When the Keurig machine first came out, everyone had to have one due to its convenience. But the cost and environmental impact of the disposable cups drove people to seek alternatives to K-cups coffee. If you’re going to buy K-cups, you want to get the best specialty coffee you can so you don’t waste your money.
The best specialty coffee for K-cups has full body flavor that tastes like traditionally brewed coffee. The top five specialty K-cups include the Dunkin Donuts Regular Blend, Death Wish Coffee cups, Starbucks’ Flavored coffee, Eight O’Clock Coffee cups, and the Cinnabon Classic cinnamon coffee.
To get the best K-cup coffee that money can buy and learn how to make the most of what you have, keep reading.
What Are K-Cups?
K-cups are small plastic cups filled with ground coffee and covered with foil to keep the coffee fresh. They are designed to be used in the Keurig coffee machines or other individual serving machines. The amount of caffeine in one K-cup depends on the roast and the beans, and the flavorings used in each coffee.
Light roasts have the least amount of caffeine, between nine and ten grams, while a medium roast has up to 11 grams. A fatty, dark roast can have up to 14 grams of caffeine. Flavored coffee has varying levels of caffeine, depending on the roast level.
Several brand names, including Starbucks, entered the K-cups arena with their take on flavored and non-flavored coffee, with some surprising results. Some coffee companies put their signature coffee in the cups, while other companies specially formulate coffee to be used in the K-cups.
What Is the Difference Between Pods and K-Cups?
K-cups are used in a single-serve coffee machine, while coffee pods are similar to tea bags but contain coffee instead of tea and brewed the same way. Simultaneously, many people seem to think that coffee pods don’t have many variations or possibilities due to how they work. However, you can make a full range of coffee from either the pods or the K-cups, including iced coffee.
- Coffee is packed into a small plastic cup that is slightly larger than an individual creamer packet you find in restaurants.
- K-cups can only be used in a Keurig or single-serving coffee maker.
- A single serving coffee machine has a quicker brew cycle than a coffee pod.
- Coffee pods are packaged like tea bags in a filter packet.
- Coffee pods are brewed much like tea and can be used when you don’t have a coffee maker.
- Pods give you more coffee extraction than K-cups because it stays in the water longer than a normal brew cycle.
What Are the Best Specialty K-Cups?
Before you rush out to buy K-cups for your new single-serve coffee maker, take a look at the following reviews of the best specialty K-cup coffees. While some brands are known for being rich and robust, other brands that are not discussed in this article are known for being bitter, weak, and tasteless.
With that being said, the brands listed here have come from a consensus of several baristas and coffee enthusiasts, so you can trust that choosing any of the brands from this list will be a wise choice, regardless of your tastes. The brands that are not listed in any particular order, as the experts don’t always agree on each brand and their ranking.
Most brands were ranked on taste, roast depth, caffeine level, and overall sweetness.
Dunkin Donuts Regular Blend
Dunkin Donuts became famous for its mass-produced donuts and quick coffee service. The 1980s commercial of the baker going back and forth to “make the donuts” and then meeting himself at the door made their brand even more famous. Since then, Dunkin Donuts branched out into selling bags of ground coffee in stores to increase sales.
When the Keurig became popular, Dunkin Donuts seized this opportunity to branch out even further with their K-cups. Most baristas would use this in their shops, and one, in particular, claimed that it had some sweetness with an acidity that made the flavor pop.
Death Wish Coffee
Death Wish coffee has a much higher caffeine content due to its combination of Arabica and Robusta beans. The beans are roasted in small batches to allow for a smooth flavor with no bitterness or aftertaste. It has notes of cherries and chocolate in a robust coffee experience.
Their strong, robust roast makes an ideal roast for K-cups, as the flavor will come through even with the water’s short time on the coffee grounds.
Because this is a specialty coffee, expect to pay more for it. You might not be able to find it in your local grocery store, but you can find it on Amazon, and the Death Wish coffee website. Before you buy from either site, compare the prices to ensure you’re getting the best price.
Starbucks’ Flavored Coffee
Starbucks is known for its signature coffee and pastries, so it’s no surprise that they offer K-cups and bagged coffee in stores. The opinions differed about which flavor is best–the French Roast, Pumpkin Spice, or their multi-flavored pack. The one similarity of opinions about the Starbucks flavored K-cups is that they all deserve mention on the “best list.”
