Maybe drinking K Cup coffee doesn’t offer the same subtle and sophisticated flavor experience as brewing freshly ground beans. Still, it is an undeniably convenient way for a quick cup of coffee. And as long as you’re choosing the right K Cups, it need not be the bland or watery brew you might fear.
Keep reading for our K Cup buyer’s guide, and our top 8 picks for this year so you can be sure you’re getting the best tasting coffee for a Keurig machine.
Peet’s Cafe Domingo
Peet’s Coffee is known for its well-crafted signature blends, and the Cafe Domingo is no exception. This medium roast is a smooth and balanced coffee, designed to pay tribute to the joys of lingering in a coffee shop. It’s made from beans sourced across Latin America. Domingo is an easy drinker, with flavors of nuts, chocolate, and caramel sweetness.
How to Choose the Best K Cup Coffee Pods
While coffee in pods would never be our first recommendation for a true coffee lover, there is something to be said for the convenience of a single-serve brewer. Whether you’re rushing to get out the door on a hectic morning, or desperate for a caffeine fix after a drawn-out office meeting, K Cups certainly have a valid place in the coffee world (1).
The whole point of the contraption is to provide the fastest possible path to your stimulant – without the time, labor or brain power required for even an automated drip maker.
Luckily, resigning yourself to K Cup coffee does not mean settling for a bland and boring brew. This buyer’s guide will help you select the best Keurig coffee pods for your taste, ensuring a satisfying morning mug.
If you don’t already have a Keurig brewer, you might first want to read up on our guide to best Keurig coffee makers or consider an alternative to Keurig, which will also be compatible with all the best rated K Cups listed here.
And if you’re more of an espresso fanatic, you may want to consider a Nespresso machine instead. We’ve compiled a handy comparison of these two coffee maker brands.
Know your favorite roast.
As with all great tasting coffee beans, K cups are available with light, medium, or dark roast ground coffee. The roast level has a strong influence on the taste, aroma, and body of your brew.
Light roasts typically have fragrant floral or fruity notes, with a mild body and brighter acidity. They showcase the flavors inherent in the coffee beans themselves, rather than those developed by the roasting process.
Medium roasts are the most popular choice in North America, offering a bit more sweetness and less acidity than light roasts, as the longer roasting time leads to more caramelization of sugars. They will have a more substantial body and a slightly toasted flavor and often feature flavors like caramel, nuts, fruits, and milk chocolate.
Good dark roasts have a bittersweet taste profile, which is a product of the roasting process as much as the coffee bean itself. They offer a bold, rich body and flavors that tend towards chocolatey, nutty, and earthy.
Because Keurig coffee machines are known to yield a relatively weak cup as compared to brewing freshly roasted beans, many consumers opt for medium or dark roasts when purchasing K Cups coffee for Keurig.
These deeper roasts generally have a heavier body, and more robust, less subtle flavor notes that make them well-suited to Keurig brewing.
But don’t despair if you’re a fan of kicking off your day with a brightly acidic light roast brew. There are some good light roast K Cups to meet your needs.
Blends are more consistent.
When selecting the best coffee beans, the region of origin of the beans can be a significant factor. This is less important, however, when shopping for the best tasting K Cups. Though there are single-origin options, most are blends. And that’s not a bad thing. Blends tend to have more approachable flavors, ensure consistency, and keep costs affordable (2).
The reason why most roasters create blends is because consumers demand a flavour profile that is repeatable and consistent.
A blend can be any combination of coffee beans from different regions, but some styles are so popular they have a recognized name that you can seek out while shopping.
Breakfast blends are light and lively, typically with fruit-forward flavors and a bright acidity designed to kickstart your day, not that you must drink them at breakfast. These lighter roasts usually contain beans from South America, often Brazil and Colombia, balanced with beans from Central America or Indonesia.
For coffee connoisseurs, the Mocha-Java blend is the world’s original coffee blend. Here, bold and earthy beans from the port of Java in Indonesia combine with bright and fruity beans from the Yemeni port of Mocha. These days, you’re more likely to find Sumatran beans combined with Ethiopian, but the flavors and spirit of this medium roast blend remain.
After-dinner blends are the counterpoint to breakfast blends, designed to soothe after an evening meal. They are typically dark roasted, full-bodied, and smooth, with flavor notes of nuts, chocolate, or spices. As befitting their name, they are often available decaffeinated.
A final type is a Single-Origin blend. A particularly expensive single-origin bean is diluted with a lesser crop from the same region to lower costs while maintaining some of the single origin’s character. This is common in specialty regions like Hawaii’s Kona or Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.
What about certifications?
Coffee certifications mean that a third-party has inspected the growing, processing, or trading method of the coffee beans and offered an award for environmental or socioeconomic good practice.
