the single serve cup versus a café experience? Sure, you’ll save some cash. However when compared to every single other way of brewing coffee (all of which can brew a better cup), its cost begins to skyrocket.

At the end of it all, the single serve loses when it comes to environmental responsibility, quality of cup, taste, freshness, and value. Now I understand that when you need that caffeine in your system – you really need it, but c’mon! The fact is that you – yes you! – can have fresher, tastier, higher quality and cheaper coffee if you can find a way to make any other brewing system that exists work for you (and if you need it, we can help you with that).

6 Responses to Why not single serve coffees? Here’s why!

  1. Great article, although I’m not sure I am convinced that the reusable cup option isn’t a good one! I can use YOUR AMAZING BEANS in that reusable cup and brew a great and FAST cup of coffee. But, that is just me 😉 I totally understand why you don’t want to sell individual cups of your brand b/c it will take away from the freshness factor, but I’m still loving my machine and the ability to brew one cup at a time!

    • Marianne Pemberton says:

      There’s no doubt that it’s super convenient, and fast! I’m glad that you’ve found a workable solution to get fresh coffee into the convenient brew 🙂 Did you have any of the problems with grinds, mess, and splashing that I read about online?

  2. Stacy Phillips says:

    I have an awesome solution, I use a single-serve pour-over ceramic device that I put a mini #1 filter into and pour just-boiled spring water over. In about 1 minute I’ve got a FRESH cup of coffee made from freshly ground fresh beans. Fresh. Did I say fresh?

    • Marianne Pemberton says:

      That. sounds. amazing. Is that how you make your morning brew? 1 minute even sounds comparable to those convenient single cup machines. Great suggestion!

  3. Josan says:

    I rather drink it in my own cup than a plastic cap. I enjoy frappe in a plastic one, but definitely with the hot coffee.
    I love you bean too:)

    Josan from matelas futon 

  4. eric says:

    It depends on the single serving machine you use. The one I use, has the paper coffee pods — which are like round like tea bags.
    Those paper pods are compost-able and more environmentally friendly then the plastic cup type machines. The only issue maybe the air sealed pouch they are packaged in. But they also seem a bit less expensive then the plastic cups to buy.
    Sure it’s still more expensive then brewing a pot, but if you restrict going to cafe’s and use the machine. You pay at least 1/3 the price per cup and get the same great coffee shop taste.

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