The Best Keurig Machine (But We Really Don’t Recommend It)


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Jan 31, 2024

The Best Keurig Machine (But We Really Don’t Recommend It)

We’ve updated the environmental impact of using a Keurig machine now that Keurig

We’ve updated the environmental impact of using a Keurig machine now that Keurig pods are recyclable (though they’re still not great for the environment).

We hate to break it to you, but after more than 20 hours spent researching and testing Keurig machines, we don't recommend them for anyone. Keurig machines brew expensive coffee that we didn't find particularly strong or tasty. And they often break within warranty, all while taking a toll on the environment. A Keurig also doesn't save you much time, shaving just a few minutes off other single-cup brewing setups. If you absolutely must get one, the Keurig K-Classic was the best model we tried. But you don't really need a Keurig machine.

We understand why Keurig appeals to so many people: It's easy to use and lets you choose from a huge variety of blends and flavors every time you make a cup of coffee. But a Nespresso machine offers a similar experience with better-tasting coffee and a smaller environmental impact. And other methods of brewing coffee, such as a pour-over, French press, or regular old coffee maker, cost less and taste much better than either Keurig or Nespresso, for just a bit more effort. With so many options available, we recommend you buy literally any other setup before you buy a Keurig.

As a junior staff writer for Wirecutter who cares about coffee, I’ve reviewed Nespresso machines and French presses. I spent more than 20 hours researching different Keurig machines and testing three. Four of us tested coffee made with more than two dozen flavors of pods, as well as a pre-ground bag from Keurig Green Mountain and a new bag from Stumptown that we ground with a Baratza Virtuoso, our upgrade grinder pick. I also interviewed Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

Keurig machines offer instant gratification, but at a cost. Beyond their deserved infamy for environmental destruction—which we’ll discuss later—all Keurig machines make bad coffee. They also take up as much space on your countertop as a drip coffee maker, despite making one cup at a time instead of a whole pot. And they require more maintenance than you think. Here's a rundown of all the downsides we found to owning a Keurig machine.

Every Keurig machine we tested brewed watery, flavorless coffee that paled against every other kind of coffee we’ve made at home. At its best, Keurig coffee tastes like diner coffee. At its worst, it tastes like hot brown water. In our testing, we found that only the 6 ounce brew size made coffee that tasted okay. Though Keurig machines offer 10- or 12-ounce brewing options, that only adds water to the same amount of grounds, making a laughably diluted cup.

"Oh my god," one tester exclaimed upon drinking. "This tastes like an ashtray."

"This tastes like sucking on the paper filter of a coffee machine," another tester said.

"This tastes exactly like water," another tester said. "I’d drink it, but it tastes just like water. I don't taste anything."

A flurry of factors could explain what makes Keurig coffee so disappointing. Writing in Tech Insider, Julia Calderone consulted a wholesale manager at Café Grumpy who told her that the process involves stale grounds, inadequately hot water, and rushed brewing time.

Keurig's lack of transparency around roast and grind dates means that you may get beans roasted years ago. The Green Mountain K-Cups we ordered on April 18, 2018, only included a "best by" date of January 17, 2020. As fresh-roasted coffee is usually best consumed within two weeks of its roast date, we’re not convinced Keurig's air-tight, "nitrogen-flushed," and vacuum-sealed K-Cup® pods keep grounds entirely fresh for two years.

Even if the grind were fresh, it's likely that your Keurig brews with water too cool to properly extract flavor from coffee. The National Coffee Association recommends brewing temperatures between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the NCA, brewing coffee with water cooler than 195 degrees leaves you with flat, under-extracted coffee. By contrast, the Keurig site states that the optimal temperature for brewing coffee is 192 degrees Fahrenheit, also the temperature at which your Keurig brews coffee. We used an instant-read thermometer to measure the temperature of water coming out of the Keurig when no pod was installed, and confirmed that this was generally the case. Though the first cup got to only about 187 degrees, subsequent cups peaked precisely at 192.

At its best, Keurig coffee tastes like diner coffee. At its worst, it tastes like hot brown water.

