Keurig coffee makers and their associated K-Cup coffee pods skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade. In 2015, there were reports that roughly 10.5 billion K-Cups were sold to consumers.
What caused this spike in popularity? What are the best ways to use and maintain your Keurig coffee maker? Let’s take a look at how these coffee makers were designed and how to answer the question ‘How does a Keurig Work?’
What Is a Keurig?
Keurig is more than just the regular coffee makers and pods we see today. There’s innovation and an interesting origin story behind the brand.
What Does Keurig Mean?
The word Keurig comes from Dutch. In Dutch, “Keurig” means “excellence,” which is a call to the quality of the coffee that the founders of the Keurig brand wanted to create with their products.
A Short History of the Keurig
In the 1990s, one of the eventual founders of Keurig, John Sylvan, wanted to create a way for coffee to be brewed for individuals in an office setting, rather than make a large batch of coffee that grows stale.
After some tinkering, the first Keurig coffee makers and coffee pods were released to offices in the Northeastern United States. Fun fact: the first Keurig coffee makers were sold for little to money, with the company making money on the coffee pod sales they’d charge later.
Regardless, the Keurig grew in popularity thanks to the convenience of the pods and how easy it was to use. Now, over 500 flavors of coffee mods and dozens of Keurig coffee products are for sale.
How Does A Keurig Work?
Keurig coffee makers work on the same concepts as other drip coffee makers. However, some specific design choices optimize the Keurig for their coffee pods.
Several systems are working together inside of the Keurig that help it create the perfect cup of coffee every time. Here’s how those systems work and come together:
How the Keurig Brews Coffee
When you turn on a Keurig, it heats up water from the reservoir and sends that water into the coffee pod. The water spout pushes the water through the coffee grounds at the right pressure which, combined with the hot water, creates a delicious cup of coffee. The coffee then filters out the bottom of the filter house and into your coffe mug or glass.
How Does Keurig Measure Water?
Most Keurig models have different cup sizes you can choose from before brewing starts. A sensor in the coffee machine reads how much water siphons into the boiler, stopping the siphon when the desired volume is reached.
How Does Keurig Heat the Water?
Once siphoned from the reservoir, the water goes into a boiler at the base of the coffee maker. From there, a heating coil uses electricity to warm up the water, raising the temperature to just below boiling. As the water heats up, it expands and bubbles up through the Keurig machine and into the nozzle that sprays the hot water over the coffee.
How Does a Keurig Heat Water So Quickly?
Water takes a lot of heat to raise its temperature. To keep you from waiting a long time to get some coffee, Keurig uses a high-resistance heating coil inside of its boiler. This coil slows down the flow of electricity, turning that power into heat very quickly. From there, the water picks up the heat and bubbles up into the nozzle inside the filter house.
What Is a K-Cup?
K-Cups are the plastic pod of coffee that are the official pods for use with Keurig coffee makers. Since K-Cups are where the way Keurig delivers its personalized coffee and makes the majority of its money, there’s a lot of thought put into these little containers.
How a K-Cup Is Designed
K-Cups have both a single serving of coffee and a paper filter inside of the plastic cup that makes up the outside. The foil seal on top keeps things like air and humidity from affecting the coffee while also trapping in the organic compounds of the coffee that make it taste so good.
Finally, Keurigs have a metal needle that pierces the bottom of the cups when you press down on the lid of the Keurig’s filter house. That hole allows the brewed coffee to travel out the bottom of the cup, through the filter, and down into the cup.
By keeping everything inside the pod, K-Cups become easy to clean out since the trapped coffee grounds are still inside the plastic cup.
K-Cup Brewing vs. Drip Brewing
K-Cups brewing works on the same kinds of concepts used in drip brewing, in that hot water drips over the coffee ground.
The main difference is that a Keurig coffee maker has a nozzle designed to add water at the right pressure for the coffee in addition to the correct temperature. The right pressure allows the water to draw more of the coffee compounds out of the ground coffee, creating a better-tasting cup of coffee.
How Much Coffee Is in a K-Cup?
When making a single serving of coffee, you don’t need a lot of coffee grounds to get the best flavor. K-Cups recognize this and intentionally don’t have a huge amount of coffee grounds in them to prevent excess waste.
In general, a K-Cup has 10 to 12 grams of coffee grounds, or around 2 tablespoons. This is the right amount of coffee to create one cup’s worth of coffee.
How Do K-Cups Brew So Fast?
Because a K-Cup doesn’t use a huge amount of ground coffee, it’s easy for the Keurig machine to deliver the hot water quickly and bloom the ground coffee fast. As the coffee blooms, it releases more organic compounds, helping the coffee taste great.
Specifically, K-Cups have a small amount of coffee spread out in a thin layer inside the cup. That way, when the water hits the grounds, it can easily spread and travel across the grounds to brew the coffee quickly.
What Is the Difference Between Coffee Pods and K-Cups?
To put it simply, a K-Cup is a coffee pod, but not all coffee pods are K-Cup brand pods.
Plenty of other coffee companies, like Nespresso, have coffee pods that fit their espresso machines but won’t fit inside of a Keurig coffee maker. Keurig K-Cups have a design that puts Keurig coffee makers first, meaning they may not work in other coffee pod brewing machines.
How to Use a Keurig Coffee Machine
Since Keurig coffee makers were designed with working professionals and busy families alike, the coffee machines Keurig makes are easy to uses. Let’s take a look at Keurig machines in general and how to get the most out of them.
