What Are K-cups ? Here’s A Beginner’s Guide To Help You Out

Curious about K-cups ? Many Americans own a Keurig or have at least had a K-cup coffee before. 

But if you’ve never had one and are wondering just what they are, and if they’re worth it, then check out this article. You might just find the info you need.

Single-serve coffee has changed our habits and practices. It has moved espresso out of its traditional place of consumption, much like the invention of the teabag made folks really get into tea, as it was cheaper and more convenient.

There are two main single-serving coffee types: pods and capsules. K-Cups is one of the capsule products that enjoy the attention of the public, especially in the United States, the original company of these capsules.

what are k cups

What exactly is a K-cup ?

K-Cups comes from Keurig cups, Keurig Dr. Pepper being the company that created them.

It’s actually a coffee capsule, and not a coffee pod. This company also makes machines that brew the beverages in these capsules since 1998.

Keurig Dr. Pepper was founded in Massachusetts in 1992 and since then the company has become quite popular for the diversity of the products. 

They’ve also partnered with other brands such as Dunkin Donuts and Folgers, and they offer tea as well (partners such as Twinings or Lipton), and hot chocolate too.

They have many other kinds of hot or cold drinks like teas, cocoas, lemonades, cider, and fruit-based drinks. But let’s keep in mind coffee capsules and talk about them.

K-cups have become more of a lifestyle choice than anything else. They’re simple to use, really quick (very short brew time) and are the pinnacle of convenience. 

In the past years there’s been concerns about whether they can be recycled. As a response Keurig has introduces the reusable K-cup. 

It’s not as easy to use as a regular K-cup but it’s much better for the environment and Keurig is still working on eco-friendly alternatives.

How did K-cups come to be ?

K-cups were originally targeted towards offices, and other commercial places where single-serve coffee would greatly help the workers. This was all the way back in ’98. There were regular coffee machines with coins and all but the end product was always instant coffee.

So Keurig came up with a method of brewing that took out measuring, proportions, and (for the most part) waiting time. 

The machines became very popular and folks started buying them for home use. 

Over time other brands saw the opportunity for this kind of coffee and got on the hype train. This was we now have so many other options, like the Nespresso cups, Illy, and other systems that are basically the same product but are not compatible with one another.

Like multiple other coffee capsules, they consist of a single, pre-packaged dose of ground coffee. This kind of single-serve coffee is one of the fastest-growing products and offers an ample spectrum of products. They are designed to provide concrete benefits for the customer: efficient service, quality and reliability.

In addition, utilizing established parameters, coffee machine pressure, and water temperature, grind, quantity of the coffee, and pressing as the capsule is packaged has resulted in a “product system”.

There are two main types of systems: open and closed.

In other words, an open system means that you can use a set of standard capsules from different brands with different machines. This implies that customers can choose the machine they like and whatever coffee they prefer.

The most common way you’ll find this happening is store-brand coffee that’s partnered with one of the main cup brands. Examples such a Lidl having Nespresso – compatible cups come to mind.

k cups capsules
Nespresso capsules, punctured (left) and whole (right)

On the other hand, a closed system is better defined as a “proprietary system”. Here both the machine and capsule are patent-protected.

But, what are K-cups, and in which category is it part of?

K-cups are an open system, meaning they’ll be compatible with Keurig made cups as well as a select few brands. That being said Keurig-Dr. Pepper owns many companies, including coffee, hot cocoa, tea, and soft drinks. 

As such you’ll find a variety of brands that are compatible with K-cups but are, in fact, owned by Keurig. Examples include Green Mountain, Krispy Kreme, Gloria Jean’s, Hawaiian Punch, Snapple, Schweppes, and several others.

Also you’ll find Keurig in partnership with other separate brands. Perhaps the most iconic is the Starbucks partnership, with K-cups that bring the Starbucks flavor and experience to your home.

There’s also Dunkin Donuts, offering their line of coffee in a K-cup.