A Keurig machine also takes less than a minute to brew, much shorter than the 4 minutes it takes to use a French press or a pour-over setup. According to the NCA, brewing coffee for too short a time will result in under-extracted, weak coffee. In normal drip systems, water should be in contact with the grounds for about 5 minutes.

Keurig also states that, after letting the machine sit idle for a while, the first cup you make will be, by default, a few degrees cooler. To remedy this, Keurig suggests first running a "cleansing brew" by making a 6-ounce cup without inserting a K-Cup. Cleansing brews can also help remove any flavor carryover from previous drinks. But all these extra steps defeat the cardinal purpose of a Keurig: to make a cup of coffee in a minute with the touch of a button.

Some more expensive Keurig machines, such as the K-Select, offer a button that makes your coffee stronger. The button brews your coffee for 1 minute, 15 seconds, which is about 30 seconds longer than normal Keurig brewing. This prolonged extraction increases the strength of your coffee, but a Keurig "strong" is still noticeably weaker than a regular cup of Starbucks. If you like strong coffee, you really shouldn't buy a Keurig.

Not only is it bad, Keurig coffee is also ridiculously expensive. Each K-Cup contains around 10 grams of ground coffee, and you can buy a 24-pack of K-Cups for about $16.50. This works out to around $30 for a pound of coffee, with pricier Starbucks K-Cup blends going for $50 a pound. A high-quality bag of beans from your local coffee shop probably costs about $16 for a pound, making a cup of Keurig coffee a raw deal.

Keurig machines are large and clunky. At 13.3 inches by 9.8 inches, the original K-Classic machine takes up almost as much space on your counter as a large drip coffee maker (like our top pick, the OXO On 9-Cup Coffee Maker). And the Keurig looks downright gargantuan next to other single-serve coffee apparati such as a pour-over setup, a French press, or even the Nespresso we recommend.

Keurig offers a one-year limited warranty on all its machines, but many customer reviews say the machines don't even last that long. Most Keurig machines available on Amazon have a worrying number of one-star reviews complaining that the machines failed in one way or another after just a few months. For example, dozens of reviews for the K-Select say that when you press the power button the machine begins to uncontrollably gush cold water, sort of like any scene in the second half of Titanic. This defect occurred generally within three weeks of purchase. Wirecutter staff writer Amy Roberts had her K-15 Mini break on her within a year of receiving it as a gift. Luckily this happened within warranty, so Keurig customer service agreed to replace her machine.

Each Keurig we tested splattered coffee across a 2-inch splash zone while brewing, creating a much more significant mess than a regular coffee maker. The brewed Keurig coffee spews out of a spout around three to four inches above the rim of a mug, resulting in droplets of coffee that spatter on the drip tray, machine, and counter. While the mess was easy to wipe down, it's frustrating to have to clean the machine after each use. Also, Keurigs make a gross, sputtering noise while brewing. It's a terrible sound to wake up to in the morning.

Keurig's reliance on single-use plastic coffee pods produces enormous amounts of waste, though as of the end of 2020, all Keurig pods are recyclable. To do so, you first have to peel off the aluminum lid (which is also recyclable), then dump the grounds and recycle the cup with other plastics. For office use, Keurig has its K-cycle mail-back program. You fill a bin with used pods and mail them back to Keurig using a prepaid shipping label, where Keurig will recycle them.

The process itself is easy enough, and recycling pods is an improvement over them ending up in a landfill. But, plastic is much more expensive to recycle than other materials and, frustratingly, putting the K-cups into the recycling is no guarantee they’ll actually be recycled. A recent NPR and PBS Frontline investigation found that less than 10% of plastic in the US recycling pipeline has been recycled. So, even though recyclable pods are better than non-recyclable pods, they’re still not great for the environment.

There are more environmentally-friendly options for single-serve, convenient brewing that don't require plastics at all, like Nespresso with all-aluminum pods, pour overs with recyclable paper filters, and French presses with no disposable byproducts (we’ll talk more about alternatives below).

