Why you should trust us
As a junior staff writer for Wirecutter who cares about coffee, I’ve reviewed Nespresso machines and French presses. I spent more than 20 hours researching different Keurig machines and testing three. Four of us tested coffee made with more than two dozen flavors of pods, as well as a pre-ground bag from Keurig Green Mountain and a new bag from Stumptown that we ground with a Baratza Virtuoso, our upgrade grinder pick. I also interviewed Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
The drawbacks to Keurig machines and why we don’t recommend them
Keurig machines offer instant gratification but at a cost. Beyond their deserved infamy for environmental destruction—which we’ll discuss later—all Keurig machines make bad coffee. They also take up as much space on your countertop as a drip coffee maker, despite making one cup at a time instead of a whole pot. And they require more maintenance than you think. Here’s a rundown of all the downsides we found to owning a Keurig machine.
Every Keurig machine we tested brewed watery, flavorless coffee that paled against every other kind of coffee we’ve made at home. At its best, Keurig coffee tastes like dinner coffee. At its worst, it tastes like hot brown water. In our testing, we found that only the 6-ounce brew size made coffee that tasted okay. Though Keurig machines offer 10- or 12-ounce brewing options, that only adds water to the same amount of grounds, making a laughably diluted cup.
“Oh my god,” one tester exclaimed upon drinking. “This tastes like an ashtray.”
“This tastes like sucking on the paper filter of a coffee machine,” another tester said.
“This tastes exactly like water,” another tester said. “I’d drink it, but it tastes just like water. I don’t taste anything.”
A flurry of factors could explain what makes Keurig coffee so disappointing. Writing in Tech Insider, Julia Calderone consulted a wholesale manager at Café Grumpy who told her that the process involves stale grounds, inadequately hot water, and rushed brewing time.
Keurig’s lack of transparency around roast and grind dates means that you may get beans roasted years ago. The Green Mountain K-Cups we ordered on April 18, 2018, only included a “best by” date of January 17, 2020. As fresh-roasted coffee is usually best consumed within two weeks of its roast date, we’re not convinced Keurig’s air-tight, “nitrogen-flushed,” and vacuum-sealed K-Cup® pods keep grounds entirely fresh for two years.
Even if the grind were fresh, it’s likely that your Keurig brews with water too cool to properly extract flavor from the coffee. The National Coffee Association recommends brewing temperatures between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the NCA, brewing coffee with water cooler than 195 degrees leaves you with flat, under-extracted coffee. By contrast, the Keurig site states that the optimal temperature for brewing coffee is 192 degrees Fahrenheit, also the temperature at which your Keurig brews coffee. We used an instant-read thermometer to measure the temperature of the water coming out of the Keurig when no pod was installed, and confirmed that this was generally the case. Though the first cup got to only about 187 degrees, subsequent cups peaked precisely at 192.
A Keurig machine also takes less than a minute to brew, much shorter than the 4 minutes it takes to use a French press or a pour-over setup. According to the NCA, brewing coffee for too short a time will result in under-extracted, weak coffee. In normal drip systems, water should be in contact with the grounds for about 5 minutes.
Keurig also states that, after letting the machine sit idle for a while, the first cup you make will be, by default, a few degrees cooler. To remedy this, Keurig suggests first running a “cleansing brew” by making a 6-ounce cup without inserting a K-Cup. Cleansing brews can also help remove any flavor carryover from previous drinks. But all these extra steps defeat the cardinal purpose of a Keurig: to make a cup of coffee in a minute with the touch of a button.
Some more expensive Keurig machines, such as the K-Select, offer a button that makes your coffee stronger. The button brews your coffee for 1 minute, 15 seconds, which is about 30 seconds longer than normal Keurig brewing. This prolonged extraction increases the strength of your coffee, but a Keurig “strong” is still noticeably weaker than a regular cup of Starbucks. If you like strong coffee, you really shouldn’t buy a Keurig.
Not only is it bad, but Keurig coffee is also ridiculously expensive. Each K-Cup contains around 10 grams of ground coffee, and you can buy it. This works out to around $30 for a pound of coffee, with pricier Starbucks K-Cup blends going for $50 a pound. A high-quality bag of beans from your local coffee shop probably costs about $16 for a pound, making a cup of Keurig coffee a raw deal.
Keurig machines are large and clunky. At 13.3 inches by 9.8 inches, the original K-Classic machine takes up almost as much space on your counter as a large drip coffee maker (like our top pick, the OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker). And the Keurig looks downright gargantuan next to other single-serve coffee apparatus such as a pour-over setup, a French press, or even the Nespresso we recommend.