To conduct your taste test for the least amount of money, you might want to buy the multi-flavor pack. That way, you can find your favorite before committing to only one flavor.
Eight O’Clock Coffee
The Eight O’Clock coffee company built its reputation on rich, robust roasts, and their K-cups are no exception. Even though the K-cups contain a medium roast, this coffee brand outperforms other medium roasts on flavor and richness.
Cinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll Coffee
When you walk into a mall that houses a Cinnabon shop, you can’t help but notice the rich and creamy smell of cinnamon rolls and coffee. That’s exactly when Cinnabon tried to emulate in their coffee K-cups. While they use a light roast, they still manage to create that full-bodied flavor that people know and love. Try a cup of Cinnabon Cinnamon Roll coffee with one of their Cinnabon rolls.
The Original Donut Shop Regular Coffee
The number one seller on Amazon, the Original Donut Shop coffee is rich, robust, and smooth. The flavor comes from 100% Arabica beans, has a nutty flavor with chocolate notes, and is designed for drinking with your favorite pastry, such as a doughnut.
Since it is a popular seller, most people who taste it come back for more. While some people say that it is an average blend, it is almost like a coffee shop blend.
Green Mountain Breakfast Blend
Green Mountain is a company that specializes in K-cup coffees and has several flavors that do not always make the grade when it comes to rich, smooth coffee. However, their breakfast blend is a light roast that tastes like coffee rather than hot brown water like most light roasts. However, for those who like a smoother flavor, this brand might be worth trying.
Other blends by Green Mountain that you might try are the Sumatra and the Nantucket flavors. The experts did not mention these, but they do seem to be popular among consumers.
Green Mountain Caramel Vanilla Cream Coffee
Another Green Mountain product, this flavored coffee, contains notes of butter, toffee, caramel, and vanilla. It is a light roast, and it pairs well with sweet breakfast foods such as pancakes or waffles, or even a chocolate doughnut.
While light roasts don’t usually brew well in the Keurig machine, they turn out alright when paired with flavors, according to the coffee lovers who rated the K-cups.
Use These Tips to Brew Great Tasting Coffee
You now have your favorite K-cup coffee, and you’re ready to brew your first cup. If you’ve had your single-serve coffee maker for a while, then you should already know how to use it, and it will have had a thorough cleaning.
Even if you’ve had your machine for a while, you probably are not getting the most out of your coffee maker and your K-cups. Starting with a good roast helps, but your coffee will not be the best; it can be if your water is not filtered.
Here are a few tips to help you have great tasting coffee.
Shake the Cup a Bit Before Brewing
Before putting the cup into the machine, please give it a little shake to loosen it up a bit. Not only does this make it easier for the water to go through more of the grounds, but it also brings any flavor particles to the surface to make your coffee taste better.
Since K-cups sit for a while before being sold, the coffee tends to clump together. Clumped coffee doesn’t allow water to travel through it, which could make your coffee taste like hot brown water.
Add a Pinch of Salt to the Cup
While this next tip might sound a bit strange, adding a pinch of salt to your K-cup before you brew your coffee will take away some of the bitterness that ground coffee is notorious for becoming stale shortly after being ground. Since small amounts of salt bring out the natural flavor of foods or drinks, a pinch of salt will bring out the coffee’s natural flavor while keeping the bitterness to a minimum.
Run Vinegar Through Your Machine Once per Month
All coffee makers eventually get a coffee residue that causes your coffee to taste bitter and stale. When your coffee starts tasting stale or bitter, run a cup or two of white vinegar through the machine to clean the residue. Then run two cycles of clear water to rinse it out, and your machine will brew great-tasting coffee once again.
You will need to do this about once every month or two months, depending on how often you use your machine. This process can be used on your regular coffee maker as well.
Should you use a specially made coffee cleaner? While you are free to do so, if you are on a budget, white vinegar is cheaper and just as effective as the cleaner, but without the harsh chemicals.
Use Filtered Water Instead of Tap Water
Tap water, especially in larger cities, tend to have a slight chlorine flavor. Since chlorine and coffee don’t taste very well, you might want to try using filtered water to make your coffee. Other impurities in tap water can react with the coffee to give it a strange flavor.
