How Does a Keurig Work?

Do you feel like it’s time to up your coffee game? Buying a coffee maker is not an easy task when so many models are available in the market. Drip brewer might be the first thing that comes to your mind, but if a whole pot of coffee is way too much for you, a Keurig coffee maker is a solid option to consider.

You may have seen Keurig coffee makers at your friends’ or relatives’ homes and even tried a cup of coffee made with it. But how does a Keurig work? Let’s take a closer look at this coffee machine to determine whether it is the right choice for you.

What is a Keurig coffee maker?

A Keurig coffee maker is a coffee machine that brews a single cup of coffee at a time and is popular in both home and office settings.

Keurig coffee makers use K-Cups, single-serving capsules of coffee grounds, to quickly produce a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Once the machine is fully heated, brewing coffee will take only about a minute. The speed and convenience have made Keurig coffee makers a big hit with coffee lovers.

Keurig coffee brewers come in a variety of models. Some models, like the K-Duo, have a single-serve function and the ability to brew a standard 12-cup carafe with pre-ground coffee. Other models, such as Keurig K-Café come without a carafe and can brew coffee on demand. That can be a good option if the amount of coffee you consume on daily basis varies.

how does a keurig work

What is a K-Cup?

A K-Cup is a pre-measured amount of coffee grounds in a little plastic cup sealed with a foil lid. It is intended to make one cup of coffee.

You can get different types of coffee inside your K-Cup, including dark roasts and light roasts, as well as flavored coffees. You can also buy K-Cups that contain the base for other hot beverages such as hot chocolate or tea.

With the variety of coffee flavors available, you can get an exquisite cup of your preferred coffee, making Keurig an ideal coffee brewing system for families and offices.

Keurig works with many well-known coffee brands, including Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, so you can get K-Cups with the taste you love. Keurig also sells its K-Cups under the brand name Green Mountain.

How do K-Cups work?

You are probably wondering how coffee gets out of the K-Cup that is completely sealed. Don’t make a mistake and peel the foil of the K-Cup!

Once you have selected a K-Cup with your favorite coffee blend, put it inside the Keurig machine’s K-Cup holder and close the lid. As you do that, one needle punctures the K-Cup from the bottom. Meanwhile, the Keurig lid has another needle that pierces the K-Cup’s top seal. Hot water then runs into the ground coffee through the top hole, and the brewed coffee runs out of the bottom hole into your mug.

what is keurig k-cup

What is the difference between K-Cups and coffee pods?

While the names K-Cup and coffee pod are sometimes thrown around as though they are interchangeable, there are some apparent differences between the two.

People often use “coffee pod” as a generic term, as many manufacturers produce single-serve coffee capsules. However, only K-Cups will work in a Keurig coffee maker.

A K-Cup has a plastic exterior with a foil lid. A coffee pod, such as Easy Serving Espresso (E.S.E.) pod, is just ground coffee sealed in filter paper. Unfortunately, E.S.E. pods are not compatible with Keurig brewers.

Nespresso is another prominent manufacturer of single cup coffee brewers, but Nespresso capsules are not compatible with Keurig machines, and K-Cups are not compatible with Nespresso machines.

How do you dispose of used K-Cups?

Disposing of used K-Cups is easier than it used to be, as Keurig has recently reworked them to be recyclable. It is true that K-Cups produce more plastic waste than E.S.E. pods or regular ground coffee with paper filters. However, according to Keurig, K-Cups are now made of recyclable #5 plastic. So, if recycling for #5 plastics is available in your area, you can rinse your used K-Cups and put them in with the rest of your recyclable waste.

Getting a reusable K-Cup, like Keurig’s My K-Cup, that you fill with the ground coffee of your choice can also help you reduce waste from your Keurig machine. All you’ll have to do is dispose of the coffee grounds that can go in the compost or trash.

reusable k-cups

How does a Keurig work?

The Keurig working mechanism is pretty simple: you fill up the water tank, pop in the K-Cup of your preferred coffee, and press the brew button. However, understanding how Keurig coffee makers work can help you improve your results.

How to use a Keurig coffee maker

These simple steps on using a Keurig coffee maker will get you brewing coffee in no time! Once the machine warms up for your first cup of coffee, brewing the subsequent cups of coffee will start at Step 5, as the device will already have some heated water.