Keurig offers a one-year limited warranty on all its machines, but many customer reviews say the machines don’t even last that long. Most Keurig machines available on Amazon have a worrying number of one-star reviews complaining that the machines failed in one way or another after just a few months. For example, dozens of reviews for the K-Select say that when you press the power button the machine begins to uncontrollably gush cold water, sort of like any scene in the second half of Titanic. This defect occurred generally within three weeks of purchase. Wirecutter staff writer Amy Roberts had her K-15 Mini break on her within a year of receiving it as a gift. Luckily this happened within warranty, so Keurig customer service agreed to replace her machine.
Each Keurig we tested splattered coffee across a 2-inch splash zone while brewing, creating a much more significant mess than a regular coffee maker. The brewed Keurig coffee spews out of a spout around three to four inches above the rim of a mug, resulting in droplets of coffee that spatter on the drip tray, machine, and counter. While the mess was easy to wipe down, it’s frustrating to have to clean the machine after each use. Also, Keurigs make a gross, sputtering noise while brewing. It’s a terrible sound to wake up to in the morning.
Terrible for the environment
Keurig’s reliance on single-use plastic coffee pods produces enormous amounts of waste that, at the moment, mostly can’t be recycled. In 2015, Keurig sold 9 billion plastic K-Cups, according to this story about Keurig’s recyclable K-Cups by The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter). Keurig plans on making all its pods recyclable by 2020, but recycling plastic is trickier than recycling other materials, so we don’t think meeting that goal is as great as it sounds. In comparison, Nespresso makes its pods out of aluminum, which is one of the most commonly recycled and easily reprocessed materials, according to an interview with Allan Myerson, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT. Recycling aluminum takes just 5 percent of the energy required to make new aluminum, as it simply involves melting the metal. Recycling plastics is a much more labor-intensive process. According to Myerson, there are many different kinds of plastics that each require different recycling processes, and given the cost of sorting and cleaning and the energy requirements of reprocessing, it’s often cheaper to just dump it in a landfill. We dive deeper into Keurig’s impact on the environment below.
Keurig does offer a reusable filter that allows you to brew coffee without producing the waste of a used plastic K-Cup. But even if using it addresses some of the environmental issues, in our testing we found this filter brewed an even weaker cup.
There are certain situations where a Keurig could be helpful to have on hand. For example, single-serve coffee setups help make a rental or Airbnb feel more like home, and are easy for guests to use and clean up. They’re also useful in offices or waiting rooms, such as those in hospitals or your local auto dealership. Some people also just love the instant gratification of a Keurig, enjoy having a whole range of flavors to choose from, or like being able to effortlessly brew one cup of coffee at a time.
But we think there is a better brewing alternative for any and all of these situations. A Nespresso machine is as fast and easy to use as a Keurig, but it brews strong shots of espresso-like coffee. It also uses aluminum capsules, which are much easier to recycle than plastic coffee pods. A pour-over setup or French press is a bit more labor-intensive, but they’re also much cheaper and more compact than a Keurig and can make a single cup of coffee that tastes wildly better.
How we picked and tested
Keurig has two lines of coffee machines: the classic line and the 2.0 line. The only meaningful difference between the lines is that Keurig 2.0 machines can brew a carafe of up to 30 ounces of coffee using a larger K-Carafe pod. The 2.0 machines also offer touchscreen controls and more options for cup sizes, such as a 16-ounce cup. But the latter feature isn’t particularly useful, as we found anything larger than a 6-ounce cup of Keurig coffee so watery as to be undrinkable.
Keurig 2.0 machines scan the lids of the cups to ensure they accept only 2.0-compatible Keurig pods, shutting out the third-party pods that erupted on the market after the K-Cup patent expired in 2012. People hate the 2.0 brewer because of the newly incompatible pods, but the machines have stuck around because they offer the option to brew a full pot.
To narrow down our list, we compared all 29 Keurig models, noting features like cup sizes, buttons that make your coffee stronger, and reservoir size. As all Keurigs contain the same brewing mechanism, we decided to test machines only from the classic line. We also read heaps of reviews about the various models on Amazon and on the Keurig site, noting what people liked and disliked from each machine. We settled on testing three: the K-Mini K15, the K-Classic, and the K-Select. The K-Mini is the smallest machine Keurig offers and seemed like the company’s attempt to compete with our favorite Nespresso, the Essenza Mini, a small, capable model that excels at the basics without any frills. The K-Classic looked like a step above the K-Mini and offered a larger water reservoir. And the K-Select was the least expensive machine that also offered an option to brew stronger coffee, as we read complaints that regular Keurig coffee tastes watered-down.