There are certain situations where a Keurig could be helpful to have on hand. For example, single-serve coffee setups help make a rental or Airbnb feel more like home, and are easy for guests to use and clean up. They’re also useful in offices or waiting rooms, such as those in hospitals or your local auto dealership. Some people also just love the instant gratification of a Keurig, enjoy having a whole range of flavors to choose from, or like being able to effortlessly brew one cup of coffee at a time.

But we think there is a better brewing alternative for any and all of these situations. A Nespresso machine, which brews strong shots of espresso-like coffee, is as fast and easy to use as a Keurig; our upgrade pick can brew coffee-like Americanos, too. It also uses aluminum capsules, which are much easier to recycle than plastic coffee pods. A pour-over setup or French press are a bit more labor intensive, but they’re also much cheaper and more compact than a Keurig, and can make a single cup of coffee that tastes wildly better.

Keurig has two lines of coffee machines: the classic line and the 2.0 line. The only meaningful difference between the lines is that Keurig 2.0 machines can brew a carafe of up to 30 ounces of coffee using a larger K-Carafe pod. The 2.0 machines also offer touchscreen controls and more options for cup sizes, such as a 16-ounce cup. But the latter feature isn't particularly useful, as we found anything larger than a 6-ounce cup of Keurig coffee so watery as to be undrinkable.

Keurig 2.0 machines scan the lids of the cups to ensure they accept only 2.0-compatible Keurig pods, shutting out the third-party pods that erupted on the market after the K-Cup patent expired in 2012. People dislike the 2.0 brewer because of the newly incompatible pods, but the machines have stuck around because they offer the option to brew a full pot.

To test the machines, we made drinks of every possible size using different brands and blends of pods available on the Keurig site.

To narrow down our list, we compared all 29 Keurig models, noting features like cup sizes, buttons that make your coffee stronger, and reservoir size. As all Keurigs contain the same brewing mechanism, we decided to test machines only from the classic line. We also read heaps of reviews about the various models on Amazon and on the Keurig site, noting what people liked and disliked from each machine. We settled on testing three: the K-Mini K15, the K-Classic, and the K-Select. The K-Mini is the smallest machine Keurig offers and seemed like the company's attempt to compete with our favorite Nespresso, the Essenza Mini, a small, capable model that excels at the basics without any frills. The K-Classic looked like a step above the K-Mini and offered a larger water reservoir. And the K-Select was the least expensive machine that also offered an option to brew stronger coffee, as we read complaints that regular Keurig coffee tastes watered-down.

To test the machines, we made drinks of every possible size using different brands and blends of pods available on the Keurig site, including roasts from Green Mountain Coffee (Keurig's in-house brand), The Original Donut Shop, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Laughing Man. We compared the Starbucks K-Cups we used to similar roasts of actual Starbucks coffee and found the latter tasted much better. We also made several cups of coffee using the reusable K-Cup filter, both with ground beans purchased on the Keurig site and freshly ground beans we purchased on our own from Stumptown.

For our 2020 update, we tested the Instant Pod 2-in-1 Single Brew Coffee and Espresso Maker, a machine from the makers of the Instant Pot that can brew both Nespresso and Keurig pods.

The K-Classic makes fast, easy, awful coffee. We strongly recommend you don't buy it.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $87.

We preferred the K-Classic over the other Keurigs we tested in the same way that one might prefer one brand of airplane peanuts over another—it's a crowded field of disappointing competitors. Every Keurig makes the same watery coffee, so we prefer the K-Classic only because it was easier to use than the K-Mini, and the only other Keurig we tested, the K-Select, seems to have durability issues.

The K-Classic suffers from many of the same flaws as the other Keurigs we tested.

The K-Classic works like any other Keurig, with a water reservoir on its side and a number of buttons that allow you to dictate the size of your coffee. Unlike the K-Mini, the K-Classic has a removable reservoir, which means you can fill it directly in the sink. The K-Classic can make 6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-ounce cups of coffee, but we found anything larger than a 6-ounce cup tasted laughably watery. Like all Keurigs aside from the K-Mini, which is around the size of a blender, the K-Classic is a bulky machine that takes up about as much room on your counter as a drip coffee maker.

