Photo credit: Heater Meals
After Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and New Orleans was devastated, I spent some time there working security contracts. At one point the only meals we had available were Heater Meals manufactured by the company of the same name. Just a few weeks ago I was at the IACP Conference in Orlando and found a booth for Heater Meals. I felt compelled to go introduce myself, say hello and compliment the man on his products. I was quite surprised a week or so later to get two boxes full of products from them; a mixture of meals and the biggest surprise: Cafe2Go - coffee in a box.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to admit up front that while I had a positive outlook about the Heater Meals MEALS I have never cared for instant coffee. I have a preference for my own home brewed coffee and I take mine with sugar and milk (or cream if it's available). Still, the Cafe2Go product made me wonder because it seems so simple a solution to the myriad assortment of times I could remember trying to put together coffee and bagels (or the infamous donuts) at various functions. As I read the outside of the box I came to understand that all I needed was the box and a gallon of potable water. Hmmm...
Since my in-laws were visiting for the weekend it seemed the perfect opportunity to use them as guinea pigs to test out this particular item. That Saturday morning I was up before the house (as usual) and went about prepping this coffee. Before I did that - because I'm not a man of great faith in the untested or unknown - I set up my own coffee pot with my usual brew - just in case. As it brewed I followed the directions on the box of Cafe2Go and started making that coffee as well.
My first shocking realization was the fact that virtually everything you need is in the box:
- instant coffee mix
- sugar packets
- powdered creamer packets
- stirrers (those little red straws)
- a tray to hold it all neatly
- the heater system
- the activator fluid for the heater pack
So, I opened up the box, took out the tray and the activator fluid and then reclosed the box. Turning it up on one end I screwed off the tap, tore open the bag of coffee mix and poured it in. That was followed by the one gallon of potable water. I screwed the tap back on, stood the box upright and followed the directions to activate the heater pack. Essentially you just tear off the end of the activation pack, pour in the activation fluid and then tape the end back down using the provided resealable tape. 25-30 minutes later you have hot instant coffee. My wife found it humorous because the heater pack activating actually sounded like coffee perculating.
By the time I had the Cafe2Go ready everyone else in the house was up. Both my in-laws and my wife all tried it out - and, of course, I did too. It was good coffee. In the interest of fair reporting, I didn't use the sugar packets or the powdered creamer available in the kit. I used my own regular sugar and whole milk but the coffee flavor - per my usual treatment - was darn good. My in-laws and my wife agreed with me. The question my father-in-law brought up was, "How much does a box cost?" I had to look at the price sheet. The Cafe2Go product is sold by the case of six and one case of six is priced at $106.92, not including shipping. The more you order the lower the price goes, but even if you just order one case and do the math you end up with a price per cup of $0.99.
Now, I need to make two observations:
1) A single box of Cafe2Go serves 18 using one gallon of water. Since there are 16 eight-ounce cups in a gallon, the 18 "cups" aren't actually 8-ounce cups but are just over 7-ounces each.
2) Each box holds 18 creamer packets and 18 suger packets along with 18 stirrers. That either means that each person getting a cup can only have one packet each of creamer and sugar OR (inevitably) some people will drink their coffee black - and many prefer it that way. The point is that, if it were me, I'd have more sugar and creamer packets (or containers) available to serve.
Our "field test" was what I'd call successful. Everyone who tried it that morning felt it was good tasting coffee; it was convenient; it required only the Cafe2Go box of contents and a gallon of potable water. Following the directions as I went it took me about four minutes to set up. Now that I've done it once it would probably take me less than two minutes next time. Heck, the biggest inconvenience is waiting the half hour (give or take a few minutes) for the coffee to "brew".
At less than $1 per cup of coffee (compare that to any cup of coffee available anywhere) the price is more than reasonable. The convenience of transporting, set up and service makes each cup even more valuable. I'll be recommending this product to plenty of agencies I work with for inclusing on their Mobile Command Posts and in any Emergency Management supplies they keep on hand. You should check them out at www.heatermeals.com.