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How Does a Keurig Coffee Maker Work? Detailed Guide

Keurig Slow

By now, you are likely familiar with a Keurig. This handy little gadget popped up in lounges and doctors’ offices to give them (and others like them) a way to offer people an individual cup of coffee. Not only was it more sanitary, but with the endless hot water, there was no need for someone to keep making pot after pot from a standard drip machine.

It was not long after that the Keurig took root in people’s homes. With its quick and easy brewing capabilities, it became a popular choice for making coffee. That does not mean it doesn’t have its share of controversy, however.

If you are curious about this fairly new machine, check out our Keurig overview below. We will touch on everything from how it works, K-cups, and why some people are not a fan of the single brewer.

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How Do K-Cups Work?

It is impossible to describe the Keurig without discussing the K-cup. Named after its parent machine, the K-cup is the coffee you use with a single brewer. Unlike a bag of grinds for a typical drip, the Keurig uses a system that gives you an individual portion of ground coffee in a cup with a filter included.

You will find a vast array of K-cups in local supermarkets and convenience stores alike. They are a small cup-shaped plastic container that is vacuum-sealed with an aluminum cover. This not only helps to keep the coffee fresh but also prevents moisture and heat from getting inside.

How A K-Cup is Designed

Inside the cup, you will find ground coffee that is enough for a single serving. At the bottom is where you find the filter. The K-cup is inserted into the Keurig so it can brew. There are also many different kinds of K-cups available. You can find all different types of coffee such as decaf, bold, mild, breakfast blend, and much more.

Keurig Starbucks K-Cup inside

If you are not a fan of coffee, you can always opt for something else. You can find K-cups that contain tea, hot chocolate, chai, and many other beverages. It’s also important to note that Keurig also released a reusable K-cup insert.

This is a plastic tube-like accessory with a removable lid and a cup filter on the inside. This allows you to use your standard ground coffee, or any beverage grind if you prefer not to purchase K-cups.

Coffee Pods v K-Cups

Many people confuse K-cups with coffee pods, though they are very different. While the K-cup comes in a plastic container designed specifically for the Keurig, a coffee pod is essentially an instant coffee pouch.

The coffee pod is made of grounds that are sealed in a thick-ish filter. They are flat, round, and bendable. While they are also a single-serving option that you can get in either coffee or tea, they only require you to add hot water to a cup. They also cannot be used in the Keurig.

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How Does a Keurig Work?

Back to the Keurig. To better understand this unit (if you are not familiar with it), we will give you a brief overview. Typically bigger than your average drip coffee maker, the Keurig is a countertop brewer. It also has fairly simple and intuitive components. For example, it has a large reservoir of water. Once it’s filled, it will make about double what a pot of coffee can make. Not only that but once you turn the machine on, the water stays hot.

In commercial settings like doctor’s offices, the reservoir can also be attached to the main water line, so there is no need to refill the water tank at all. You also have a top pull handle that lifts the lid for you to insert the K-cup. Finally, you have a small platform for your mug, and a few easy-to-navigate buttons (that we will go over next).

Keurig Mini side view

How the Keurig Works

Your first order of business before making your cup of joe is to ensure the water tank is full, and the machine is on. If you are firing it up first thing in the morning, it can take a few minutes for the water to heat. Once these steps are complete, you can move on to making your brew.

  • Insert the K-cup: When you place the K-cup under the lid, a needle punctures the top vacuum-sealed aluminum. It makes a small hole in the bottom of the cup, as well.
  • Drip Brew: The Keurig then sends water through the top hole and through the grinds inside the K-cup. It will also pass through the filter at the bottom of the cup.
  • Selecting Your Coffee: Once you insert your coffee of choice, you need to choose which size coffee you want. There is typically either a small or large option. The smaller version is going to be stronger and fill between ½ and ¾ of a standard coffee cup. The large size, which is more diluted, will fill a standard mug. Pressing either button will get the Keurig working.
  • Pouring the Coffee: The bottom puncture hole allows the water to flow through the grinds and filter out through the bottom hole into your cup placed below.

