Why does my instant coffee overflow?

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Liam
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Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Liam » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:31 pm

I have one shot of instant coffee each morning. I fill the cup to the half point, bring to a boil in the microwave. then add one teaspoon of coffee crystals.

Usually, the crystals foam up a little, then subside. Sometimes, however, foam and liquid violently overflow the cup, then onto the counter.

The question is: why does this happen sometimes and not others? Surface tension? Smaller particle size (from the bottom of the jar, say)? Geometry of the cup/mug?

Your thoughts?

Thx.

Sam I Am
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Sam I Am » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:33 pm

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by SPG8 » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:37 pm

Escaping O2?

Bubbling may vary during heating leading to different results or different nucleation from different cups?

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papiper
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by papiper » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:40 pm

It is caused by a phenomenon known as super heating. It can occur anytime water is heated in a very still status and will particularly occur if the vessel that the water is heated in is new, or when heating a small amount of water (less than half a cup).

What happens is that the water heats faster than the vapor bubbles can form. If the cup is very new then it is unlikely to have small surface scratches inside it that provide a place for the bubbles to form. As the bubbles cannot form and release some of the heat has built up, the liquid does not boil, and the liquid continues to heat up well past its boiling point.

What then usually happens is that the liquid is bumped or material is added like coffee crystals, the superhot water finds bubble initiation spots the bubbles to rapidly form and expel the hot liquid.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Sam I Am » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:43 pm

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by nisiprius » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:44 pm

I would guess that you on the borderline of superheating some of the water in the cup; that is, heating it above the boiling point.

I know you say it is "boiling," but possibly it is boiling in one place, perhaps at the edge and near the top where there's a little crack in the glaze of the cup or something, and perhaps the stirring action of the boiling isn't enough to equalize the temperature, and there is a glob of water, perhaps near the center and near the bottom, that is heated to above boiling point, and flashes into steam when the instant coffee crystals give it just a nudge to help with the phase change.

Very likely, even if you are using exactly the same time on the microwave, you are not filling the cup with exactly the same amount.

I would add that this presents a scalding hazard, and you might consider cutting back on the heating time.
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by SPG8 » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:46 pm

Sam I Am wrote:
Any easy solution?

Sam I am
Throw some grains of something in there (boiling beads), a few oatmeal flakes maybe, or scratch up the bottom of bowl/cup.
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papiper
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by papiper » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:48 pm

there are two situations -

the clean water boiling over when you add stuff - in which case try to add a small amount of the coffee before you start - you are making the water "dirty" so bubbles can form.

The second is the oatmeal - usually it's because the oatmeal floats and starts to hold small bubbles back until they "blow" through - along with oatmeal. Use a larger bowl so it can blurp without going over.

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neurosphere
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by neurosphere » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:50 pm

One site on the web suggests putting a wooden coffee stirrer in the water while in the microwave. This will serve as a site to stimulate boiling and mixing while in the microwave. Also, another site mentioned that ceramic mugs are more prone to superheating than pure glass or other surfaces.
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by papiper » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:51 pm

Now the one I wish I knew the answer too - I microwave eggs sometimes with the yolks unbroken. Sometimes it's fine - other times they "blow up" using the same cooking time. I cover them with a paper towel and just hope it works.

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Crystal Ball
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Crystal Ball » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:54 pm

It is dangerous to boil water in a cup in the microwave. As you have seen, it behaves unpredictably.

Use a larger vessel to boil the water. Put the coffee (or oatmeal) into the cup (or bowl) and then pour the hot water into it.

I think boiling water in a small pot on the stove is just as quick and safer.

If you are going to boil in the microwave, get an Orca mitt. http://www.amazon.com/Mastrad-Orka-Plus ... B004Z7636Y

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by nisiprius » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:54 pm

I run into this problem with cocoa; we have two different coffee cup sizes, one is about 8 oz. and one is about 10. I customarily make my cocoa in the big cups, and use the right time for that. Once in a while, I foolishly forget and make it in a small cup, and along about the end of the heating time I hear the dull "thud" that tells me that when I open the door I am going to see about 1/3 of a cup of cocoa, and cocoa vomit all over the turntable, under the turntable, and generally spread around the interior of the microwave.

