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East Bay Express: Waste: The dark side of the new coffee craze

Brad Wenner

In June, Peet's Coffee & Tea dispatched a truck emblazoned with the motto, "Proof in Every Single Cup," to drive across the country. Every few days the mobile cafe pulls up to the sidewalk of a different city, and the baristas on board hawk free cups of the company's new single-serve coffees. They set out tables and chairs, place sandwich board advertisements along the sidewalk, give out orange-rimmed sunglasses, and take photos of smiling customers clutching Peet's cups.

The mobile cafe is part of a nationwide campaign Peet's launched this summer in its effort to crack the hottest sector of the coffee business: single-cup brewing. And Peet's is actually late getting into the single-serve market; Starbucks and other coffee giants moved in early and are now reaping huge profits.

"It's growing like crazy," said Joe DeRupo, spokesman for the National Coffee Association. "It seems like virtually everyone is jumping on the single-serve bandwagon."

For the unfamiliar, single-cup coffee comes in individual portions, encased in plastic capsules or packets that you put in a special coffeemaker to brew one cup at a time. It's the polar opposite of the pour-over artisanal coffee that's so popular in much of the East Bay, but tens of millions of consumers have already switched to single-cup brewing nationwide, likely because it's ultra-convenient.

DeRupo's group recently published a report that found that 12 percent of US households now have a single-cup brewer. A February poll by Harris Interactive found that one in three Americans either have a single-cup brewer at home or at work. The market nearly doubled in the last year, climbing to almost $2 billion in sales, according to a report released last month by market research firm Packaged Facts. Sales are projected to reach $5 billion by 2016.

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