The First definitive no nonsense review of the EKOBrew single cup K-Cup style brewer - with thanks to Capital Iron Victoria B.C. Canada for the loan.
For those that know me, I am old school when it comes to coffee. And frugal. To a fault perhaps.
I used to have one of the best home espresso set ups for under $1500 and abandoned it for the simple joy of pouring a carafe of coffee through a simple Japanese made filter holder called a Hario. I still do. My office set-up is a pair of Newco OCS-8 and OCS-12 semi-commercial drip brewers that lead the pack for hot drip coffee done right. On stand-by are Hario ceramic filter holders and carafes and a handful of Aeropress coffee makers.
For me, that is the essence of coffee in 2015 - no muss, no fuss and no moving parts, pumps, plastics or head aches. And everything, and I mean everything, heads into my compost when I am done. My home compost is alive with some of the happiest and most awake bugs in the neighborhood in which they regularly feed from fresh coffee grounds and compostable filter papers.
The EKO Single Cup Brewer from Capital Iron and Steel Victoria
Anyway - when the opportunity came to check out something not exactly down my alley but gaining in popularity, I had to jump at it - if only for the benefit of my readers who are enthusiastic for some new content.
So, right to it. The good people at Capital Iron and Steel Victoria (perhaps one of the better kept secrets of Victoria B.C. shoppers who are coffee lovers...) have pretty much given me free run of their kitchen section - which is, I will admit, the one and only place in downtown Victoria to satisfy your coffee curiousity.
Capital Iron (as misleading a name as you can get for a department store [more a general store perhaps]) has the single largest collections of coffee goodies - for all tastes and inclinations. And because they are independent can afford the intellectual curiousity completely absent from the Big Boxes of Vancouver Island and B.C. in general. And that is good news for coffee lovers because if they don't have it, they are just as likely to order some if it appears that it might have a broader appeal.
For me, my adventure in K-Cup exploration started innocently enough when I was sent a small crate of K-Cups by a globally huge coffee roaster (who for the benefit of them and my legal expenses will remain nameless...)
Let's just say the coffee was wretched. I have tried every kind of coffee brewed every which way of every vintage from coffee I roasted 5 minutes ago to coffee that had its best before date 15 - 20 years ago! This is how I get a sense of what is on the vendors shelves and recreating any and all the circumstances that the average drinker may find themselves in.
I could hardly expect that the taste that comes from a brand new machine (filled with promise) when matched with coffee pods that were likely made when George Bush was still President could be that bad.
But they were - and it came down to the freshness of the coffee!
So this adventure lead me (on my own) to find some impeccably fresh K-Cup pods (sounds almost like an oxymoron) that would be suitable for a machine fresh out of the box.
That search led me to a coffee producer whose farm has special meaning to me.
Blue Horse Kona of Captain Cook, Hawaii were good enough to send me a box of 10 K-Cup pods, roaster fresh (with a retail value of $25 USD for 10 pods).
OK. And with that giddy introduction, on to the review and a discussion of what we found.
The product. The EKOBrew Single Cup brewer comes in a well padded box that is as much a platform for the actual refillable EKO Brew filter cup as it is for the brewer itself. The instructions are thorough and dire with all the right warnings: beware the needles that puncture the K-Cup pod, beware the hot water, use an extension cord at your peril, etc.
They are covering their hind quarters. In all fairness, the manual is well written and straightforward. The EKOBrew Single Cup brewer feels solid enough and it actually has a couple of visible security screws at the back for disassembly. (But don't even think about it! It will put you in harm's way and void the warranty!)
General Usage. The EKOBrew Single Cup brewer has a 1420 watt power plant and a 3-Bar vibration pump. The wattage alone gave me comfort that the water temperature will be sufficiently high to brew the coffee at the right temperature. I have numerous high tech temp sensors but for the purpose of this review I used my fingers to measure the brew water...
Oww, that's hot. Good.
A quick single press of the power button warms up the beast. I did not measure the heat up time but I think it was under a minute. When the power light stopped flashing, I put a cup under the brew head and ran a cycle of water through the EKOBrew Single Cup brewer. This does two things. It warms up your cup and makes sure that the "mysterious innards" of the EKOBrew Single Cup brewer are ready for action. That and it's just silly to brew hot coffee into a cold cup.
The entire operation of the K-Cup unit is all about the simplicity. Open the head by the lever, drop in a K-Cup, press to lock the head and press one of three brew buttons; short, medium or long.