The K-Classic suffers from many of the same flaws as the other Keurigs we tested. The machine makes a terrible gurgling noise as it brews, and the resulting stream spatters past the drip tray and onto the machine and countertop. Twice as expensive as our budget 12-cup coffee maker, the K-Classic costs more to do less. The K-Classic costs almost as much as our Nespresso machine pick, the Essenza Mini, which we’d recommend over any Keurig.

Unlike Nespresso machines, which use minimal amounts of water to make small espresso drinks, all Keurigs guzzle water for each cup and require near-constant refills. But we preferred the K-Classic's water reservoir to the K-Minis, as the K-Classic determines how much water will go into your cup according to whichever button you press. In comparison, the K-Mini will add as much water to your coffee as you have in the water tank, so it's very easy to make cups of "coffee" that spill all over your counter. The K-Mini includes a plastic indicator with fill lines that correspond to your desired cup of coffee, but it's easy to forget to add the appropriate amount of water.

Slightly more expensive than a Keurig, the Instant Pod is the only machine that can brew both K-cups and Nespresso capsules.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $120.

The Instant Pod 2-in-1 Single Brew Coffee and Espresso Maker brews both Keurig K-cups and Nespresso capsules, making it a good—and the only—option for households who want both in one machine. Made by the company that makes Instant Pot multi-cookers, the Instant Pod can brew Keurig coffees in 8-, 10-, and 12-ounce sizes. Unlike the K-Classic, the Instant Pod can't brew a 6-ounce cup of Keurig coffee, which is the size of Keurig coffee we found the least watery and the most tolerable. We found the Instant Pod's 8-ounce Keurig coffee to be the least bad of its brew sizes. The machine can also brew Nespressos in 2-, 4-, and 6-ounce sizes, which are roughly equivalent to the espresso drinks a basic Nespresso machine can make. It's a little more expensive than a K-Classic, but much cheaper than the cheapest Nespresso machine.

The Instant Pod is user friendly to beginners, with a grid of one-touch buttons on the top of the machine specific to each brew size. It was hard at first to tell that the buttons are touchscreen, which led us to press them hard several times to no effect. But if you press the button lightly, it will begin blinking to indicate the machine is warming up, and then brew your coffee.

The rectangular Instant Pod is approximately the same size as the K-Classic, though a little narrower and deeper. But its hefty 2-liter water tank is nearly seven times as large as the K-Classic's, meaning you can brew several coffees back to back without needing to refill. And it's much more space efficient than storing both a Keurig and a Nespresso on your counter.

The Instant Pod has a one-year limited warranty that covers manufacturer defects, which is equivalent to the warranty on Keurig machines. Although we’ve noticed a significant number of reviews in which customers complain that their Keurig machine has broken within a year, the Instant Pod hasn't been out long enough to speak to the machine's performance over the same time frame.

Like the Labradoodle, Keurig is one of those things whose inventor regretted ever creating. John Sylvan, the inventor of Keurig K-Cups, told James Hamblin of The Atlantic that he no longer uses K-Cups because they’re expensive and bad for the environment.

Making good on their commitment to make all their pods recyclable by 2020, Keurig now makes cups using #5 plastic, also known as polypropylene. This is an improvement over the previously used #7 plastic, or polystyrene, which comprises a cocktail of plastics that cannot be recycled. To understand exactly what this means, we interviewed Steve Alexander, the president of The Association of Plastic Recyclers. Alexander explained that plastics recycling operates in a buyer's market. Polyethylene terephthalate (#1), high-density polyethylene (#2), and polypropylene (#5) are the most valuable plastics currently in the recycling stream and therefore the most likely to get recycled. But #1 and #2 plastics, which can be found in soda bottles and milk jugs, respectively, have historically larger markets and are more commonly recycled than #5 plastic.

What's more, all Keurig cups include a lid of aluminum foil that helps seal the pod. To recycle a recyclable K-Cup, you need to peel off the lid and remove the grounds and paper filter with your fingers. The lid can be recycled with other aluminum products, but Alexander says any remaining foil from these lids acts as a contaminant to the plastics recycling process and could affect whether the pods are sorted correctly to be recycled.

