Last Updated on January 13, 2022
Keurig coffee makers are one of the most popular ways to brew coffee at home, but most of us take for granted that our fresh cup of hot coffee is going to brew quickly and taste great. Have you ever thought about the question, how does a Keurig work?
Most people have heard of Keurig coffee brewers because they’re so prevalent in offices and homes. But if you think about it, there’s a lot that goes into brewing a cup of coffee with these devices.
From loading the K-cup to dispensing your beverage all while maintaining temperature control is no easy task. That’s why we created this article to explain how Keurig coffee makers work, and what happens when you press the start button on your Keurig machine.
After reading this article you’ll understand not only how these machines work but also why we love them so much!
By the way, if you click on a link and then decide to make a purchase, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!
The Difference Between a Drip Brewer and Keurig Coffeemakers
Of course, a Keurig is a single-cup coffeemaker and a drip coffee brewer most often brews 4 cups or more. But what are some of the other coffee brewing differences?
Well, for one thing, the cost of a K-cup is usually higher than what you’d pay for coffee in your supermarket. It’s no secret that when you’re buying whole beans to make coffee in your drip brewer, the price goes down.
But when you buy in bulk (which K-cups are), the price is still lower than what you’d pay for a cup of coffee on the go.
Another difference between drip brewers and Keurig brewers is that there’s an opportunity to use your own beans or pre-ground coffee with a standard drip coffee maker, and brew however much or little you want, whereas Keurig coffee makers can only be used with K-cups.
Along with that is the decision making process involved when using a drip coffee maker, and that is, how much freshly ground coffee should be used?
Too much coffee and your brew may be stronger than intended. Too little coffee and it’s so weak it becomes tasteless. Ugh.
With a Keurig coffee maker, the decision of coffee grounds is left off of the table. There is a perfect amount of coffee already inside the K-cup.
This next difference is a real bugger for me: stale coffee that has been sitting in the bottom of the coffee pot for hours. For me, and probably a few other coffee lovers out there, there’s nothing worse.
With a Keurig brewing system, each cup of brewed coffee is a delicious cup that is fresh every time.
How Do Keurig Single Cup Coffeemakers Work?
Look at it this way: Keurig is all about technology
Technology has made life a lot easier for every one of us. However, we understand that the more simple something looks on the outside, the more complicated its internal mechanism can be.
Keurig machines are no exception.
With all the extravagant features and operations, it’s not surprising that Keurig is also part computer. The different printed circuit boards (PCBs) found inside the machines are the true masterminds that make it function so effortlessly.
To better understand how a Keurig coffee maker works, consider the following step by step process.
Many Keurig models include a water tank that holds more than one cup of water (although there are some cute little numbers that don’t take up hardly any space on your counter, but need to have water added before each cup is brewed).
The machine itself keeps some water heated continuously, so the start-up process doesn’t take more than a minute or so, and the water is hot enough to brew the coffee.
The pressure of the brewing process is enough to ensure that your coffee is extracted at the proper temperature and force. If it wasn’t, your cup of joe would be weak, bitter, or just plain uninteresting!
Before you press the start button you need to place your K-cup or coffee pod into the machine and place your coffee cup under the brewing head.
Here’s what happens next:
When you push start on your machine, many things begin to happen at once:
- Your Keurig starts heating the internal tank of water (the one mentioned earlier). It only takes about a minute for this process to complete. The pod is pierced at the top, and a one-way valve opens on the bottom of your K-Cup.
- Your Keurig machine will start dispensing a pre-measured amount of water through the needle in your cup. Once all this water has made its way through your little wonder machine, it begins to dispense some more fresh water into your cup (this is only if the Keurig senses that you had more than 6 ounces of coffee to brew).
- All this time, the pod is still under pressure and its contents are being forced out of the tiny little hole at the top of your K-Cup.
- When all the water has been dispensed by your Keurig coffee maker, the internal tank begins to drain of water.
If you try to make another cup of coffee before it’s done draining, you’ll notice that nothing happens. This is because the machine is preparing itself to brew the next fresh cup of coffee. You might hear the machine whirring and working as it goes through this process.
You may think of a Keurig as something like a single-serve toaster, but there’s actually more technology at play than you think, my friend.
The Benefits of Using a Keurig Coffee Maker
There are so many reasons why we love these single-serve coffee machines, but just to name a few:
They brew a perfect cup of coffee each and every time. The machine only uses the exact amount of water needed for each K-Cup, so it’s very efficient.
You can buy a variety of brand name coffees, not to mention the fun assortment of flavored varieties – things like French Vanilla, Caramel Macchiato, Hazelnut Creme – you just have to visit your local supermarket or online retailer to see how many brands and flavors there are!
And you can purchase K-cup for making hot chocolate and hot tea, too.
