How do Keurig Brewers Work?
Keurig coffee makers are typically designed to make one cup of coffee at a time, making them far more compact machines than your average coffee maker. They work with K-Cups, plastic pods that are pre-packaged with fresh-ground coffee. You, the user, can select the type of K-Cup that you like—according to flavor, brew strength, roast preferences, and many more factors—and use the pods to produce a quality cup of coffee.
K-Cups are designed with three unique parts: the cup that holds the coffee, the permeable mesh filter that doubles as a coffee filter, and a moisture-proof layer of foil that protects the coffee from moisture or degradation.
When you insert the K-Cup into the coffee machine and set it to brew, the coffee maker pierces the foil and uses the ground coffee inside the K-Cup for the brewing process. The K-Cups are able to withstand the high temperatures and pressures of the coffee maker. The heated water brews the coffee inside the K-Cups, then another pin punctures the bottom of the K-Cup to allow the coffee to seep out.
The result: a fresh cup of coffee made with the same quantity and quality of coffee grounds every time!
How Does Keurig Coffee Compare?
When Keurig first came onto the scene, the pod coffee makers became all the rage. People LOVED the idea of a machine that made coffee using the quick-use pods, and Keurigs popped up all over the world—many hotel chains still use the single-serve coffee makers in their rooms to this day!
On the face of things, Keurig coffee offers a quick, user-friendly brewing experience every time. All you have to do is choose the brew you like, select the right K-Cup, insert, and get brewing. You’ll get the same flavors, the same brew strength, and the same brew process every time. Best of all, there’s no need to buy coffee filters or coffee ground—you just stock up on the K-Cups and you’re always ready to go.
But many coffee experts will argue that Keurig coffee just isn’t worth it. Not only are you paying more for your coffee (anywhere from 50 cents to $1 per cup), but you’re also producing a lot more waste—the tin foil, filter, and plastic of the K-Cups themselves. Plus, many will say that the quality of the coffee just isn’t up to par. You’ll never get a Keurig coffee that’s as good as something brewed in a high quality cappuccino maker or espresso machine.
For many, the entire brewing process is more about the experience: the bubbling of the hot water, the aromas of brewing coffee, the grinding of the beans, and more. Keurig skips right to the drinking—not bad if you’re going for a quick and easy cup of coffee, but not ideal if you like to savor things.
If you’re the kind of person who just wants to drink a delicious cup of coffee the same way every time and don’t mind paying a bit more for it, Keurig is definitely a solid option. However, be warned that you’re sacrificing some versatility and customizability when you use K-Cups, not to mention the higher waste your coffee generates.
Tips for the Best Quality Keurig Coffee
If you want to make the best quality Keurig coffee every time, here are a few tips to help you out:
Use a Refillable K-Cup – Reusable and refillable K-Cups are designed to be used with Keurig coffee makers, but they allow you to refill the plastic cups using the beans of your choice. You’ll be able to find the coffee that works best for you and re-use those plastic K-Cups over and over.
Note: The Keurig 2.0 won’t take reusable coffee filters like the original version did. Thankfully, there’s this nifty YouTube tutorial to help you hack any K-Cup!
Try the Freedom Clip – This is a special device designed to attach on the inside of your Keurig, preventing the built-in DRM reader from blocking unauthorized K-Cup pods. With the Freedom Clip, you’ll be able to use any type of pod coffee, giving you a wider and cheaper range of brews to choose from.
Go Bold – Bold-flavored coffees are the only ones that will truly taste good when brewed in a Keurig. Light roasts and mild-flavored coffees won’t be as delicious, because the water doesn’t get hot enough to unlock all the delicate flavors and aromas. Light roasts will almost come out like coffee-flavored water! You want to always use the bold-flavored K-Cups to ensure you’re packing the most flavor possible into your cup.
Double Up – Many times, even the dark, rich brews just aren’t strong enough for regular coffee drinkers. You’ll always use the same amount of coffee ground, so if you brew a full 8-ounce cup on one pod, you may end up with a weak brew. For a truly strong, flavorful cup of coffee, use two pods and set the coffee maker on the lowest ounce setting you can. That way, you get a lot of water infused into each pod, delivering the coffee with maximum flavor.