"It's hoped that in the process the lid won't be enough of a contaminant and it will still be recycled," Alexander said. "But the foil lid is problematic." Alexander said Keurig has done testing at a number of materials recovery facilities and certified that the company's pods are 90% sortable.

There's also the small-capture problem. Most materials recovery facilities have filtering grates with holes so large that anything smaller than 2 inches across will slip through and end up in a landfill. So even if your K-Cup is now recyclable, it won't be recycled if the facility can't detect its presence on the conveyor belt.

And even if the K-Cups were 100% sortable and 100% recyclable, there's no real guarantee that the plastic you correctly sort and direct into the recycling stream will end up recycled, despite the message that the makers of plastic—oil and gas companies—have tried to send to the public, according to an NPR and PBS Frontline investigation.

All this could change. But it's taken longer for the company to figure out a solution for recycling plastics than it took for NASA to put a man on the moon, as pointed out by this story from The New York Times about Keurig's new recyclable pods.

Sure, Keurig sells a My K-Cup Universal Reusable Coffee Filter, which allows you to forgo K-Cups entirely, use your own beans, and create only compostable waste. But in our testing, the reusable filter still made watery, disappointing coffee that lost many of the tasting notes we noticed when brewing the same coffee using a drip or pour-over setup. It's also a hassle to use—you have to fill the reusable filter with grounds, empty them after brewing, and replace the normal Keurig filter after if you’d like to use a normal K-Cup. At this point, you might as well use a real coffee maker, which will make better coffee anyway. And even beyond the pods, considering Keurig's one-year warranties and history of broken machines, you’re still investing in basically irreparable, single-use hardware that may end up in a landfill after a year, even if you get your machine replaced.

Any situation that may make you think you need a Keurig, you don't. Here's a rundown of all the other coffee makers we recommend if you still feel drawn toward Keurig.

If you really want a machine that's quick, simple, and pod-based, we would recommend buying a Nespresso. While most Nespressos make concentrated, espresso-like drinks rather than a big cup of coffee, the cheapest Nespresso we recommend can make a drink called a lungo—an espresso made with double the amount of water—for people who dislike the strength of espresso. And our upgrade pick can brew two sizes of Americanos, a diluted espresso drink more similar to coffee than an espresso. Nespresso machines also work well as coffee machines in Airbnbs or rental units because they’re easy to use and require very little cleanup. Nespresso drinks taste more watery and bitter than espresso from a coffee shop, but they’re still stronger and more flavorful than anything that comes out of a Keurig. If you like both Keurig and Nespresso, the Instant Pod will make both.

Unlike Keurig, Nespresso uses aluminum capsules, which are much more easily recycled than plastic. Recycling aluminum takes just 5% of the energy required to make new aluminum, as it simply involves melting the metal. Nespresso also offers a recycling program that makes it easy to ship your pods free of charge to a Nespresso site that will take care of everything for you. But like Keurig, Nespresso coffee doesn't come cheap. Per gram, Nespresso coffee runs around $62 a pound. In comparison, the priciest Keurig K-Cups cost around $50 per pound. Nespresso also works with reusable capsules—there are many brands, but we tried Sealpods—but we found the resulting coffee tasted a little weak.

If you want to brew one cup of coffee and don't mind putting just a bit more effort into it, we recommend a pour-over or a French press. Both brewing methods produce high-quality coffee and cost much, much less than the $80 Keurig K-Classic. Our pour-over pick, the Kalita Wave 185 Dripper, runs about $20 plus the cost of paper filters. And our French press pick, the Bodum Brazil, is just $18. With either option, you’ll get vastly better coffee at a fraction of the cost of a Keurig and pods. Each process takes a little longer than Keurig, but the brew time for either is still under five minutes. Pour-over and French press also do require a bit more cleanup, but it's mostly a matter of dumping coffee grounds in the trash or compost, and we don't think it's a dealbreaker.