You don’t have to measure anything out. You just put the K-cup in and press start, so it’s a great option for people who are not as experienced (or impatient) at making coffee.
And the best part: there’s no mess and you don’t need to clean your machine after each use. It goes without saying, though, that proper care and maintenance of your Keurig machine will keep it in top working order.
Many of the K-cups sold today are BPA-free, and most are recyclable. It takes a minute to remove the foil top and discard the used coffee grounds, but then it’s a quick rinse of the plastic pod and you can toss it into your recycle bin.
Are you thinking of getting a new Keurig coffee maker? Here are some of the current best sellers:
What is a K-Cup?
If you love the convenience of your Keurig machine, then you can thank K-cups! This little package contains coffee grounds that are super tightly packed together. The machines even come with a built-in tool, called an “empty pod detector” to ensure no coffee grounds make it into your cup.
There are a few drawbacks to K-cups, though. For one thing, they aren’t the most environmentally conscious choice for coffee drinkers – or anyone else interested in reducing their carbon footprint.
On the upside, if you buy a reusable K-cup and fill it up with your own coffee beans, you can easily control how strong or weak of a flavor it has as well as the brand and type of coffee you want to drink.
If you breathe the word “Keurig” to any coffee lover, chances are that they’ll immediately think of K-cups. This is a vast improvement from the old days when you had to use a filter and spoon with your coffeemaker – not to mention all the work it took just to make one cup!
While many people still love their drip brewers, Keurig single-serve machines have a leg up in the hyper-convenient department. If you’re a busy person who needs a quick dose of caffeine, there’s nothing better than being able to pop a K-cup into your machine and have your coffee seconds later!
How about coffee pods?
There are a number of coffee pods available today, and that brings the option of a “no-cup” way to brew in a Keurig coffee maker. Yep. there is no plastic used in a coffee pod, and most of them are commercially compostable.
For me, it’s coffee pods every time when I use my Keurig machine. There is a foil lid, but no plastic involved in the brewing process, the coffee is richer, fuller, and has a little bit of sediment at the bottom. It is a quick version of French press coffee, in my opinion.
Plastic-free coffee pods can be a little less expensive to purchase than K-cup style pods, too.
Here are my current coffee pod favorites from SF Bay:
How to clean a Keurig Coffee Maker
Coffee tastes better when the machine is clean, so it’s important to keep your Keurig in tip-top shape!
- You can use a descaling product, or vinegar. Either way, use 16 ounces of your chosen cleaning solution and 16 ounces of water.
- Run a brew cycle (I use the largest size to speed things up a bit) without a K-cup in the machine. Keep repeating this process until the reservoir runs out of water.
- Discard any remaining liquid and rinse the reservoir really well.
- Run 3 full reservoirs of water only through the machine. This will remove any traces of cleaner or vinegar. And don’t skip this step, or your coffee may taste pretty gross!
Our friends at Good Housekeeping have a nifty infographic that clearly explains what needs to be cleaned on your Keurig coffee maker and how often to do so.
A nice tip when it comes to cleaning is to use the “hot water” option on the machine before you clean it up. This will clear out any leftover coffee grounds in the pod compartment, so you can be sure they won’t get in your way during the scrubbing process. Just run a cycle through with water only, no coffee pod, before cleaning your Keurig.
Of course, you probably don’t want to use any soap when you make your coffee, so it might be a good idea to run the water through the machine twice after cleaning it. It’s also nice not to have residue that soap leaves behind in the reservoir.
If you really love your Keurig but can’t manage all of those steps every time, consider buying an automatic cleaning kit. Those are made specifically for Keurig machines, and often come with a descaling cartridge that can help keep your cup at optimum quality over time.
To use the machine again after you’ve performed any of these cleaning tasks, it’s best to run 3-4 cycles without anything in the pod holder! This is because there is a lot of leftover residue from the cleaning products you used that might get into your coffee, and that can definitely affect its flavor.
Sum It Up: How does a Keurig work?
Whether you currently own a Keurig, like me, or are thinking of purchasing one, the bottom line is this: you really can’t beat the efficiency of these little beauties when it comes to brewing a tasty, fresh cup of joe.
Of course, I also take my coffee making to different levels throughout the day, preferring to grind my fresh coffee beans, and get actively involved in the brewing process with a pour over. It has become a very enjoyable part of my day.
So there can be a place for a variety of coffee brewing methods, my friend. It keeps life interesting.
I hope this article has been helpful in answering the question “how does a Keurig work?”
Candi Randolph is a coffee lover, blogger, and content creator who loves to share her knowledge with the coffee-drinking world. You’ll often find her tending to her coffee bar at home, deciding which method to use to brew her next cup of java. Life is full of important decisions. ☕