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The K-Cup coffee conundrum, and the cost of convenience

Posted by Michael Warshaw  May 2, 2013 12:24 PM

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By Dan Basoli, economist, Abt Associates Inc.

Coffee_Keyboard.jpgAh, coffee – sweet nectar of life, without which we just can’t function. And yet, we’re practically obsessed with reducing what we spend for our daily caffeine fix. Or at least, I am. After I smashed my coffee pot carafe against the side of the kitchen sink last week – a fate I knew was inevitable – I faced a truly dreadful decision: Do I upgrade to a Keurig-style K-cup system, or stay with the more traditional, dineresque, drip-style brew system?

No doubt, the K-cup system is great, brewing a virtually instant cup ‘o Joe without the hassle of dealing with a whole pot. (Instant coffee, with its wretched taste, is out of the question). But what is this convenience going to cost me? Do I really want to spend that on a coffee maker, and what about having to buy these K-cups?

Naturally, as one in my field (economics) tends to do, I quickly determined that this question called for a spreadsheet calculator. The calculator compares the average cost-per-cup of coffee over the life of the appliance for both styles, based on your answers to a few simple questions. You can download it here: Coffee Maker Calculator.xls

It is clear that the K-cup style system generally costs more than a basic drip-style system, but as it turns out, our personal coffee drinking habits do matter when considering the trade-off between different styles of coffee makers. Are you a savvy shopper who will hunt down the best price for K-cups, or do you tend to waste a lot of coffee down the drain when using your drip-style carafe? Then a K-cup system might be an economical option. Do you rarely ever make coffee at home? Then you’ll probably find the drip-style carafe system more economical. And of course, the up-front cost for the appliance itself matters, too.

Try the calculator. See what works for you. Interestingly, I ended up going with a hybrid approach: a single-serve appliance utilizing a reusable K-cup filter. I get the convenience of quickly making a single cup at a time, while still being able to buy relatively less expensive bags of ground coffee.

Dan Basoli is an economist with Abt Associates Inc. in Cambridge, MA (

The State of Play blog, organized by MassDiGI, features posts by digital and video game industry insiders writing about creativity, innovation, research, and development in the Massachusetts digital entertainment and apps sectors. MassDiGI, based at Becker College, is a statewide center for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship, and economic development across the local games ecosystem. Follow along @Mass_DiGI.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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MassDiGI 8-24 287w872.jpgThe State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features stories by digital and video game developers and business insiders. Follow along @mass_digi.


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