That’s it! In only a few seconds, you can enjoy a delicious cup of coffee. What’s more, leaving the machine on keeps the water hot at all times, so you won’t have to wait for it to heat to enjoy your second cup.

woman drinking coffee

Who Is the Keurig Best For?

This single-serve option is a good coffee maker for several different people and situations. Take a look at when this machine is most valuable:

  • Singles: If you live alone, the Keurig is a great choice. It keeps you from guessing how much water and coffee to use for only a cup or two in a drip brewer, plus you won’t have to waste any water.
  • Professional use: As we already mentioned, using a Keurig in an office or other commercial business is a great idea. This allows visitors and employees alike to enjoy a fresh cup without waiting. Not only that, but the single K-cups help keep things more sanitary. Like a single household, it can also cut down on wasted water and other coffee supplies.
  • People on the Go: If you and your other family members are constantly on the go, or you are one of those that rarely has time to make a morning cup before you have to be out the door, the Keurig is a good option. It makes several cups of coffee in less than two minutes.
  • Different Tastes: Again, if you have many people in the house all with different preferences for hot beverages, the variety of K-cups can make life a little simpler.

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The Difference Between a Drip Brewer and a Keurig

Both of these machines are essentially drip brewers and essentially work the same way by passing hot water through coffee grounds. That being said, there are several differences to make note of that can sway you one way or another.


As mentioned, the Keurig can hold a lot more water than a standard coffee maker. This allows you to make more cups without refilling. Additionally, the Keurig can keep the water hot consistently. There is also something to be said for water that is wasted.

If some of the coffee in the pot is not used, it essentially goes to waste. With a Keurig, the water is only used for individual cups, so waste is limited. Finally, you can have your Keurig hooked up to your water line, so there is no need to refill the tank. That is more typical of an office, however.

drain Keurig water

K-Cups v Bags of Coffee

There is where a fair amount of controversy comes into play. On one side of the argument, K-cups allow you to have an individual mug of your preferred coffee. Everyone can choose their beverage, as well, without having to change the pot or use other machines. They are also less messy.

On the other hand, K-cups are not eco-friendly. They are difficult to recycle and they add a lot of pollution to the environment. Additionally, heating the plastic is thought to cause health issues. Although K-cups are BPA-free, the chemicals in the material are still considered unsafe.

Besides those issues, K-cups are generally more expensive than a bag of coffee. The price can have a lot to do with the brand, but for the most part, it’s more costly to keep up your supply of the cups. Not only that, but besides the Keurig insert accessory we mentioned earlier, K-cups are the only coffee you can use.

Rude Awakening K-Cups closeup

The Machine Itself

Though we already touched on the significant differences between each machine, there are a few other things to consider. First, the Keurig is built to withstand high pressure and hot temperatures. They are usually more durable and long-lasting than your average drip brewer, as well.

The Keurig is also easier to clean. Not only does it have fewer parts, but most of them come equipped with a “descale” indicator light. This lets you know that there is a build-up of minerals in your machine that is affecting its performance.

This is more prevalent in areas that have hard water. Sending through some vinegar is sufficient to clean it out, however. Finally, as we have already mentioned, the Keurig works much faster and stays ready for your next cup of joe.

RELATED READ: How to Clean & Descale a Keurig (Easy Steps)

Pros and Cons

To make things a bit more accessible, let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of Keurig coffee machines.

Keurig Pros
  • Makes coffee quickly
  • Water stays hot
  • Gives drinkers more options
  • Wastes less water
  • Easier to clean
  • Durable
Keurig Cons
  • Not eco-friendly
  • Plastic chemicals
  • K-cups are more expensive

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We hope this article has given you a broad view of how the Keurig works, and why it could be the right brewer for your daily coffee. While it has many good qualities, there are still some downsides that you should consider before making your purchase.



Ollie Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones is a zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia. Originally from the US, he thought he loved coffee before his big move down under, but his discovery of the flat white and the cafe on every corner has taken his coffee passion to a whole new level. He's so excited to share his knowledge and experience with readers worldwide (and keep testing coffee drinks while he's at it).

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