Frankly I found the best tasting coffee on the "short" setting. Because here is the thing: The K-Cup only holds so much coffee and (yea I get your personal preference...) there is an ideal amount of coffee for an ideal amount of water. For me, it is quite literally whatever the K-Cup pod holder holds in terms of ground coffee multiplied by 12 to 14 times as much water.
Example: If the K-Cup pod holds 14G of ground coffee then you want to run around 190g of water through it or just under 8 fluid ounces. That is considered a nice satisfying demitasse of coffee.
Want more? Brew another pod into the same cup. Yes, I do occasionally get the "Colin, your coffee is TOO STRONG!" there is no such thing as coffee that is too strong but that is another tedious retelling of my story for another day.
Anyway - drop in a pod. Press brew button. Wait the 20+ seconds for your portion to brew. Let it drip a bit towards the end of the brew cycle or put another cup under the brew head to gather the dregs. Either way, enjoy. I have fingers made of pure asbestos so I can pop open the brew chamber and pull out a spent K-Cup pod while it's still steaming but maybe you shouldn't. If you need to brew another cup immediately, jump in. The water is not that bad.
But what does it taste like? I did a couple of side by side taste tastes with some of the most wretched anthropologist worthy K-Cup samples. These had been sitting on a shelf in my electronics lab for over a year.
On the plus side we had on hand some farm fresh samples from a source that I trust: Blue Horse Kona Coffee.
The old coffee had a flavor that I could only describe as "mystery industrial medicine" - that is, I could taste coffee but I could also taste something decidely chemical, weird and sinister - and this, as it would turn out has absolutely nothing to do with the brewer. It is what you get when you run date sensitive coffee (these are not nespresso pods after all - more on that later!) through a brewer that demands decent and fairly new ground coffee.
Anyhow - I brewed up some bad coffee and mentally recorded some people's facial expressions - I tried some myself - and yuck, it was bad. But I knew that I was brewing the sketchiest possible coffee.
Onto the good stuff. When I started popping Blue Horse Kona pods into the machine and serving them to the lab crew, the change was immediate, palpable and alarming.
This is known as the 7 stages of the new coffee experience:
1.) Sip coffee. 2.) Look in the cup 3.) Look at me 4.) Look at the brewer 5.) take another Sip 6.) Stare into space then 7.) Smile.
The overwhelming consensus was, "How is it POSSIBLE that this COFFEE came from THIS BREWER?". "This coffee is really, really good." My wife, for instance, likened the experience to sitting on the patio adjacent to the farmer's fields enjoying a freshly brewed pot of Blue Horse Kona coffee.
My opinion. Under the right conditions (and I have a few more tests to do...) - with good coffee and good water and all that other stuff, the EKOBrewer makes some very drinkable coffee when brewed following the most optimum conditions: Brew short, use good or great fresh coffee or pods and enjoy!
Environmental Bottom Line: My coffee drinking philosophy is like that of a doctor: Do no harm. Before you invest some of your time and money in a brew method that is, perhaps, at the upper end of the expense range, do some research and find out if you can effectively recycle the regular pods somewhere.
There are hundreds of K-Cups to pick from and they are going to run the gamut from interesting, predictable to (gasp) flavoured. That said, with a refillable EKO Brew pod unit (and you might want to buy several) you can use any coffee ground to your own discerning specifications and brew to your hearts content with zero guilt.
Where to buy: The EKOBrew pod and single brewer seem to be available online and in stores that care about variety - around $120
Critical caveat! If you decide to buy some of the many K-Cup pods available, do your level best to find the freshest pods available. K-Cups are not the same as Nespresso pods which are nitrogen charged during the manufacture and have a higher shelf life. K-Cups are more sensitive to freshness so do your homework and enjoy!
Post script: I did just get in a great question: (And I always field questions - and if they are good questions, I will integrate them into the permanent articles)
"Can you buy locally sourced K-Cups?" Well yes, I did. You can buy the Blue Horse Kona ones but I suspect that there is a World of K-Cups that can be found by digging deep on the internet. Additionally, with the refillable K-Cup EKOBrew filter holder, you will be spinning your own in no time.
Your coffee author, Colin Newell, has been writing about coffee and coffee culture for over 20 years. He has lived in Victoria B.C. Canada but has traveled extensively finding the best cups of java.