Follow these steps to brew coffee with a Keurig coffee maker:

  1. Remove the water reservoir from the Keurig machine and fill it with water. You may want to use filtered or bottled water if you have concerns about the tap water quality in your area. Otherwise, regular running water is fine.
  2. Put the water reservoir back on the Keurig machine, ensuring it locks in place.
  3. Turn on your Keurig by pressing the power button.
  4. At this point, water flows automatically from the water tank into the brewer to be heated. The red heating light on the Keurig will come on while the water heats. It will take a few minutes, depending on the model you have. When the water is heated to the right temperature, the heating light will turn off.
  5. Place a coffee cup or mug on the Keurig’s drip tray.
  6. Lift the handle on the Keurig machine so that the K-Cup holder opens.
  7. Insert your favorite K-Cup.
  8. Lower the handle, and close the lid so that the lid’s needle punctures the foil layer of the K-Cup.
  9. Your Keurig machine may have multiple brew buttons allowing you to select how big a cup of coffee you want to brew. Often your choice is between more coffee and stronger coffee. Choosing a smaller cup will give you a more robust coffee, as the coffee ratio to water will be higher. However, some Keurig models have a setting for “Strong” brew. Press the desired brew button, and the machine will start brewing.
  10. Wait for the brewing process to run. It should last about a minute, given that the water is already heated. A burst of air through the coffee grounds will signal the end of the brewing process.
  11. Remove your cup of coffee from the drip tray.
  12. To clean up, lift the handle on the K-Cup holder to remove the used K-Cup and dispose of it.

How does a Keurig heat the water so quickly?

A Keurig heats the water quickly by just doing a little bit at a time. You generally would not see this part of a Keurig machine in the course of normal use, but the inside of the device looks like silicone spaghetti wrapped around a computer circuit board. These brewer pipes make it easier to increase the water temperature quickly because a small amount of water, like in a narrow tube, is easier to heat than a large, flat tank of water.

keurig brewing coffee

Can you run a Keurig machine without a K-Cup?

Perhaps you ran out of K-Cups before you were able to order more online, and you need hot water to mix a packet of instant coffee. Fortunately, yes, you can run a Keurig machine without a K-Cup to get a mug of hot water.

You can also use a Keurig in this way to heat water for instant oatmeal, noodles, or other types of cup-a-soup. A Keurig machine could be a versatile addition to a dorm room or office where cooking facilities are limited.

Running water-only brew cycles through your Keurig coffee maker is also part of the process of cleaning the machine.

How to descale a Keurig

Like any other machine that gets frequent use, a Keurig coffee maker needs periodic cleaning. You can wash external parts such as the water reservoir in soapy water. However, residue can build up on the inside of the machine, especially from hard water, and this requires descaling at least every three to six months.

You can buy a Keurig descaling solution that makes removing unwanted calcium deposits from your machine easy. You pour it into your machine, add water, and then run several water-only cycles with no K-Cup to flush the Keurig clean.

Some users find that running a mixture of white vinegar and water through your machine has a similar effect in terms of descaling. However, you might want to wait until your Keurig coffee maker has outlived its one-year warranty before you try this. If you decide to give vinegar a go, make sure you use only white vinegar and not potentially sticky types like apple cider or balsamic vinegar. Rinse the machine well with multiple water-only cycles afterward.

cleaning keurig

How long do Keurigs last?

Keurig machines come with a one-year warranty. After that, your efforts at maintenance can make a big difference in how long your Keurig machine lasts. If you don’t have a regular cleaning routine, the “Prime” Keurig messages displayed on your device will alert you when something needs attention. For example, you may need to wash the reservoir, clean the needle, or descale the machine.

Keurig coffee machines have electronic components that simple drip coffee makers don’t, which is the main risk to their lifespan. However, with proper care and proper use (no milk in the water reservoir!), your Keurig machine should last at least five years. By the time you need to upgrade your coffee maker, you might be eager to try a new model with new features anyway, as the company continually works to innovate.

If you want to hold on to your Keurig coffee maker as long as possible, you might like to select a model that has a standard K-Cup design. For example, some Keurig brewers like the Rivo and the Vue that used non-standard K-Cups were discontinued, and it then became difficult to find K-Cups compatible with these obsolete machines.

What’s the difference between Keurig 1.0 and Keurig 2.0?

Another issue to keep in mind as you consider the lifespan of a Keurig machine is the difference between Keurig 1.0 and Keurig 2.0. It should not be too much of an issue if you buy a new Keurig, but it may be something to look out for if you are tempted to buy a used machine.