Try getting a faucet filter for your kitchen sink or a pitcher with a filter in it. Or, if you have it in your budget, a refrigerator with a water and ice dispenser that has a filter will give you an unlimited supply of filtered water.
Start Heating the Water Before You Start Brewing
Most Keurig machines have a feature that allows you to heat the water before the actual brew cycle starts. If yours has that, try heating the water ahead of time to make a more flavorful cup of coffee. The best temperature for brewing coffee is between 195 and 205 ℉ (90 and 96 ℃). Any colder than that, your coffee is flat and too hot, your coffee will begin to lose its flavor.
Remove the Cup Immediately After Brewing
After your coffee is made brewing, as soon as you can, remove the used K-cup to keep the sediment from building up, making your coffee taste stale and bitter. While you’re cleaning up, try using a cloth to remove any residue that might be left behind from the cup.
Start With a Dark Roast for Rich Coffee
The biggest complaint about K-cups is that the water doesn’t stay on the coffee grounds long enough to extract the coffee flavor, making the resulting drink taste like brown coffee water. When you start with a dark, fatty roast in your K-cups, your coffee experience will be more enjoyable.
Medium or light roasts might not always produce a rich cup of coffee, even though they are available.
Why Should You Use a Keurig Machine?
With so many options on the market, why would you use a single-serve Keurig machine? Most larger families have a full-sized coffee maker or a multiple-sized coffee maker that will make a single mug of coffee up to a full carafe of coffee. They might even have a single serving coffee maker like a Keurig, but it might not be used very often.
If this sounds like your house, you might want to rethink your morning coffee routine to include K-cups and the Keurig machine. Here’s why.
It Is Convenient
K-cups and the Keurig machine simplifies your coffee routine by providing you with individual servings of coffee, pre-measured and placed in a cup that you stick in the machine. Add water, and place your cup underneath the spout. This convenience level can make the difference between getting to work on time or getting to work ten minutes late during busy mornings.
Also, should you want to try a new coffee flavor, K-cups will keep you from wasting an entire pot of coffee if you don’t like it. Consider the K-cups as a trial size for new coffee brands or flavors.
The Machine Takes Less Space On Your Counter
Small spaces almost always demand that smaller appliances are on the counter, so there is more space to work. Keurig coffee makers, depending on the size you have, have smaller footprints and can be pushed out of the way when not in use.
You Waste Less Coffee
Picture this: you make a pot of coffee, have maybe one cup, and forget about the rest, and it gets cold. Have you done this? Most people throw out this coffee, wasting coffee. However, you can save that coffee by pouring it into a pitcher and placing it in the refrigerator to keep iced coffee.
However, K-cups and a Keurig machine or other single-serving machines help you waste less coffee because you are only brewing one cup of coffee at a time.
Some fast-food restaurants, to cut down on food and beverage waste, will use a Keurig machine and K-cups to sell one cup at a time. Free refills are out because each cup must be made new. While this might seem ridiculous to some people, in places where coffee is not popular, this might make sense to the owners.
How Can You Save Money With K-Cups?
K-cups are notorious for being expensive per serving, which at 66 cents per serving with K-cups compared to 28 cents per serving of regular coffee, you can see why it would be cost-prohibitive for many people. But if you already have a machine and want to keep your coffee costs down, there are some ways you can do that.
Use a Reusable Cup
In response to customer concerns about the disposable K-cups’ cost and environmental impacts, Keurig created a reusable cup that fits into their machines. It is a small filter cup that allows you to use your favorite coffee again and again. For the price of a bag of coffee, you can make single servings for mere pennies.
Using a reusable cup also reduces the amount of waste from disposable cups, which, if you are concerned about the environment, helps save the planet and the environment.
Buy K-Cups in Bulk
Depending on the brand you buy, K-cups in bulk might be less expensive than if you buy smaller packs in the store. For example, a package of 96 Donut shop K-cups costs around $40 on Amazon, but a box of 32 cups costs around $18. Buying the smaller package makes your per cup cost 54 cents, but the larger package per cup cost is 42 cents.
As you can see, buying in bulk might seem more expensive at first, but the per cup cost makes up for the upfront cost. Where this might not be true is when you don’t use K-cups very often. The coffee can get stale and will not taste as good as when it was fresh. If you know you don’t drink coffee very often, then buying a 10-pack might be better for you.