We have a couple of these:
Image

You will find many varieties under the name "microwave cover." These collapse flat, like an opera hat, and then expand to form a cover. It really, really, really cuts down on how dirty the microwave gets.
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Default User BR » Tue Jul 09, 2013 2:55 pm

You're super-heating the water. From Wikipedia:
Superheating can occur when an undisturbed container of water is heated in a microwave oven. When the container is removed, the water still appears to be below the boiling point. However, once the water is disturbed, some of it violently flashes to steam, spraying boiling water out of the container.[3] The boiling can be triggered by jostling the cup, inserting a stirring device, or adding a substance like instant coffee or sugar. The chances of superheating are greater with smooth containers, because scratches or chips can house small pockets of air, which serve as nucleation points. Chances of superheating can increase with repeated heating and cooling cycles of an undisturbed container, like when a forgotten coffee cup is re-heated without being removed from a microwave oven. This is due to heating cycles progressively de-gassing the liquid. There are ways to prevent superheating in a microwave oven, such as putting a popsicle stick in the glass or using a scratched container.
I heat up water for tea. Along the lines of what they say, I found that if I start with water from the pot of hot water they keep and heat that up in the microwave further, it will boil over much more than if I start with tap water.


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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Rodc » Tue Jul 09, 2013 3:05 pm

The solution is easy. Use dirty dishes. :)
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by PaddyMac » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:00 pm

I don't understand boiling water in a microwave, especially for tea (so I assume coffee is the same). The water gets too hot, and then you can taste the burnt tea bag.

Do yourself a favor and try an electric automatic kettle; these turn off when the water boils at the right temperature.
http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kitc ... hen/289753

For some reason these seem to be news to my American friends, even though us Euros have been using them for decades now. (Bed, Bath and Beyond carry a few styles, if you have one of their 20% off coupons in the Sunday paper.)

Another great use for kettles is to make pasta quickly when you're hungry and impatient(!): Put only an inch or so of water in a saucepan on the stove while you boil a full kettle. The two will boil at the same time and then you pour the boiling water from the kettle into the saucepan; then add the pasta. Shaves 5-10 mins off getting dinner ready.

2retire
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by 2retire » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:34 pm

papiper wrote:Now the one I wish I knew the answer too - I microwave eggs sometimes with the yolks unbroken. Sometimes it's fine - other times they "blow up" using the same cooking time. I cover them with a paper towel and just hope it works.
Because the egg yolk is inside a sack. As it heats, it expands. If it tries to expand too far the sack will explode. That is why the instructions that come with microwaves clearly state not to cook eggs in them (unless you beat/puncture the yolk).

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Default User BR » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:35 pm

PaddyMac wrote:Do yourself a favor and try an electric automatic kettle; these turn off when the water boils at the right temperature.
No, thanks. My one cup of green per day is fine without adding hardware. I'm not even sure those are "legal" to have at our desks. They have serious restrictions on electric appliances.


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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by BrandonBogle » Tue Jul 09, 2013 4:37 pm

PaddyMac wrote:I don't understand boiling water in a microwave, especially for tea (so I assume coffee is the same). The water gets too hot, and then you can taste the burnt tea bag.

Do yourself a favor and try an electric automatic kettle; these turn off when the water boils at the right temperature.
http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kitc ... hen/289753

For some reason these seem to be news to my American friends, even though us Euros have been using them for decades now. (Bed, Bath and Beyond carry a few styles, if you have one of their 20% off coupons in the Sunday paper.)