In 2014, Keurig announced a significant upgrade from Keurig 1.0 to Keurig 2.0. A key point of the transition was that Keurig brewers would no longer accept K-Cups not made by Keurig. The Keurig 2.0 machines initially would only brew coffee if they could read a bar code on the K-Cup. This feature was unpopular with users and has since been scrapped.

Keurig 1.0 machines also use a different size K-Cup than Keurig 2.0. Again, this should not be relevant to most current Keurig users, but be aware of it in case you receive an old hand-me-down Keurig.

keurig 2_0

Is Keurig the right coffee maker for you?

One of the original goals of the Keurig coffee maker was to reduce the waste of coffee that often occurs when stale coffee sits in a coffee pot for a long time. A Keurig machine can indeed solve that particular problem. However, K-Cups can get expensive, and their plastic packaging creates a different kind of waste. Read on to find out the pros and cons of a Keurig coffee maker to see if having one is worth it for you.


  • You don’t have to make a whole pot of coffee. If you know you just want one cup of coffee, Keurig can reliably deliver you that amount.
  • You can get exactly what you want. Suppose you share your home coffee maker with your partner. You love light roast coffee, but your partner prefers dark roast. Instead of trying to compromise on one type of coffee, each of you can have a fresh cup of coffee made precisely to your taste.
  • It’s convenient. You don’t have to deal with ground coffee or grind coffee beans yourself. There’s also no need to buy coffee filters, as each K-Cup contains a tiny paper filter between the ground coffee and the plastic cup.
  • You can get good coffee with minimal effort. Not everyone wants to be a barista. So if you don’t want to learn coffee brewing techniques that require time and effort, like brewing coffee with a Moka Pot or French press, a Keurig can be a fast way to experience a more rewarding coffee taste.
  • You can get creative if you want to! Some Keurig machines have an espresso shot function. While the result may not be the same as what you would get from a high-pressure espresso machine, it is close enough that you can learn to make café-style coffee drinks like iced coffee and cappuccino. Keurig might be able to help you with things like this, as there are K-Cups specially designed for iced coffee. You could also try brewing a K-Cup of coffee into an oversized mug and then brewing a K-Cup of hot chocolate into the same cup for a delicious mocha!

keurig and k-cups


  • There can be a lot of discarded packaging. While you can get around this by using a reusable filter basket that you can fill with the coffee grounds of your choice, the K-Cups that a Keurig machine is designed for produce a lot of plastic waste.
  • Buying supplies might be challenging in some areas. You can order whatever Keurig products you want online, but, in a pinch, your nearby grocery store might not be as well-stocked with K-Cups as it is with regular ground coffee and paper filters.
  • Making one cup at a time can get tedious if you want to brew a large amount of coffee. A Keurig machine is not the most efficient way to make freshly brewed coffee for a large group. However, some Keurig models, like the K-Duo, have a group-size carafe that uses ground coffee and the standard K-Cup unit.
  • K-Cups are made of plastic. Keurig says its K-Cups are BPA-free and safe to use. However, some people have concerns about the safety of heat being applied to any plastic container in a food context.
  • True coffee lovers will miss the ability to customize their beverages. Keurig coffee’s taste is better than stale drip coffee or instant coffee. However, if you are accustomed to using freshly roasted coffee beans ground to your preferred grind size, you might be frustrated that K-Cups do not meet your standards. You may get closer to your preferences by using a refillable K-Cup with coffee you grind yourself.
  • Keurig brewers require electricity. If you are looking for a way to have coffee on your next camping trip or have other concerns about consistent access to electricity, you will need to consider other brewing methods.

Keurig machines are the original single-serve coffee brewers. Despite competitors, Keurig is worth considering as it has an impressive selection of K-Cups.

While a Keurig coffee maker is a financial investment compared to a drip brewer, Keurigs are generally cheaper than espresso machines. This middle ground makes a Keurig machine a solid choice that will improve your coffee experience. You don’t have to learn barista skills, either.

The fun factor of the Keurig machine is a big draw. It can be exciting to pop in a K-Cup of hot chocolate or your favorite coffee and have it brewed immediately. Of course, if you have children, it might be hard to convince them to limit the number of K-Cups they use. However, the magic of single-serving coffee can bring out the wonder-loving child in anyone.

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