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Coffee Pods vs K-Cups: What’s the Difference?

K cups vs Coffee Pods

Have you recently purchased a single-serve coffee maker like a Keurig, and now you’re wondering if you can use both coffee pods and K-Cups in it? Outwardly, coffee pods and K-Cups look similar enough that you’d think they’d be interchangeable. Unfortunately, they are not. But if you have your heart set on using a particular coffee pod (or already bought one for your Keurig by mistake), there’s still hope! You can purchase a coffee pod adapter online.

According to a recent study, single-serve coffee makers are the second most popular brewing system after a traditional drip coffee maker. With these convenient machines came different methods of delivering the coffee: pods or K-Cups.

If you’re curious about what makes these two so different, read on.

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Differences at a glance

A coffee pod is a single serving of coffee or tea packaged in filter paper. Pods are usually small, round, and flat. Sometimes they will be additionally wrapped in foil to help them stay fresh.

A K-Cup is a single serving of coffee or tea (or hot chocolate) packaged in a little plastic cup. Within the cup is a filter that contains the coffee or tea, and there are two needles in the Keurig machine that puncture the lid and bottom of the K-Cup. Water flows through the cup and into the filter, allowing the coffee to flow out the bottom without the grounds dripping into your cup as well (in theory).

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Coffee pods

Nespresso coffee pods

Even though Keurig may seem to dominate the industry to most Americans, Nespresso is credited with making the first coffee brewing system that used pods in 1976. Therefore, coffee pods existed long before K-Cups were first invented in 1992.

If they’ve been around that long, why aren’t they more popular? The answer is in their manufacturing. Each company that made a single-serve coffee machine made its own coffee pods, and there was no interchanging them. They were made for that specific machine only. It wasn’t like today, where you can go to the local grocery store and pick up a huge variety of K-Cups. Coffee pods have very limited roasts, flavors, and brands that produce them.

Like anything else, though, they have pros and cons.

Pros
  • Stronger and more flavorful
  • More eco-friendly, with minimal packaging
  • More aromatic
  • Some are less expensive
Cons
  • Fewer options available
  • Can be harder to find
  • Not compatible with as many coffee makers

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K-Cups

Angelino's K-cups

K-Cups are the trademarked property of Keurig Green Mountain, but Keurig has partnered with other major brands—like Starbucks, Folgers, and Gevalia (and many, many others)—to produce K-Cups of their own specialized roasts and flavors.

K-Cups were invented in 1992 by John Sylvan, who wanted to create a single-serve coffee machine that could be used by office workers to avoid a shared pot of coffee that quickly grew stale and unpalatable. He succeeded, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters became the first to offer coffee in a K-Cup.

Many others quickly followed, and now, hundreds of coffee varieties are on the market. You can even buy non-coffee K-Cups, including tea, lemonade, hot chocolate, and soup!

As convenient and mass-produced as they are, K-Cups still have pros and cons.

Pros
  • Easy to brew and very available
  • Countless brands, roasts, flavors, and even non-coffee options
  • Can be inexpensive
  • Compatible with most single-serve machines
Cons
  • More expensive than ground coffee
  • Less eco-friendly and not recyclable
  • Not as strong or flavorful
  • Less aromatic

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Bottom line

K-Cups and coffee pods have a lot in common: they’re both convenient single-serve coffee options! But there are a few major differences that you’ll want to be aware of. K-Cups are plastic cups with a self-contained filter filled with coffee grounds. Coffee pods are round, flat, and contain coffee grounds wrapped in filter paper.

Coffee pods cannot be used in Keurig machines, but K-Cups can be used in many single-serve coffee machines in addition to the ones made by Keurig.K-Cups are more expensive, but there is a greater variety of them than coffee pods. Coffee pods are more difficult to find and not as readily available as K-Cups. And K-Cups are less eco-friendly than coffee pods — though it’s possible to be an eco-friendly K-Cup user!

Which should you choose? It depends on your coffee machine, budget, and flavor preferences!

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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