Another great use for kettles is to make pasta quickly when you're hungry and impatient(!): Put only an inch or so of water in a saucepan on the stove while you boil a full kettle. The two will boil at the same time and then you pour the boiling water from the kettle into the saucepan; then add the pasta. Shaves 5-10 mins off getting dinner ready.
Lol. I've used an electric kettle for about a decade now and love it! And incidentally, I've done that exact process for paste and ready-made soup from a bag!

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by dickenjb » Tue Jul 09, 2013 5:15 pm

Superheating + nucleation = boiling over. Sometimes explosively.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by nisiprius » Tue Jul 09, 2013 5:38 pm

I think we need to get into something truly ridiculous: optimizing the preparation of instant coffee. A friend of my parents refused to deal with anything but instant coffee, and she made really excellent instant coffee--it actually reached the level of "perfectly OK." She said that the secret was that she made it in a pot and that she gave it plenty of time to dissolve and reconstitute before serving. Of course, that somewhat defeats the, is "instantaneity" a word?

I once decided to test the hypothesis that a perfectly clean coffeepot is essential to making good coffee. I made two pots of coffee, one in a dirty carafe that a many-day-old deposit of oily coffee scum on it, and one in a clean carafe, and had my wife administer a blind taste test. I could not tell the difference. I don't think I'm clinically deficient in the taste-and-smell department. I would love to find out whether anyone has done this more serious, for real. My theory is that oil and water don't mix, and that if coffee could dissolve and pick up the taste of oily coffee sum, it wouldn't form deposits in coffeepots or cups. The fact that they form strongly suggests that the fresh coffee isn't dissolving them.
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by ryuns » Tue Jul 09, 2013 6:18 pm

Does instant coffee need fully boiling water to dissolve? The fancier Starbucks stuff seems to handle just regular old hot water pretty well. You could also give in your inner snob and get a French press or an Aeropress (which are super awesome).
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by TomatoTomahto » Tue Jul 09, 2013 6:20 pm

I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time.
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Mudpuppy » Tue Jul 09, 2013 8:59 pm

Potential solutions (you can decide if these are easy or not):

1) Heat the water for less time to minimize overheating
2) Let the water sit for a minute or two to allow gasses to escape and the water to cool slightly
3) Heat the water in a large microwave safe measuring cup (tends to be wider and shallower than a coffee mug, give a better surface area to volume ratio) and then pour into the coffee mug

This is a burn hazard, a pretty serious one at that, because just the process of removing the cup from the microwave can cause the gasses to escape, which means super-hot water has now blurped over the cup onto your hand.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Mudpuppy » Tue Jul 09, 2013 9:06 pm

Default User BR wrote:
PaddyMac wrote:Do yourself a favor and try an electric automatic kettle; these turn off when the water boils at the right temperature.
No, thanks. My one cup of green per day is fine without adding hardware. I'm not even sure those are "legal" to have at our desks. They have serious restrictions on electric appliances.
Our fire safety rules require all kettles, microwaves, fridges, toasters, etc. be plugged directly into the wall (no power strips or extension cords) and be installed on flat, stable, clear surfaces not near any paperwork or other flammable materials. So that pretty much rules out having it at one's desk, although some people have successfully argued that the top of their 3-shelf bookcase qualifies as a flat, stable, clear surface. We don't all have bookcases near wall outlets though, so a couple of us chipped in to put a microwave, fridge, coffee maker, and electric kettle down in the break room.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by ourbrooks » Tue Jul 09, 2013 9:19 pm

ryuns wrote:Does instant coffee need fully boiling water to dissolve? The fancier Starbucks stuff seems to handle just regular old hot water pretty well. You could also give in your inner snob and get a French press or an Aeropress (which are super awesome).
In fact, I've used instant coffee to make iced coffee by dissovling it with room temperature water and lots of stirring.

