The 10 Best K-Cup Coffees
How A K-Cup Works
A K-Cup is a feat of ingenuity that manages to be simultaneously complex and straightforward.
A K-Cup is a feat of ingenuity that manages to be simultaneously complex and straightforward. Its simplicity lies in its brewing process, which is basically an imitation of what a drip brewer does, just on a single-cup scale. However, the materials and production that go into making that unassuming little container are technologically sophisticated and actually took years of development to reach perfection.
Simply put, an original K-Cup (there are newer versions that deviate slightly as the manufacturer tries to make them more eco-friendly) consists of food-safe plastic housing, an air-tight aluminum foil seal, an internal paper filter and a small amount of freshly ground caffeinated or decaf coffee beans. The body is made from a BPA-free composite plastic strong enough to protect the interior from outside moisture, oxygen, light, and anything else that may spoil its freshness.
Inside, an abaca fiber filter, which is the same material many tea bags are made from, is welded in place. It holds degassed coffee grounds in a predetermined amount that depends on the intended strength and brand packaging, but usually falls somewhere around nine grams. After everything is put together, producers remove any remaining oxygen and flush the cup with nitrogen, which is inert and helps to keep its contents from degrading.
When you insert a K-Cup into your Keurig and hit start, you begin a lightning fast brewing process. The machine pulls water from its reservoir and quickly heats it to 192 degrees, a designated temperature that the company believes to be ideal, while two hollow needles perforate the foil seal on top and the bottom portion at the same time. It then forces the hot, pressurized water through the cup and out of the chamber, where it pours straight into your empty mug.
Choosing Your Best Flavor
If you’re an amateur coffee drinker, it’s likely you’ll just take the least offensive java you can find, drown it in cream and sugar, and be done with it. There is a seemingly endless amount of variety when it comes to your morning joe, from every level of roast imaginable with infinite flavor combinations made from beans you may have never heard of. What does it all mean? Below, we’ll demystify things a bit.
Manufacturers have been tinkering with an extensive array of pairings over the centuries, but a few combinations stand out in the crowd.
While all K-Cups use ground coffee, you can also choose to buy whole beans and grind them yourself if you’ve stocked up on reusable cups. There are dozens of species out there, but the main ones in circulation are arabica, robusta, liberica and excelsa, the first two being the most widely used and distributed. Arabica accounts for over half of global coffee production, and for good reason — it has a smooth profile and strikes a palatable balance between sweet and acidic. Robusta, on the other hand, is a bit harsher with a grainy overtone, although it has about double the caffeine. Different beans can be strategically mixed with each other, creating special blends that offer complex notes.
Once the beans are harvested, processed, and exported, they’re stored in what’s known as a green state. At this point, they’re sponge-like and have to undergo a chemical process called roasting in order to bring out their aroma and flavor. To achieve this, roasters expose them to extremely high temperatures at a rapid pace, then quickly cool them at precisely the right moment. This method takes some serious know-how and expertise, as the roaster must stop the process at the perfect time to get the desired outcome. This results in the four color categories that you may have heard of — light, medium, medium-dark, and dark — with the lightest shade indicating the shortest roast time. Respectively, their flavors range from mild to sweet, then bittersweet to a pronounced char.
This is where additional flavor variations come in. Manufacturers have been tinkering with an extensive array of pairings over the centuries, but a few combinations stand out in the crowd. For instance, hazelnut, toffee, and caramel all seem to work well with light and medium roasts, while cherries and chocolate lend themselves to the smokiness of darker blends. Of course, these added components are not a requirement, and you can simply rely on the manufacturer's blending methods to choose the taste that best suits your preferences, from fruity or buttery to spicy and sweet — you can see how the options can be endless.
The Birth Of The K-Cup
Despite what any purist will tell you, the quest to make coffee an instant affair is not a new one. Although in some ways we tend to prioritize speed over quality these days, the idea behind a lightning-fast cup of joe was borne out of practicality more than anything else.
In 1771, John Dring of England patented his special coffee compound.
In 1771, John Dring of England patented his special coffee compound. Less than a century later in America, manufacturers experimented with instant cakes and rationed them out to soldiers during the Civil War. Then, in 1901, Japanese chemist Dr. Sartori Kato finagled a powder that only required water in order to turn into a hot cuppa. Over the coming decades, many people improved on this method. While these were admirable attempts to make the coffee experience portable, and these days there are options available that taste excellent, they're still not identical to a freshly-brewed cup.
Enter the K-Cup. In the early 1990s, inventor John Sylvan endeavored to solve a problem many have encountered. Picture a typical company at around 9 a.m. — a brave employee decides to brew a pot of coffee for the entire office, only to endure comments throughout the day about how weak or strong it was. The pot sits over the course of the morning, becoming bitter and stale. Communal cupboards and fridges are packed to the gills with various creamers and bags of beans, some which have been there since last Christmas, and all labeled with identifying post-its of varying severity.
And so John partnered with his old college roommate Peter Dragone to create a machine that would process single-use cups that could suit the preferences of a wide variety of people. After much trial and error, they founded Keurig in 1992, and the rest is history.