K-cups versus coffee pods

Alright, so you know about K-cups. You know they’re capsules. But what’s this about pods and pads and cups and no one really using a term in a concrete manner ?

Well, the thing is each brand is allowed to call their product whatever they want, and this can lead to come confusion.

There are two types of single-serve coffee and they are coffee capsules (or cups as Keurig calls them) and there are pods.

The main difference between them is in the way they are designed.

In the first place, the coffee pod is a pre-packaged dose with ground coffee pressed, and vacuum packed between two layers of heat-welded filter paper. This works rather like filter coffee. The water just goes trough the filter and coffee and results in a cup of coffee.

You won’t really get crema since there isn’t any pressure to create it.

The absence of metal or plastic makes the pods truly eco-friendly as they are biodegradable. They are also user-friendly because they are simple and effective: just pop the pod into the machine, press the button, and out comes your cup of coffee.

On the other hand, coffee capsules, like K-cups, are designed with the same concept as pods, but they are pre-packaged in a measured dose into an aluminum or plastic capsule with a foil lid above.

This works more like an espresso. The water is pumped through a narrow needle to raise the pressure in the capsule. After the capsule is full of hot water, the extraction begins.

In conclusion, K-cups are capsules. They can be used with open systems of other brand’s machines.

Look at the images below. You’ll see examples of coffee pods, and coffee capsules and you’ll also notice that capsules may have different shapes. Each brand has its own shape and this is the main hurdle when trying to switch coffee brands. 

k cups capsules (1)
Coffee pod (left) and coffee capsule (Nespresso)

How to make K-cup coffee

When you want a cup of K-cup coffee there’s really not much to do and none of it is complicated.

First, you need a compatible machine. Keurig makes those (well, duh) but no one else does. So, you need one of those.

Then, you need to insert the capsule into its slot, close the lid shut. You should hear something like a clicking sound as the capsule lid is punctured.

Turn on the machine, and it will need to heat up. Make sure there is enough water in the machine.

There should be a simple button to press when you want to start brewing. Put your empty cup under the nozzle and press the button.

The machine will brew for you, and now it depends on what kind you have. Some stop on their own when they sense enough water has passed through the ground coffee for that particular kind of coffee.

However most require you to stop the brewing process. Each capsule comes with an indication as to how much brewed liquid should come out, so you’ll either eyeball it or use a measured cup.

Can you make K-cup coffee without a machine?

Actually, yes! Like many other capsules, you need to cut very carefully the foil lid and use the coffee. Just think about using the right ratio of coffee-to-water. For example, most of the capsules have 7 grams of ground coffee. Brew that coffee into a French Press with 125 ml of hot water.

Tip: the coffee grounds are, in general, coarse grind. So, brew the coffee into French Press or filter that requires course grind to avoid under-extractions. 

What does K-cup coffee taste like ?

Speaking of taste, K-cups is not very different from other capsules. All of them are quite strong and robust as a taste.

If you are a fan of strong espresso-like coffee, then capsules are a good option for you. But if you are looking for a flavorful or delicate coffee cup of coffee, then think about other options like the French press or drip-filters.

Some facts that can help you choose a great option for your daily coffee.

  • If you care about the environment, then capsules and pods can be a challenge. Most of them are not recyclable, and even if they are, it is very challenging to recycle them.
  • Coffee capsules are preserved with nitrogen to prevent the coffee from oxidation. They’re fresh, but not as fresh as freshly ground coffee.
  • 35 million American homes have a Keurig machine and it’s a very popular device.
  • In 2014, Keurig Green Mountain said it plans by 2020 to replace the plastic composition in the billions of K-cup single-serving coffee containers it sells annually. Currently, you’ll be able to recycle K-Mugs, K-Carafes, and Vue pods.

In conclusion, K-Cup is a pretty popular coffee all over the world, especially in America. People are different and have a mixed opinion about these products manufactured by Keurig. But in the end, everyone decides what is the most suitable option for their regular cup of coffee.

If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?