Even for hot coffee, I like it at a relatively low temperature and hate to wait until it cools off. If I put the instant coffee into room temperature water, stir a bit to prevent clumping, and then heat it to my desired drinking temperature and stir a bit more, I get to drink my coffee sooner and I never have boil over problems, because I'm never heating the water anywhere near boiling.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Mudpuppy » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:15 pm

papiper wrote:The second is the oatmeal - usually it's because the oatmeal floats and starts to hold small bubbles back until they "blow" through - along with oatmeal. Use a larger bowl so it can blurp without going over.
Almost forgot about this. Besides using a wide bowl, another trick is to heat 30 seconds, stir, repeat. This also helps to avoid the "oatmeal skin" that can form on the top of microwaved oatmeal when the stuff that bubbled up to the top gets partially rubberized.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Epsilon Delta » Wed Jul 10, 2013 12:52 pm

PaddyMac wrote: For some reason these seem to be news to my American friends, even though us Euros have been using them for decades now. (Bed, Bath and Beyond carry a few styles, if you have one of their 20% off coupons in the Sunday paper.)
The mains voltage makes a difference. Euro mains is 230V while US mains is 120V. In practice this means the US kettle takes over twice as long to boil a quantity of water. A US electric kettle is noticeably slower than using the stove top (which has 240V 40A available). Thus a US electric kettle loses some convenience.

Also there were a few years when almost all the electric kettles vanished from the US market. The came back a few years later with a different design -- they "plugged into" a baseplate of some kind instead of directly into a cord with a female plug. I think somebody noticed that the common practice of unplugging the cord at the kettle end left a live plug dangling near the sink and passed a regulation against that design. It took a few years for the manufactures to catch up.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Default User BR » Wed Jul 10, 2013 3:51 pm

Epsilon Delta wrote:The mains voltage makes a difference. Euro mains is 230V while US mains is 120V. In practice this means the US kettle takes over twice as long to boil a quantity of water.
Eh? It's not the voltage, it's the power. While power is dependent upon voltage for a circuit, it's only one component, the other being the circuit resistance. And it doesn't scale linearly, as power is proportional to square of the voltage. If you ran an American resistive heater at 230V, it would provide 4X the power, assuming you didn't burn it out by running twice the current through it.

If you have a 500W US heater and a 500W British heater, they should perform about the same.


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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by nordsteve » Wed Jul 10, 2013 7:23 pm

I had the oatmeal boiling over problem and fixed it through three change:

1. Stir in flakes prior to microwaving.
2. Use a turntable (http://www.amazon.com/Nordic-Ware-MIcro ... o+go+round)
3. Use a bigger bowl

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by nisiprius » Wed Jul 10, 2013 7:40 pm

And it drive me bananas that nobody has told the microwave companies about kilojoules.

Given that microwaves vary hugely in power output, and offer multiple power levels, instead of those silly and inaccurate tables, with gaps in them, saying that if your wattage is in a certain range you should try cooking within a certain range of minutes, why can't they just say "cook with 300 kilojoules" (and allow you to enter kilojoule values on the keypad?)

If "kilojoules" seems too nerdish, they could give them a spiffy name like "Waverleys" or "Cookies" or "Cups of heat." Heck, they can call them calories or BTUs for all I care. But specify it in terms of energy, not time.
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by dickenjb » Wed Jul 10, 2013 8:55 pm

TomatoTomahto wrote:I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time.
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LMAO

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Default User BR » Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:54 am

nisiprius wrote:If "kilojoules" seems too nerdish, they could give them a spiffy name like "Waverleys" or "Cookies" or "Cups of heat." Heck, they can call them calories or BTUs for all I care. But specify it in terms of energy, not time.
How about horsepower-hours?


