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K-Cups vs Pods: Discover the Similarities, and the Differences

k cups vs coffee pods - whats the difference anyway

K cups vs pods. What's the difference between the two, and does it matter? A coffee pod is a coffee pod, right? Well, not really. They are made from different material, which impacts the taste and richness of the brewed coffee. And, if you are concerned about environmental impact, the K-cup and the coffee pod are in two different arenas.

Read on, my friend, and learn everything you need to know about these two types of single serve coffee.

If you happen to click on a link and then make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

What is a K Cup?

difference between k cups and coffee pods

K-cups are small plastic or aluminum containers with ground coffee inside. There is a filter, and they are specifically designed for use with a single cup coffee maker, sometimes for a specific type of one cup coffee maker.

Who invented the K-cup? K cups were created by John Sylvan in the 1990s. Little did he know that his plastic pods would change the way we brew coffee.

How are K cups made? The top of a k cup will have a foil lid, with a cup that is made of food-safe plastic. The cup is designed to resist moisture, heat, and light in order to retain freshness and also keep the contents secure. As of this writing, many of the plastic K cups produced can be recycled. 

There is a paper filter inside that is affixed with a food-safe adhesive, and the ground coffee is placed inside the filter.

A very significant point is that the roasting and grinding process is quite different for coffee that is going to be put inside a K-cup vs. a bag of ground coffee. The coffee grounds for K cups should be smaller and more granular. This will ensure the most even brew. In general, between 9 and 12.5 grams of coffee are placed inside the plastic cup, although for a bolder brew there could be as much as 18 grams of coffee in that little baby. 

Are K cups offered in a variety of coffee roasts and blends? Oh, yes.  Whether you like your brew in a light, medium, or bold roast, flavored or not, there is a K-cup waiting for you, my friend.

Where can K cups be purchased? You'll find K-cups in just about every grocery and big box store, online through the manufacturer or sites such as or It's not hard to find K cups! What can be more difficult is deciding which roast to try!

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How much do K cups cost? The cost varies, of course, but know that you will pay more for K cup coffee pods per cup than if you purchase ground or whole bean coffee. It is a personal choice and for some is influenced by their budget.

How easy are K cups to use? Well, it is as easy as placing the K-cup into the slot designated for that purpose, closing the lid of the coffee maker, listening for the 'pop' of the needle from the coffee maker piercing the foil top of the K cup, and pressing the 'start' button.

Are K cups recyclable? Many K-cups are recyclable, and in fact, Keurig made a commitment to produce 100% recyclable K-cup pods by the end of 2020. They chose polypropylene (#5 plastic) because it is widely accepted for curbside recycling in a majority of communities across North America. Be sure to check with your local recycle company to verify that the K cup pods you're using are recyclable.

If your K-cup is recyclable, you can peel off the aluminum top, discard (or compost) the grounds, then rinse out and recycle the cup itself. I choose to use this tool to remove the top and used filter/grounds. It's simple and quick, and there is no mess.

Are K cups sustainable? Although more K cup coffee producers are switching to recyclable cups, there is still an impact on the environment. Here are a couple of alternatives for you to consider:

1) Switch to a reusable filter with your single serve coffee maker. Just make sure the filter you select is compatible with your coffee maker. Here are a few suggestions:

2) Switch to a single serve 'scoop' coffee maker that uses the ground coffee of your choice, like the Hamilton Beach Scoop Single Serve. It can brew a cup of coffee quickly, in less than 90 seconds.

you might also like: 10 best dark roast k-cups to try

What is a Coffee Pod?

k cups vs coffee pods - what is the difference

A coffee pod is a round or semi-circular paper pouch filled with ground coffee. They are not encased in a plastic cup, and may have a food-safe aluminum cover or be made entirely of aluminum. Because the coffee pods have a paper filter and not a plastic cup, the extraction is better and creates a richer brew.

In fact, when I'm enjoying a cup of coffee brewed with a bold blend from Tayst, it has some of the characteristics of French press coffee. It is rich, smooth, and creamy. 

Nespresso Vertuo coffee systems create a heavenly crema on top of each cup of brewed coffee. It's a real treat.

Who invented the coffee pod? A Swiss engineer named Eric Favre is the inventor of the coffee pod. He created the first single-serve coffee container in 1976 when he patented and introduced the Nespresso system. He was also the first president of Nespresso.