Run the Water First – Many users have complained that the Keurig doesn’t heat up their water enough, so the coffee comes out fairly weak and lacking in flavor. If you want the maximum possible heat from your water, run the Keurig on a “water cycle” before you brew your coffee. This will heat the machine up hotter than you’d get on a coffee-only brewing cycle, so it produces hotter water for a better brew.
Add Salt – Just a pinch! Many users have found that K-Cup coffee turns out more bitter than they’re used to with regular coffee. Adding a pinch of salt to the Keurig pre-brewing can help to reduce the acidity and make the coffee taste a whole lot smoother and easier to enjoy.
Pull Out – The last few seconds of water from the Keurig tend to be weak and watered down, and they can ruin a great cup of coffee. Pull out your mug just before the end of the brewing cycle, when the last bit of water is still draining into your cup. You’ll find you get a better-tasting brew when you don’t get every last drop in your cup.
How to Clean Your Keurig
One of the best tips to help you get a better-tasting cup of coffee from your Keurig is to keep your coffee machine clean. Not only will it help to keep the foil-puncturing needles clean (preventing flavor contamination), but it will prevent clogs and build-up of residue that can mess with your coffee’s flavor profile.
Cleaning your Keurig is actually fairly simple—most come with a built-in cleaning function that will run hot water through the machine to flush out all of the residue and coffee build-up. At least once a month, set the coffee maker to run that hot water cycle.
For more effective cleaning, try these tips:
Wash the Parts – Disassemble the machine as much as possible, and run all of the washable parts (water reservoir, mug stand, lid, K-Cup holder) through a bath of hot water and dish soap. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe off the rest of the machine. Pay special attention to the coffee pod holder; coffee ground can build up there, but will be hard to clean. Once the washable parts are dry, reassemble the coffee maker.
Soak it in Vinegar – White distilled vinegar is an amazing tool to help you keep your coffee maker clean! Not only will it help to eliminate built-up coffee residue, but it can eliminate scale and lime build-up. Fill half of the water reservoir with vinegar, and the other half with warm water. Let it sit for 5-15 minutes to give the vinegar’s acid time to work.
To really double down on the cleaning, use that vinegar water to run through the coffee machine on a hot water cycle. Or, run a brew without inserting a K-Cup. Run it multiple times until the water reservoir is empty. Run one final brew with fresh water to flush out any vinegar remnants.
Do this every 3-6 months to descale the inside of your coffee machine!
Clean With Regular Water – Keurig doesn’t recommend the use of distilled water or softened water, so any time you want to clean your coffee machine, use regular bottled or spring water. Tap water contains the lime and residue, so make sure that you use clean, fresh water with as little residue and minerals as possible to run through your coffee maker.
Use a Straw – A straw can help you to force air through the water line, thereby cleaning out any clogs or debris that might have backed up in the plastic line. Just be careful when removing and replacing the water line—you might accidentally damage it if you push or pull too hard, and you could end up with leaks or spills.
Run the Built-in Cleaning Setting – Most Keurigs have a “Descale” light that comes on when the coffee machine is in need of a serious cleaning. When it gets bad enough that the light turns on, the machine’s built-in cleaning settings should be able to take care of the problem for you. However, if you feel it’s not clean enough, you can always use one of the above deep clean options.
Can I Use My Own Coffee?
For connoisseurs who are particular about the type of coffee used, Keurigs are seen as a less-than-attractive option because they use pre-packaged coffee grounds. While Keurig does try to offer a broad range of coffees to choose from, the selection is fairly limited (to 30-50 options).
The My K-Cup is a reusable coffee pod that you can fill with your own coffee ground. You can purchase it separately, along with the mesh filters you’ll need for the brewing process, but it will allow you to use the ground of your choice to make the perfect cup of coffee.