In 2014, Keurig released a new 2.0 brewer that could brew a full carafe of two to five cups of coffee. This feature is frankly ridiculous. Keurig's whole shtick is single-serve coffee. If you want to make a pot of coffee for people, buy a coffee maker and don't force your friends to drink your watered-down brown morning juice. And even if you think you only want to make one cup at a time, a drip coffee maker is a better bet if you end up drinking multiple cups of coffee a day.

We liked the inexpensive K-Mini K15's compact footprint and relatively attractive body. But the water reservoir system left too much room for human error, as it would brew a cup of coffee with however much water happened to be in the tank. So when we forgot to check for leftover water before adding more to the reservoir, the K-Mini gushed 20-ounce cups of coffee that spilled all over the counter and tasted even more like water than a normal Keurig coffee.

In testing, we liked the K-Select the most because it offers a button for a stronger brew that makes coffee that tastes more like what coffee is supposed to taste like. But we couldn't recommend it over the K-Classic due to a worrying pattern of Amazon reviews that suggest a defect in the line. Many reviewers complained that after a few weeks of use the K-Select uncontrollably spews cold water as soon as you press the power button. So while we like the option of stronger coffee, we would prefer a machine that has a better track record of not being defective.

The pricy Keurig K-Elite boasts all the features of the K-Select along with an iced coffee setting that brews concentrated hot coffee over ice that Keurig claims will taste cold but not diluted. The K-Elite also allows you to adjust the brew temperature anywhere from 187 to 192 degrees Fahrenheit (all below the National Coffee Association's recommended 195 to 205 degrees). But we didn't find any of its features remarkable enough for its $170 price tag to warrant testing.

Like all machines in Keurig's 2.0 line, the K250 can brew a full carafe of coffee (22, 26, or 30 ounces) It also features a button that brews stronger coffee and touchscreen controls. As we think the allure of Keurig revolves around making a single cup of coffee at a time, we didn't see the point of a Keurig that can make a pot of coffee. If you want that, buy a drip coffee machine.

After brewing and drinking over 75 pots of coffee, we think the cleverly designed Espro P3 is the best French press for making a bold yet balanced brew.

The OXO Good Grips Cold Brew Coffee Maker is the best we’ve found after years of testing. It makes smooth, balanced, delicious cold brew.

After spending more than 120 hours researching and testing espresso machines, we think the Breville Bambino Plus is the best option for beginners.

We’ve been testing coffee grinders since 2015 and have yet to find a better value than the consistent, reliable, and repairable Baratza Encore.

Through multiple rounds of testing since 2013, the Cuisinart CPK-17 has remained our favorite electric kettle. It's fast, accurate, and easy to use—all at a great price.

Of all the coffee makers under $100 that we’ve tested, the Ninja CE251 makes the best-tasting coffee, and it is easy to use.

We tasted over 150 cups of coffee to find the best easy-to-use dripper for making pour-over coffee.

We’ve been testing coffee makers since 2015, and think the OXO Brew 9-Cup Coffee Maker offers the best combination of convenient features and delicious coffee.

All Nespresso machines make identical drinks. We recommend the Essenza Mini because it does the job without taking up much space and without unnecessary extras.

Steve Alexander, president of the Association of Plastic Recyclers, phone interview, April 27, 2018

Julia Calderone, The science behind why pod coffee tastes so bad, Tech Insider, March 8, 2016

Tim Carman, How much better can coffee from a Keurig pod machine get?, The Washington Post, February 28, 2017

Specialty Coffee Association of America, SCAA Best Practice: Guidelines for Brewing with a Two Cup Pour-Over Brewer (PDF), April 2, 2016

National Coffee Association, How to Brew Coffee

Alex Colon, Keurig 2.0 K500, PCMag, August 26, 2014

Michael Hiltzik, Painfully mediocre coffee—for only $50 a pound!, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2014

David Gelles, Keurig's New K-Cup Coffee Is Recyclable, but Hardly Green, The New York Times, April 15, 2016

Sabrina Imbler

Sabrina Imbler is a former staff writer for Wirecutter, where they covered kitchen tools and HVAC.