How are coffee pods made? Generally, the roasted coffee is ground, and an exact portion is placed in the filter to create the pod. Pods may be inserted into foil packs or placed in airtight bags to preserve freshness.

For example, Nespresso coffee is placed into hermetically sealed aluminum capsules. Those capsules are made from 100% recyclable material.

Another type of coffee pod is the type that was created by the founders of Tayst coffee. The image at the top of this article shows Tayst pods on the right side. Their pods are 100% compostable:

  • The Lid is made from bio materials and water-based compostable ink
  • The Ring is made from compressed corn starch combined with a bio resin.
  • The Mesh is renewable bio resins

The folks at SF Bay coffee create their coffee pods entirely from plant-based commercially compostable materials. Their appearance is very similar to the coffee pods from Tayst.

Are coffee pods offered in a variety of coffee roasts and blends? Absolutely. While the variety is not as extensive as the K-cup style of pod, you'll find a wide variety of roasts available. And, now that many coffee pods are offered in a standard size (61 mm diameter), they work in a variety of single cup coffee makers.

I am loving the bold brews from Tayst coffee at present, and they work perfectly in my Classic Keurig single cup coffee maker.

Where can coffee pods be purchased? Most often you'll purchase coffee pods online through Amazon or directly from the coffee company.

How much do coffee pods cost? You'll often pay more for coffee pods than K cups, although some coffee companies offer discounts for auto shipment programs. When you find a brand you enjoy and appreciate the taste, see what the options are.

How easy are coffee pods to use? Coffee pods are very simple to use. Just place the pod in the designated place in the coffee maker, close the lid, and start the brewing cycle.

One word of caution, and that is to make sure that the coffee pods you have are compatible with your single cup coffee maker. For example, a Nespresso coffee pod is intended for a Nespresso coffee maker. And within that brand, there are two different types of coffee makers and pods: Original and Vertuo.

Are coffee pods recyclable? As noted above, because of the materials used in creating most coffee pods, they are compostable rather than recyclable. Be sure to check the packaging of the coffee pods you purchase to find out what your options are. 

Are coffee pods sustainable? Many of the coffee pods available are made from sustainable materials, as noted above.

And you could select a coffee pod that is compostable in commercial composting facilities (find a commercial composter near you). There are a growing number of companies offering this service around the country.

How do K Cups and Coffee Pods Compare?

We've discussed K cups vs pods separately, so now let's put it together in an easy-to-read comparison:

K Cups

  • coffee and filter are enclosed in a plastic pod  
  • wide variety of roasts and blends readily available 
  • cost is higher per cup than ground or whole bean coffee
  • brewed coffee tastes similar to drip coffee 
  • many brands are recyclable (plastic cup); check to make sure  

Coffee Pods

  • no plastic pod; filter + coffee 
  • purchase primarily online, limited variety but growing 
  • cost is higher per cup than K-cup coffee pods
  • brewed coffee has a richer, deep flavor than K-cup coffee 
  • many brands are made from sustainable materials 

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Will K Cups and Coffee Pods Work in any Single Cup Machine?

k cups vs pods - whats the difference

The versatility of both K-cups and coffee pods has been growing steadily, and if your single cup coffee maker accepts K-cups, it should accept any brand of K-cup that is sold.

When it comes to coffee pods it depends on the brand of the pod. Some coffee pods are made to work in many single cup coffee makers. I am enjoying coffee pods from Tayst currently, and use them in my Keurig brewer.

If you want to experience the delicious brew from Nespresso, you'll use their machine and the pods Nespresso creates specifically for them. You can also send your used pods back to Nespresso for recycling in the free mailing pouch provided to you. It's a great system.

Just be sure to check out the options with any single cup coffee maker you're considering. If you want the most versatility, select a machine that will accept both the K cup style and coffee pods.

Single Cup Coffee Makers: Do You need One?

We've learned about K cups vs pods, so the last question I'll pose is, do you need a single cup coffee maker? What good are the K cups and coffee pods if there is not a beautiful little brewer sitting on the counter just waiting to offer you a tasty cup of java?

you might also like: best kona coffee brands

K Cups vs Pods: Which Will You Choose?

If you have a single cup or a dual coffee maker that allows for some flexibility (ie you are not limited to just one brand and type of coffee pod), try both types and make your one K cups vs pods comparison. Bottom line? It comes down to budget and preference as well as your interest in, and commitment to, the impact to environment.


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. ☕

Last Updated on January 24, 2024

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