Given the long hours I spend editing and writing, there are a few things that I need to have available at all times: a good desktop or laptop computer, a decent camera for taking pictures, a comfortable chair, and an ever flowing source of caffeine. The refrigerator behind me takes care of my Diet Cokes, I have a canister of dark-chocolate covered coffee beans on the counter, and lately I’ve been using the Keurig Mini Plus Personal Brewer system to handle my coffee and tea requirements.
As the company explains:
· The Keurig brewing system offers a coffee house quality cup of coffee for just a fraction of the cost with the convenience of brewing instantly (in under 60 seconds).
· Each K-Cup portion pack contains just the right amount of coffee to satisfy every taste profile (and there are over 250 flavor varieties of coffee, tea, hot cocoa and ice beverages!)
· The innovative K-Cup technology offers a great cup of coffee without the mess of grinding coffee beans and loading grounds into coffee filters.
What I find attractive about this type brewing system is that it allows you to make just make one portion at a time. If you want a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, you can drop that particular flavor of K-cup into the brewer; a minute or so later you’ve got a fresh hot cup. When you need another jolt of caffeine, it’s just a minute away. I like that my next cuppa doesn’t have to be the same flavor or even the same type drink as the one I had previously (as would be the case with a traditional 4 – 12 cup coffee brewer), and it will always be fresh and hot.
Dan was telling me that he got one for his office years ago so that he could offer people whatever beverage they wanted; he says it has seen a tremendous amount of use in the past few years. Joel reviewed the Keurig Elite Brewing System a while ago, and Wayne reviewed the Ultra B 50 a few years before that; both reviews listed a few caveats, but for the most part both seemed pleased with their purchases.
When Keurig’s PR reached out to ask I would like to review the Mini Plus Brewing System, I was intrigued. Since my friend Holley and her husband Pat had just bought themselves a Platinum model for Christmas [it retails for $179.95, but they bought it on sale at Penney's for $139], I’ve been hearing about how much they love it, how convenient it is, and how much their kids like being able to make hot chocolate on their own. Add to this that Kevin’s and my six-year-old DeLonghi Magnifico needed a de-scaling maintenance that I didn’t want to take the time to do [which caused it to put out weak and pathetic cups of java], and you’ll see that I was absolutely ready for a coffee-maker review.
Knowing that I had a Keurig Mini Plus coming (and not being aware that it would come with such a varied sample pack), I went to the local Bed, Bath & Beyond store and purchased a box of the English Tea and the Caribou Coffee Holley and Pat had recommended; they were about $11 each before tax, and each had 18 K-Cups inside. Because I usually buy whole coffee beans in a 2.5 pound bag at either Sam’s or HEB, I am not used to thinking about a per cup coffee or tea charge, so paying ~61¢* per cup gave me pause. But it’s well under the $3 or $4 I would pay at a coffee shop, and I was okay with it.
[*this is the approximate cost per K-Cup before tax and without considering the cost of the brewer, I am sure that prices can vary wildly depending upon place of purchase and quantity purchased]
My Mini Plus came in bright red because of the shipping date’s proximity to Valentine’s Day; the Mini Plus is also available in black, platinum, green and yellow, but you can only find the green and yellow versions on the Keurig site.
The MINI Plus is a cute but very small brewer that’s described as “perfect for small homes, vacation homes and home offices.” At approximately 11″ tall x 7.5″ wide x 9″deep, the Mini Plus tucks under most cabinets, even those in mobile homes with compact kitchens. Best I can tell, the Mini’s entire exterior including the handle for opening the K-Cup brewing area is composed of plastic; the brewer has a bit of weight to it however, so I am guessing there are some metal internal parts.
There are very simple controls on the front of the brewer; an on/off power button, an LED display to indicate if a new K-Cup needs to be inserted or if water needs to be added, and a brew button.
The silver handle on the front opens the K-cup brewing area. The platform that the cup sits on is also a drip dray; it’s not only to catch cup overflow, it also serves to catch extra water when the fresh water reservoir on the top reservoir is overfilled. Remember that detail, and I will come back to it in a little bit.
Near the back left of the drip tray/platform is a button that pops up to indicate when the overflow needs to be emptied.
The main thing worth noting on this particular brewing system is that there is no side reservoir like the larger units have; instead, you have to add water to the top every time you want to fix a drink. This will be inconvenient for many because if the Mini Plus is sitting on a counter under a lower-hanging cabinet, it will have to be pulled out every single time you brew a drink, unless you have yours sitting out somewhere without overhead cabinetry.
