Is the coffee from K-cups actually different than regular coffee? Here’s what you want to know.
K-cup coffee brewers are very convenient and produce consistent tasting coffee. The main benefits over drip coffee are that the coffee always freshly made so it hasn’t been kept hot and degraded. Also, the pods don’t have oxygen in them so the grounds don’t get old as quickly.
There aren’t only upsides to using K-cups though. There are some downsides you should know before buying a Keurig machine. More on that below.
What’s the difference between Keurig and regular coffee?
First we should define what regular coffee is. There are so many types of coffee that “regular” doesn’t really say anything. But, for most people it means drip coffee from an automatic machine. So let’s look at the differences between drip coffee and a Keurig machine with K-cups.
A drip coffee maker has a filter basket made from plastic which you put a paper filter in. Sometimes there is a metal screen in the filter so you don’t need a paper filter. You put ground coffee in the filter and turn on the machine. That heats up the water and pumps water out of the showerhead over the filter basket.
The water percolates through the coffee bed and into a carafe below. This allows you to brew large batches of coffee in one go. Many drip machine brew at least a liter but some can brew even more in one brew session.
Most people use pre-ground coffee in a drip coffee maker but if you want to make better coffee, you do have the option to grind fresh beans of any variety you like. Doing that would dramatically increase the quality of coffee they get for most people. It does mean you have to do more before you have your cup of coffee. That’s where K-cups win out because they are so easy to use and also have fresher coffee grounds. However, they’re still not as good as freshly ground.
K-cups are plastic cups with a small amount of ground coffee in a paper filter. So while the coffee is contained in a plastic cup, there is still a small paper filter inside. The machine has a needle that punctures the plastic lid of the cup and injects water through it.
The water then flows through the coffee and into the cup. It’s quite similar to a drip coffee maker but there are a few small differences.
K-cups were originally invented to solve the problem of bitter coffee that had been sitting on a hot plate for way too long and had degraded. Many offices would make a large pot of coffee and keep it hot on the plate. However, keeping coffee hot like that really degrades the taste. So that’s why they invented a single cup solution that just makes coffee when you need it.
Not keeping it hot is one of the benefits of K-cups and if you compare it to old stale coffee, it’ll taste much better. Another way they can keep the taste better is by how the coffee is packaged. If coffee grounds are exposed to oxygen, they go stale over time. K-cups are sealed and filled with nitrogen which displaces all the oxygen so the grounds don’t degrade nearly as fast. If you compare that with a bag of ground coffee you open every day to take a few scoops, that bag will be much less tasty by the time it’s finished.
For those reasons many people will see an improvement in taste by using K-cups when changing from pre-ground coffee in a large batch drip coffee maker.
K-cups are meant for a single cup of coffee. So it’s more of a personal coffee maker than the drip coffee maker ones. The water swirls around in the cup a little which agitates the grounds more which causes a deeper extraction.
Because the filter and coffee are already contained within the pod, it takes some actions out of the process compared to a drip coffee maker. That makes it one of the easiest ways to make a cup of coffee. It’s also very consistent. Because you get exactly the same K-cup every time, the taste of the coffee is the same every time. With a drip coffee maker you can put in a different amount of grounds into the filter which will change the taste and strength.
K-cup machines also use a slight pressure for brewing. Because the needle injects water into the enclosed cup there is some control over the pressure in the cup. It’s nothing like the pressure in an espresso machine but the increase in pressure over a drip coffee maker does help speed up the extraction of the coffee grounds.
The ease of use and consistency is what makes Keurig machines so popular combined with the fact that you can just make a single cup.
Brewing coffee with a K-cup machine is about as easy as coffee brewing gets. There are also a ton of different coffee cups available so you can probably find something you like the taste of. However, if you don’t like the taste, there isn’t much you can do either since all that convenience comes at the cost of control. Keurig machines just brew a single cup most of the time so it’s incredibly convenient if you just want to make coffee for a single person.
The K-cups also cost more, the machines cost more and produce more plastic waste.
Drip coffee makers can make larger batches of coffee in one go. It takes a bit more time to produce coffee because you have to put in the filter and coffee grounds yourself although this takes just a few seconds longer. You have a bit more control over the brew because you can choose how much coffee grounds to put in the filter.
There will be some difference in taste but a lot of that difference just comes from the used coffee and how finely it’s ground and not from the brew method. Because all K-cups are pretty much the same, the machine can be optimized a little more to brew good coffee. However, if you don’t like the taste, there is nothing you can do while in a drip coffee maker you still have some control.
- Ease of use: K-cup machines are about the easiest way to brew coffee but a normal drip machine doesn’t take all that much longer.
- Cost: A basic Kuerig machine is quite a bit more expensive than a basic drip coffee maker although in the higher quality models, that price difference disappears. K-cups cost more per cup than normal coffee as well.
- Amount of coffee: K-cup coffee brewers brew a single cup at a time while drip brewers can brew larger batches.
- Waste: Coffee grounds are always waste no matter what brew method you use. However, K-cups are largely made from plastic which doesn’t easily degrade while paper filters are easily degraded and compostable. There are reusable K-cups but that pretty much defeats the purpose of ease of use.
- Taste: A K-cup machine will be very consistent. Drip coffee can taste different depending on a few factors you control.
Should you get a Keurig machine?
If you should get a Keurig machine depends on a few factors. If you’re looking into a machine like this, you want something that’s easy, quick and consistent. K-cups do deliver on those things but there are a few downsides as well:
- Taste: This one is personal but the taste of K-cups is not all that great in general. With other brew methods you have the opportunity to control more of the taste and final product. But for that better taste, you’ll have to put in more effort and time.
- Plastic: One big downside of K-cups is the plastic waste. Paper filtered coffee isn’t great either but coffee grounds and paper filters are degradable pretty quickly. A plastic cup takes a very long time to get rid of. It’s estimated in 2014 alone enough K-cups got buried in landfills to create a chain around the earth.
- Cost: Compared to a normal drip coffee brewer, Keurig brewers are a bit more expensive but, to get a really good drip brewer you’ll have to pay more. However, the coffee pods will cost you much more over time. Convenience has a price.
If you’re happy with the taste of K-cups and money you have to spend on the coffee, a K-cup brewer is fine. Especially in small offices it can be a good solution since it’s so easy. However, if you want to make a good cup of coffee and don’t really like K-cups, there are better choices.
For the price of a Keurig machine, even the cheapest ones, you can buy a French press and a basic coffee grinder. That way you can use fresh whole beans and brew much better coffee than from any K-cup. That does take a bit more time and effort though. And grinding coffee is not something you want to do at the office since it can be a bit noisy. But if you’re working from home, that isn’t an issue.
If convenience in brewing a single cup is your only concern and the taste doesn’t matter too much, it can be a good choice.
Recommended Keurig Equipment
- Simple and Cheap: Just want a Keurig machine that brews coffee and does it without a confusing amount of buttons or taking up a lot of space? The Keurig K-Slim (Amazon) is the one you’re looking for.
- Feature Rich: If you want more features like brewing more different sizes and over ice, the K-Elite (Amazon) is a better choice.
- K-cups: Good coffee is always important but tastes are different. Try this variety pack (Amazon) with tons of different K-cups so you can figure out what you like.
- Reusable K-cups: Prefer to use your own coffee? Filling reusable K-cups (amazon) with your own freshly ground coffee is the way to go and will likely brew even better coffee than pre-made cups.