I saw this post a little while ago from James Hoffman, a coffee professional, about technology in coffee.
He basically is lamenting on how coffee for the most part is incremental innovation, think of Mr Coffee machines that start brewing at 200 degrees and stay there until it's done brewing for incremental. As oppose to something that changes the way most people brew their coffee, once again think of the shift from people using percolators to using auto-drip machines like Mr Coffee.
I found the second to last paragraph of his post to be the one where you can really hang your hat on;
"It is more depressing to think that a more obvious disruptive innovation is the whole single serve thing. It is easy to point out the flaws – it doesn’t taste amazing, it is expensive. It is proving that this stuff doesn’t really matter to the market. Maybe we’re going to continue to ignore it, while it may slowly make what we do increasingly obsolete. No one is going to argue that vinyl doesn’t sound better, but it doesn’t do much to change the fact that this matter less and less to people, and technology is catching up all the time."
I think he hits the head on the nail here with k-cups/pods. They are changing the way people drink coffee from a loose item to a more packaged convience good. It doesn't take a genious to see some parallels between these pods and something like Mr Coffee.
Both of these machines made coffee easier for people to make at home and at the same time better. For someone that is switching over from a drip pot to a k-cup there is no telling how much coffee they had been using relative to their water amounts. A k-cup gives over control of that variable to the manufacturer, they can now say that x number of grams of coffee is going to make a good cup in (amount of water), and it will every time.
Sure there are k-cup machines that can allow you to change the volume of water, but really it's small compared to what I am sure some people use on their drip machines. Have you ever tried to strech out that last little bit of coffee on hand into two pots and ended up with two pots of hot water with a hint of coffee? I am know I am guilty of that, now with a k-cup it's controlled.
Another thing that I think specialty coffee people fail to realize is there tends to be a lot of waste for a good portion of people with a pot of coffee. You make a pot of coffee, and you are stuck with 8 to 12 cups depending on your machine. Now that price per cup is cheap, but you still end up with a good portion of waste because it gets cold or you leave the house. That doesn't happen with k-cups.
The waste part plays a factor because there are people out there that think that k-cups are showing that people are willing to pay more for coffee. I think that is false, I think people are seeing that I only drink two cups in the morning and my k-cup tastes better than my drip coffee and really isn't that much more expensive than buying a bag of coffee that last the same amount of time.
What I believe specialty coffee should be looking at is, does putting freshly ground coffee directly into a k-cup compromise taste? Another poster here on roaste in a very informal taste test found that his ground coffee the night before sealed up right after grinding was still good in the morning. I think this should at least be explored by roasters to see if this could work for them in a prepackaged k-cup. Even freshly popped Illy beans taste good and exhibt fresh coffee flavor, why not a freshly pack k-cup?
I think that having k-cups from larger independent roasters like Klatch could prove interesting. To me it's pretty brilliant, it allows roasters to have control over the cup of coffee. Klatch cannot go into your home every morning and make you a cup of their house blend and grind it with their nice shop grinder to get that perfect grind and make sure you use just the right amount of water. BUT with a k-cup they could.
Imagine a roaster giving you the perfect amount of coffee per cup measured out easily for you, no waste. I think it might have the posibility of actually helping speciality coffee if they could put a little bit of their egos aside and see how this works. I think ignoring this trend could limit the impact of specialty coffee, i.e. have it peak out where we are right now.