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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by englishgirl » Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:57 am

nisiprius wrote:I think we need to get into something truly ridiculous: optimizing the preparation of instant coffee. A friend of my parents refused to deal with anything but instant coffee, and she made really excellent instant coffee--it actually reached the level of "perfectly OK." She said that the secret was that she made it in a pot and that she gave it plenty of time to dissolve and reconstitute before serving. Of course, that somewhat defeats the, is "instantaneity" a word?
My grandparents used to make really good instant coffee. They would make it in a pan using boiling milk. Again, defeating the point of instant coffee, I believe, but quite delicious, although I suppose they didn't have to bother with making a pot of coffee AND heating the milk separately.
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by MnD » Thu Jul 11, 2013 12:23 pm

PaddyMac wrote: Do yourself a favor and try an electric automatic kettle; these turn off when the water boils at the right temperature.
http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kitc ... hen/289753

For some reason these seem to be news to my American friends, even though us Euros have been using them for decades now.
They work much faster on 230V line power which is the household standard in Europe, Australia and many other countries outside the US and Canada.
You can't just double the amperage on 110V versions since that would trip the breakers on a lot of typical household circuits, so they are derated versus European versions.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by ML 59 » Thu Jul 11, 2013 12:27 pm

I had forgotten that they still even make instant coffee. :happy

Life is just too short not to truly enjoy that first cup in the morning. Keurig will make your life more complete. :D

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by Mudpuppy » Thu Jul 11, 2013 12:48 pm

ML 59 wrote:I had forgotten that they still even make instant coffee. :happy

Life is just too short not to truly enjoy that first cup in the morning. Keurig will make your life more complete. :D
Isn't Keurig just liquid instant coffee instead of dry instant coffee?

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by SHB » Thu Jul 11, 2013 3:07 pm

Nope K cups are filled with finely ground coffee that is basically filter brewed.

Not liquid and not instant.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by nisiprius » Thu Jul 11, 2013 3:31 pm

Keurig K-cups have insanely high unit cost compared to loose coffee. Not just a little more expensive, a heck of a lot more expensive.

Google is telling me that a "case" of 72 K-cups of "normal" cheap coffee--Folger's Classic Roast, to be precise-- costs $56, or $0.75/cup. The way I happen to make Folger's, with the size of cup I call a "cup," I use 4 measures to make 4 cups, and a measure holds 10 grams, so a 961-gram 33.9 oz tub makes 96 cups. (The label says 270 but never mind). And the price of the tub is, let's say $9.60.

So it's a dime a cup with loose coffee versus $0.75/cup for K-cups. I mean, even if you frugally set your Keurig to the largest cup size and brew it into a pitcher and then pour two tiny cups from the pitcher (does anyone do that?) it's still a lot more expensive.

Please feel free to do your own math on your own coffee the way you make it. I don't think there's any way you can close a factor-of-7 price difference. The only way you can have it make sense economically is if your personal lifestyle is such that the K-cups are directly displacing buying coffee at Starbucks (or Dunkin' Donuts).

The engineer in me likes the idea of controlling the whole process so precisely--in theory. For years, I wondered how a Keurig machine could produce the same strength coffee if you told it to make a small cup, medium mug, or giant travel mug. Then I learned the awful secret: it doesn't. When you make a small cup it is strong, when you make a big mug it is weak. At that point all interest I had in them dropped to below zero.

And it has dropped further since I read that they have already introduced a system called Vue, which--I find this so hard to believe I wonder if I could possibly be understanding it correctly, but I think it's true--is incompatible with the old system. So, having lost supermarket shelf space to loose coffee to the K-Cups, they will now be dividing that space between the old and new kinds, and people with Keurig systems will undergo hunter-gather anxiety about whether the particular grocery store they go to stocks the coffee they like in the kind of K-Cup they need.

I wonder how the unit price of Vue cups compares with the old ones? :twisted:
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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by cantstop » Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:43 pm

put a wooden chopstick in the cup of water and it will stop this.

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Re: Why does my instant coffee overflow?

Post by ML 59 » Fri Jul 12, 2013 8:40 am

nisiprius wrote:... The only way you can have it make sense economically is if your personal lifestyle is such that the K-cups are directly displacing buying coffee at Starbucks (or Dunkin' Donuts).
Bingo on the Starbucks displacement. I look at it as saving about $2.25 per cup rather than spending an additional $0.55 per cup. :D :D

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