How to Turn On a Keurig
Most Keurig devices have a power switch on the back of the machine. Flipping this switch on or off will give power to the device or not.
Also, you’ll need to ensure that your Keurig coffee maker is plugged into an outlet. Most of the power your Keurig uses will go to the boiler, but other parts like the sensors and display need power to work, too.
How to Select a Coffee Size
Part of making your coffee will be choosing the size of the cup of coffee you want to make.
What Are the Three Cup Sizes on a Keurig?
On the original model of the Keurig, also called the K-Classic, you’ll see that there are three sizes of cups you can brew. Each size has a button, represented by a different cup icon on the face of the button. For the K-Classic, these three sizes are six ounces, eight ounces, and ten ounces.
Other models of Keurigs let you choose from other sizes, or even program in your own volume of coffee, ranging from two ounces to twelve ounces.
How to Select One
Depending on your model of Keurig, you’ll either have physical buttons or a touchscreen display to select your size. To choose your size, you’ll press the button or option you want to brew your coffee at that size.
How to Adjust Coffee Strength in a Keurig
While Keurig tries to create a repeatable coffee brewing experience, recent models have introduced ways to customize your coffee’s strength from the device.
How Does the ‘Strong’ Setting on a Keurig 2.0 Work
The Strong setting on the Keurig 2.0 increases the amount of time your coffee steeps in the hot water before dripping out the filter house on the drip tray. By increasing the steeping time, you can draw out more coffee into the fresh water, making stronger coffee.
Does Using Less Water Equal Stronger Coffee and Caffeine Content per Cup When Using a Keurig Machine?
Because you can’t adjust how much coffee is inside the cup, adjusting the volume of coffee you make changes the strength of the coffee.
How Can You Experiment With Your Keurig?
Some Keurig machines have temperature and volume options, letting you change how hot your coffee brews and how much comes out. By mixing up these options, you might find a combination that works better for your tastes than the default settings!
How to Use a Keurig Reusable Coffee Filter
Reusable Keurig filters let you choose how much coffee you want to use when brewing.
To use one, you’ll first need to load up the filter with the amount of coffee grounds you want into the cup. From there, you can place the reusable filter into the filter house with the coffee and run the machine at your size and temperature preferences.
Once your coffee brews, you’ll want to dump out the used grounds and rinse out the filter for the next time you want to make a cup of coffee.
How Do You Care for Your Keurig?
Like other coffee makers, Keurigs need regular maintenance to work well. Here are some things to keep in mind to keep your Keurig running in tip-top shape:
Daily Care of Your Keurig
In your daily brewings, make sure you avoid distilled or soft water. Bottled water, filtered water, and spring water are best to use in a Keurig to help prevent mineral deposits, or scales, inside the machine.
Also, make sure to carefully wipe out the inside of the filter house to remove any leftover coffee when done.
How to Clean Them
Like other coffee makers, Keurigs can be cleaned out with a distilled vinegar solution to remove leftover coffee and mineral deposits. You can also use a Keurig descaling solution if you want something made specifically for Keurig machines.
Descaling Your Keurig
Here’s how to descale your Keurig:
- Disassemble and remove the removable parts of the Keurig.
- Add distilled vinegar solution or descaling solution to the machine.
- Add water and run the machine, collecting the solution out.
- Repeat Step 3 with just water and dispose of the cleaning fluids.
How to Improve Your Keurig’s Life
In general, you can avoid having to do a major cleaning or descaling process by checking out the inlet and outlet needles regularly. These needles can become blocked over time, which you can fix by wiping these needles down regularly.
Troubleshooting Your Keurig
If you’re having trouble getting your Keurig to work, try some of these troubleshooting tips to find the source of the problem:
- Make sure that all parts of the Keurig sit down and seal correctly.
- Double-check that the power switch is on and the Keurig is plugged in.
- Change the water to prevent mineral buildups.
- Give the Keurig time to warm up if it has just been turned on.
- Double-check that there is a pod inside of the Keurig.
Commonly Asked Questions Regarding the Keurig
Here are some of the common questions out there about the Keurig system and K-Cups:
Do Smart Plugs Work With Keurig?
Smart plugs work with Keurig machines in that they will automatically power your Keurig on and off for you. You will still have to start the coffee brewing process yourself when you want a cup of coffee, though.
Can I Use a Keurig in an Unheated Garage?
You can use your Keurig in an unheated garage, but be careful! If you leave water in the Keurig when it gets cold, the water can freeze inside the machine and do damage to the Keurig.
Does the Charcoal Filter for the Keurig Actually Make the Coffee Taste Better?
The charcoal filter in the Keurig helps remove small particles out of the water you place in the reservoir. Some people believe it improves the flavor of the coffee, but this filter mostly helps keep the Keurig unclogged by minerals.
How Do Keurig Coffee Machines Identify Unauthorized K-Cups?
Keurig K-Cups have an orange stripe around the lips of the cup. The Keurig coffee machine has a sensor that looks for this stripe before starting the brewing process.
What’s the Best Use for Old K-Cups and the Used Coffee Therein?
Keurig encourages its customers to recycle their K-Cups after use. Because the cups are plastic, they are recyclable by most plastic recycling facilities.
Coffee can make for good composting material. But, this isn’t recommended you do that without some previous knowledge on how to compost discarded food.
Keurig devices have a design that makes them great for busy folks, both at home and in the office. By reducing the number of decision points of making hot coffee or iced coffee to just the size and flavor you want, Keurig and K-Cup pods offer convenience for many strong coffee lovers across the United States.