Note: For best results, use a finer ground. The water isn’t very hot and the brewing time is shorter than average, so you need a fine ground that will ensure maximum flavor extraction in the least amount of time.
Can I Re-Use K-Cups?
One of the primary drawbacks of Keurig coffee makers is that they generate a lot of waste. You are supposed to dispose of each K-Cup after use, so you’ll end up with a lot of empty plastic cups in your trash bin.
However, there are reusable K-Cups—specifically, the My K-Cup Reusable Coffee Filter. Unlike the other pods you purchase, you can reuse it multiple times.
Should I Use Filtered Water?
Water plays such an important part in the brew process! If your water is filled with minerals, chlorine, or fluoride, even in tiny amounts, those things will affect the flavor of your coffee.
For those who are very particular about the flavor of their coffee, it may be a good idea to use either filtered or bottled water.
Filtered water -- Many fridges come with built-in water filters, or you can find water filtration systems ranging from small pitches (like Brita or PUR) to whole-home filters. Filtered water has far less minerals and other contaminants, so your water is far less likely to alter the flavor of your brew.
Bottled water -- Bottled water has been pre-filtered, so there is little risk of contaminants. It can definitely be pricey to use only bottled water for your coffee, but it may be worth it for better flavor.
It’s recommended that you avoid using mineral water and spring water, as they are both more likely to contain minerals. Distilled water can be used for a pure, delicious brew, but only in the older Keurig models (1.0). In the Keurig 2.0 models, the water is simply too pure for the sensors.
If you want to filter your water, you can also purchase the Keurig add-on filter cartridges. They can be placed directly into the machine’s reservoir, giving you a quick and easy way to filter your water without having to use special water to brew your coffee.
What You Need to Know About K-Cups
A few years ago, Keurig updated from its original design to the Keurig 2.0 brewing system. While this new brewing system gives you more options in terms of brew output and production, it limits the number of coffee pods available to you.
You see, with Keurig 1.0, you were able to use non-Keurig pods to brew coffee. You could even purchase generic pods (not the brand of a coffee machine, but the coffee producer directly) and run them through your Keurig.
However, the Keurig 2.0 brewing system will ONLY work with 2.0-compatible pods. You’ll be able to recognize which pods are compatible with the new brewers by looking for the “Keurig Brewed” brand on the label. Any K-Cups that don’t have this label are 1.0-compatible, and they won’t work with the newer brewers. (Note: 2.0 K-Cups can work with 1.0 brewing systems, but not vice versa.)
For those who want variety, this new upgrade limits the choices you have. Now, you’re relegated to 40 to 80 options—including not just coffee, but tea, hot chocolate, and other hot beverages. Considering how many thousands of varieties of coffee beans there are, this does limit your drinking choices.
If you want to brew your own coffee your way, you’ll need to purchase the My K-Cup. Otherwise, you’re stuck using the limited options Keurig 2.0 has to offer.
Is Keurig the Best Choice?
This is the big question: is a Keurig coffee machine worth the money?
Keurig was the first single-serve pod coffee maker, and it definitely established itself as a leader. It has the widest range of pods available, and they certainly know how to make brewing coffee easy.
But now they’re not the ONLY brand. In fact, there are competing brands that do some things better than Keurig.
Bunn, for example, offers the MyCafe MCU. With this brewer, you can use not only coffee pods, but you can also work with flat filter packets and fresh-ground coffee.
Cuisinart’s SS-700 is a metal alternative to Keurig’s plastic machines. While it’s designed only for use with K-Cups, it has a longer lifespan than the plastic coffee brewers—plus, it looks much better sitting on your countertop, too.
Starbucks offers the Verismo 580, designed to be used with the coffee pods Starbucks has begun offering in response to Keurig’s market domination. It’s as close as you’ll get to a proper cup of Starbucks coffee if you want to use a coffee pod maker.
Keurig may be the first, but whether or not it’s the best remains to be seen. For now, it’s the brand that offers the widest range of quick, easy, single-serve brewing pods, so it will continue to be the most popular choice. However, for brewers who want more control over their coffee, there may be other options to consider.