To test the machines, we made drinks of every possible size using different brands and blends of pods available on the Keurig site, including roasts from Green Mountain Coffee (Keurig’s in-house brand), The Original Donut Shop, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Laughing Man. We compared the Starbucks K-Cups we used to similar roasts of actual Starbucks coffee and found the latter tasted much better. We also made several cups of coffee using the reusable K-Cup filter, both with ground beans purchased on the Keurig site and freshly ground beans we purchased on our own from Stumptown.
The best Keurig (but we really don’t recommend it)
We preferred the K-Classic over the other Keurigs we tested in the same way that one might prefer one brand of airplane peanuts over another—it’s a crowded field of disappointing competitors. Every Keurig makes the same watery coffee, so we prefer the K-Classic only because it was easier to use than the K-Mini, and the only other Keurig we tested, the K-Select, seems to have durability issues.
The K-Classic works like any other Keurig, with a water reservoir on its side and a number of buttons that allow you to dictate the size of your coffee. Unlike the K-Mini, the K-Classic has a removable reservoir, which means you can fill it directly in the sink. The K-Classic can make 6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-ounce cups of coffee, but we found anything larger than a 6-ounce cup tasted laughably watery. Like all Keurigs aside from the K-Mini, which is around the size of a blender, the K-Classic is a bulky machine that takes up about as much room on your counter as a drip coffee maker.
The K-Classic suffers from many of the same flaws as the other Keurigs we tested. The machine makes a terrible gurgling noise as it brews, and the resulting stream spatters past the drip tray and onto the machine and countertop. Twice as expensive as our budget 12-cup coffee maker, the K-Classic costs more to do less. The K-Classic costs almost as much as our Nespresso machine pick, the Essenza Mini, which we’d recommend over any Keurig.
Unlike Nespresso machines, which use minimal amounts of water to make small espresso drinks, all Keurigs guzzle water for each cup and require near-constant refills. But we preferred the K-Classic’s water reservoir to the K-Minis, as the K-Classic determines how much water will go into your cup according to whichever button you press. In comparison, the K-Mini will add as much water to your coffee as you have in the water tank, so it’s very easy to make cups of “coffee” that spill all over your counter. The K-Mini includes a plastic indicator with fill lines that correspond to your desired cup of coffee, but it’s easy to forget to add the appropriate amount of water.
Why Keurig is awful for the environment
Like the Labradoodle, Keurig is one of those things whose inventor regretted ever creating. John Sylvan, the inventor of Keurig K-Cups, told James Hamblin of The Atlantic that he no longer uses K-Cups because they’re expensive and bad for the environment.
The majority of K-Cups are not recyclable. Currently, Keurig offers just six options for recyclable pods. The other 209 K-Cup options are made with #7 plastic, or polystyrene, which comprises a cocktail of plastics that cannot be recycled—#7 is the nuclear bunker of plastic, able to withstand the high heat of the brewing process, Sylvan told Hamblin. So most K-Cups go directly to landfills.
Keurig has made a commitment to make 100 percent of its pods recyclable by 2020, swapping out the unrecyclable #7 plastic with #5 plastic, also known as polypropylene. To understand exactly what this means, we interviewed Steve Alexander, the president of The Association of Plastic Recyclers. Alexander explained that plastics recycling operates in a buyer’s market. Polyethylene terephthalate (#1), high-density polyethylene (#2), and polypropylene (#5) are the most valuable plastics currently in the recycling stream and therefore the most likely to get recycled. But #1 and #2 plastics, which can be found in soda bottles and milk jugs, respectively, have historically larger markets and are more commonly recycled than #5 plastic.
What’s more, recyclable Keurig pods are not 100 percent recyclable because they’re not made of 100 percent #5 plastic. All Keurig cups, even the recyclable ones, include a lid of aluminum foil that helps seal the pod. To recycle a recyclable K-Cup, you need to peel off the lid and remove the grounds and paper filter with your fingers. But Alexander says any remaining foil or paper on these lids acts as a contaminant to the plastics recycling process and could affect whether the pods are sorted correctly to be recycled.
“It’s hoped that in the process the lid won’t be enough of a contaminant and it will still be recycled,” Alexander said. “But the foil lid is problematic.” Alexander said Keurig has done testing at a number of materials recovery facilities and certified that the company’s pods are 90 percent sortable.
There’s also the small-capture problem. Most materials recovery facilities have filtering grates with holes so large that anything smaller than 2 inches across will slip through and end up in a landfill. So even if your K-Cup is 100 percent recyclable, it won’t be recycled if the facility can’t detect its presence on the conveyor belt.
All this is, of course, subject to change as plastics recycling facilities continue to innovate. But it’s taken longer for the company to figure out a solution for recycling plastics than it took for NASA to put a man on the moon, as this story about Keurig’s new recyclable pods from the The New York Times (parent company of Wirecutter) points out.