You decide how big a cup you would like to brew by adding the amount of water needed to the top reservoir, corresponding it to the marked ounce disks on the left side. Bear in mind that you use the same size K-Cup for all size brews, so if you make a smaller cup it may be a stronger brew, and using more water to fill a larger cup will produce a slightly less strong brew. That makes sense, right?
The review unit came with a box of assorted K-cup flavors, so I followed the set-up procedure to make sure that the brewer was clean and ready to go …
…and I chose my first coffee flavor.
…and that is when I ran into my first snag. We did not have a single coffee mug that would properly fit under the brewer’s spout with the platform/drip tray in place.
Not a single one.
I was able to cock our mugs under the spout a bit to make them work, however this wasn’t ideal.
The good news is that the cup platform/drip tray can be removed, which will allow larger mugs to properly fit under the brewing spout.
The bad news is that the platform isn’t just there to catch overflow from a too-full cup. If you somehow manage to put too much in the fresh water reservoir on top of the brewer, or if for some reason a bit of water is left from a previous brew, that liquid has to go somewhere. If the drip tray is in place, it goes there. But if the drip tray is not in place, then it will run out the front of the Mini Plus — right onto your counter top. It seems that rather than take a chance of overflowing the mug, the Mini Plus sends any excess water straight to the drip tray, which is fine … so long as your cups fit under the brew spout properly and you can keep the platform/drip tray in place.
I had other issues in the beginning, most of which have since sorted themselves out. For instance I would insert 10 ounces of water into the brewing reservoir, but my mug wouldn’t fill 10 ounces worth — it was more like 6, with the balance going into the drip tray (or onto the counter top if I was not using the platform).
In all honesty, this frustrated me to the point that I spent the two hours necessary to properly scrub and descale the Magnifico, so that was a bonus.
In the end, I solved the brew amount and overflow problem by adding a few ounces more to the reservoir when the initial brew was finished and running them through on a new brew cycle with the same K-Cup. I had to do this routine for five or six different brew cycles before the machine and I came to an understanding about how much my cup was meant to actually hold. A month later, I can now insert 10 ounces of water and get a proper mug of tea or coffee. It also helps that I bought a slightly smaller Starbucks mug while I was in Barcelona for Mobile World Congress; this mug fits perfectly on the platform, so I can now leave the drip tray in place to catch any overflow.
So let’s get down to brass tacks. I like the fact that the Keurig system allows you to brew single cups of a variety of beverages, one after the other. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a coffee flavor that I like nearly as much as even the cheapest non-flavored freshly ground whole beans brewed in the DeLonghi we already owned. There has not yet been a K-Cup that brewed a mug of coffee with a crema on top, and it bothers me to not see it. While I understand that K-Cup coffee is ground at some previous point, and it’s then sealed tightly in the K-Cup, it just doesn’t taste as fresh as what I am used to; there is no getting around that. With that said, the teas are tasty and convenient to make, and that is what I have found myself drinking from the Keurig more than anything else. Unlike the larger machines with reservoirs, this machine is not one that older children can easily operate on their own so I don’t recommend it as a quick and easy kids’ hot chocolate source.
I’ve been assured by my friends who own Keurigs that the mechanical issues I have encountered with this brewer are specific to this design; my friends all have machines with water reservoirs on the side, and unless they overflow a cup, nothing ever goes into their overflow reservoir. The larger brewers all have buttons that my friends can press to select the size cup they’d like to brew, and other than a burnt out cup-size selection light on Holley’s three-month-old machine, there is no guesswork as to how much will brew when they start. Holley took one look at the Mini Plus when she came over and said it was cute, but it was cheaply made compared to hers. When I told her the price, she said it would make more sense just to suck it up and pay the difference to get a full-sized machine. I hate to say it, but with a difference of only $20 more to get the Elite or $50 more to get the Special Edition, she has a very good point.
The Keurig MINI Plus Brewing System is available directly from the Keurig website as well as from other online or from brick & mortar sources. Refill K-Cups can be purchased online or from brick & mortar stores.
MSRP: $99.95; comes with free ground shipping.
What I Like: Brews a hot beverage in about a minute; available in five different colors; the Mini Plus is small enough that it doesn’t take up a tremendous amount of shelf space; K-Cups come in a wide variety of beverage choices
What Needs Improvement: In order to save space, there is no water reservoir — water must be added for each cup brewed; if you remove the cup platform/drip tray, any excess from the fresh water reservoir will run out of the bottom of the machine; The K-Cup coffees I’ve tried so far do not taste as good to me as freshly ground … and for ~61¢ each, I just can’t get past that