Stick to Store Brands if Possible
If you can find a fatty dark roast in a store brand, these might be cheaper than name-brand K-cups. However, the adage of “you get what you pay for” might apply to store brands, as they are not always the same quality as name brand coffee.
To ensure you’re getting the best K-cup coffee, even if it’s a store brand, try buying the store brand ground coffee first. If you like the brew, then you will enjoy the K-cups as well. But if you don’t like the ground coffee in bags, you will most likely not like the store brand K-cups.
What Are the Alternatives to K-Cups?
Coffee convenience comes from other sources besides K-cups and single-serving coffee makers. If you don’t have the money for them, you have other options, not the least cold brew coffee that you can make at home. Or you could get coffee pods and put several in a pitcher of either cold or hot water and let sit according to package directions.
Multiple size coffee makers combine the convenience of the single-serving coffee makers with the full-size coffee brewers.
Homemade Cold Brew
Cold-brew takes some planning, but once it’s made, it gives you just as much convenience as a Keurig machine, as you pour the coffee over ice and enjoy. Many people prefer cold brew over normally brewed coffee because it tastes less bitter and has less acid. The cold water doesn’t activate the bitter compounds as much, making it an increasingly popular drink.
Here is how you make it:
- Take a clean quart canning jar and pour between ½ cup to 1 cup of coffee grounds.
- Fill the pot with cold, clean water, and let sit on the counter or in the refrigerator for at least 12-24 hours.
- Line a fine-mesh strainer with a paper coffee filter and place over a large bowl.
- Carefully pour the coffee into the strainer so that the liquid drains into the bowl, and let drain.
- Do not push down on the grounds to get the extra liquid out, as this will make your coffee taste bitter.
- Rinse the jar, pour the newly brewed coffee back into the jar, and dispose of the coffee grounds.
- Your cold brew coffee is now ready to use in your favorite coffee recipe.
However, you could use a specially made cold brew container with a cone-shaped filter, simplifying the process. Otherwise, to save money, the above procedure will work just fine.
Multiple Size Coffee Makers
Dual coffee makers combine a Keurig system with a full-sized coffee maker. Otherwise known as “Flexbrew,” these machines allow you to make a small mug of coffee using the K-cups, or a travel mug using the regular brew basket, and every size in between. These machines allow you to use either type of coffee–K-cups or regular coffee grounds.
If you don’t have the money for K-cups at any point, then you still have the option of brewing your coffee the old fashioned way using the filter basket.
One popular multi-serve coffee maker that doesn’t need K-cups is the Ninja coffee bar. You can make several sizes of coffee using a filter basket.
Brew Coffee Pods Like Tea Bags
Coffee pods work much like tea bags so that you can add one to a mug of hot water and brew according to the package directions. When you don’t have time or space for a coffee maker, coffee pods will get the job done.
You could microwave a cup of water and put the pod in the water to seep, then take your shower and get ready for work. When you are ready for your coffee, your coffee is ready for you. K-cups and Keurig machines can do almost the same thing and are ready when you are, but there is more risk of something going wrong when you’re not there to supervise it.
So there you have it–the best specialty coffee for K-cups. While these recommendations are a place to start, you have the option of trying other K-cups that appeal more to your tastes.
Before you spend on a package of K-cups that you might not like, try the small trial size bag of coffee by the same brand, or even one K-cup. If you like it, then feel free to buy a full package of K-cups.
A word of caution about the Death Wish coffee: the high caffeine content might be too much for those sensitive to it. Try with caution.
- Thrillist: The 19 Most Popular K-Cups, Ranked By a Coffee Expert
- My Friends Coffee: Best K-Cup Coffee (Review) In 2020
- Roasty Coffee: The 20 Best K-Cups for a Keurig
- Faveable: 15 Best Tasting K-Cup Coffee Flavors
- Coffee Informer: 30 Best Tasting K-Cup Flavors
- Koobies Coffee: The Best K Cups Coffee–The Top 27 Picks of All Time
- Food Network: These Are the Best Keurig Coffee Pods You Can Buy Now
- Fourth Estate Coffee: The Best Keurig K-Cup Coffee Pods Reviewed
- National Coffee Association: How to Brew Coffee
- Amazon: The Original Donut Shop Regular Single-Serve Keurig K-Cup Pods
- Coffee Tea Warehouse: Difference Between K-Cups and Pods
- Keurig: Green Mountain Coffee