Sure, Keurig sells a My K-Cup Universal Reusable Coffee Filter, which allows you to forgo K-Cups entirely, use your own beans, and create only compostable waste. But in our testing, the reusable filter still made watery, disappointing coffee that lost many of the tasting notes we noticed when brewing the same coffee using a drip or pour-over setup. It’s also a hassle to use—you have to fill the reusable filter with grounds, empty them after brewing, and replace the normal Keurig filter after if you’d like to use a normal K-Cup. At this point, you might as well use a real coffee maker, which will make better coffee anyway. And even beyond the pods, considering Keurig’s one-year warranties and history of broken machines, you’re still investing in basically irreparable, single-use hardware that may end up in a landfill after a year, even if you get your machine replaced.
Better ways to make better coffee
Any situation that may make you think you need a Keurig, you don’t. Here’s a rundown of all the other coffee makers we recommend if you still feel drawn toward Keurig.
For convenience and ease of use
If you really want a machine that’s quick, simple, and pod-based, we would recommend buying a Nespresso. While most Nespressos make concentrated, espresso-like drinks rather than a big cup of coffee, the Nespresso we recommend can make a drink called a lungo—an espresso made with double the amount of water—for people who dislike the strength of espresso. Nespresso machines also work well as coffee machines in Airbnbs or rental units because they’re easy to use and require very little cleanup. Nespresso drinks taste more watery and bitter than espresso from a coffee shop, but they’re still stronger and more flavorful than anything that comes out of a Keurig.
Unlike Keurig, Nespresso uses aluminum capsules, which are much more easily recycled than plastic. Nespresso also offers a recycling program that makes it easy to ship your pods free of charge to a Nespresso site that will take care of everything for you. But like Keurig, Nespresso coffee doesn’t come cheap. Per gram, Nespresso coffee runs around $62 a pound. In comparison, the priciest Keurig K-Cups cost around $50 per pound. Nespresso also works with reusable capsules—there are many brands, but we tried Sealpods—but we found the resulting coffee tasted a little weak.
For single-serve brewing
If you want to brew one cup of coffee and don’t mind putting just a bit more effort into it, we recommend a pour-over or a French press. Both brewing methods produce high-quality coffee and cost much, much less than the $80 Keurig K-Classic. Our pour-over pick, the Kalita Wave 185 Dripper, runs about $20 plus the cost of paper filters. And our French press pick, the Bodum Brazil, is just $18. With either option, you’ll get vastly better coffee at a fraction of the cost of a Keurig and pods. Each process takes a little longer than Keurig, but the brew time for either is still under five minutes. Pour-over and French press also do require a bit more cleanup, but it’s mostly a matter of dumping coffee grounds in the trash or compost, and we don’t think it’s a dealbreaker.
For a pot of coffee
In 2014, Keurig released a new 2.0 brewer that could brew a full carafe of two to five cups of coffee. This feature is frankly ridiculous. Keurig’s whole shtick is single-serve coffee. If you want to make a pot of coffee for people, buy a coffee maker and don’t force your friends to drink your watered-down brown morning juice. And even if you think you only want to make one cup at a time, a drip coffee maker is a better bet if you end up drinking multiple cups of coffee a day.
We liked the inexpensive K-Mini K15’s compact footprint and relatively attractive body. But the water reservoir system left too much room for human error, as it would brew a cup of coffee with however much water happened to be in the tank. So when we forgot to check for leftover water before adding more to the reservoir, the K-Mini gushed 20-ounce cups of coffee that spilled all over the counter and tasted even more like water than a normal Keurig coffee.
In testing, we liked the K-Select the most because it offers a button for a stronger brew that makes coffee that tastes more like what coffee is supposed to taste like. But we couldn’t recommend it over the K-Classic due to a worrying pattern of Amazon reviews that suggest a defect in the line. Many reviewers complained that after a few weeks of use the K-Select uncontrollably spews cold water as soon as you press the power button. So while we like the option of stronger coffee, we would prefer a machine that has a better track record of not being defective.
The pricy Keurig K-Elite boasts all the features of the K-Select along with an iced coffee setting that brews concentrated hot coffee over ice that Keurig claims will taste cold but not diluted. The K-Elite also allows you to adjust the brew temperature anywhere from 187 to 192 degrees Fahrenheit (all below the National Coffee Association’s recommended 195 to 205 degrees). But we didn’t find any of its features remarkable enough for its $170 price tag to warrant testing.
Like all machines in Keurig’s 2.0 line, the K250 can brew a full carafe of coffee (22, 26, or 30 ounces) It also features a button that brews stronger coffee and touchscreen controls. As we think the allure of Keurig revolves around making a single cup of coffee at a time, we didn’t see the point of a Keurig that can make a pot of coffee. If you want that, buy a drip coffee machine.