Some standard certifications given to U.S. coffees include Organic, Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance (3).
Another necessary certification is Kosher, which means that the Coffee complies with the strict dietary standards of traditional Jewish law. Coffee beans are inherently Kosher, but the certification ensures that no additives are present. This is why flavored coffees, for example, are not Kosher certified.
To bulk buy or not to bulk buy?
K Cups are sold in a variety of quantities to satisfy the needs of different consumers, so consider your requirements before making a purchase. If you’re committed to a favorite flavor or buying for a large home or office, you can purchase packs of up to 120 K Cups at a time, a bulk purchase that will certainly save money.
However, part of the appeal of single-serve brewers like Keurigs can sample many different flavors, even for a day. Maybe you want to kick start your day with a breakfast blend and wind it down with an after-dinner blend. In this case, you may want to consider buying in smaller volumes or looking for companies that offer variety packs.
Watch our video review of Keurig’s K-15 single-serve brewer here:
The 8 Best Keurig K Cup Coffee Pods in 2020
Not all K Cup coffee is created equal, and some rich and flavorful options on the market approach the quality of freshly ground beans. Here are 8 of our favorite best-selling K-Cups for this year. They span many roast levels and flavor profiles, so there’s something for everyone.
1. Peet’s Cafe Domingo – Best Overall
- Tasting Notes: Toffee sweetness, nuts, chocolate
- Certifications: Kosher
Peet’s is known for its high-quality coffee and, in particular, their well-crafted blends, so they have an excellent foundation for their K cup collection.
The Café Domingo is a classic medium roast coffee, with smooth and balanced flavors sure to appeal to most palates. They make it as a blend of three Latin American coffees, carefully chosen for their inherently bright character.
The result is an easy-drinking coffee with flavors of nuts and chocolate backed by a caramel sweetness, with a crisp, clean finish.
Named after one of the original cafés opened by Alfred Peet in 1980, on Berkeley’s Domingo Avenue, this Coffee was designed to pay tribute to the joys of lingering in a coffee shop, slowly sipping on a delicious brew and enjoying conversations with friends. So brew up a cup today and savor it slowly surrounded by good company.
Gevalia hails from Sweden, one of the world’s top 10 coffee consuming nations (4), so they know a thing or two about delivering a great brew. Though these are the lowest priced pods on our list, you would never guess it from their rich flavor, which stems from 150 years of Swedish roasting and brewing tradition.
These medium roast Colombian K-Cup pods are 100% arabica Colombian coffee beans, sourced from high altitude farms across the country’s mountainous regions, where the fertile soils and fresh climate guarantee ideal growing conditions and a premium product.
The result is a bright and medium-bodied coffee with a compelling flavor that is perfectly enhanced by the medium roast. You’ll enjoy a taste profile featuring predominantly sweet caramel balanced by just a hint of citrus acidity.
As Keurig’s parent company, Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee has no shortage of expertise when it comes to crafting K Cup coffee. And that is demonstrated here in their ability to offer a fresh and flavorful brew that doesn’t need to hide behind a darker roast.
A great breakfast blend should offer the perfect morning pick me up, with vibrant acidity and bright flavors to jumpstart your day, and Green Mountain Coffee’s version certainly fits the bill. This light roast features clean flavors and balanced sweetness, with a nutty taste and silky mouthfeel.
It’s the result of carefully blended Central American and Indonesian beans, the former providing the bright flavors and the latter contributing an earthy richness. Sip it first thing in the morning to start the day off on the right note, or try a cup early afternoon to beat the midday slump.
The Original Donut Shop coffee was built on the premise of emulating the Coffee found in donut shops of old. It offers a nostalgic and straightforward brew, perfect for easing into a workday or dunking a sweet treat. Just be careful not to confuse it with donut flavored coffee, or your taste buds will be in for a surprise.
This medium roast features a classic chocolate flavor profile, but with surprisingly complex undertones of cedar, black currant and cherry, and a whiskey-like aroma. It’s full-bodied, with a syrupy mouthfeel. Yet, they balanced it with a subtle acidity. This is a brew of which you can easily enjoy several cups in a row.
Its extra bold designation refers to the quantity of coffee grounds rather than the roast level. That means you can expect it to brew up richer and more flavorful than a typical K Cup.
Barista Prima’s Italian Roast is a rich, heavy-bodied cup that epitomizes the age-old Italian tradition of dark-roasted coffeehouse brews. The deep roast provides the dominant flavor to this European-style Coffee, with tones of dark chocolate, ripe fruit, and berries backed by an intense smokiness.
Italian Roast is a dark roast for true dark roast lovers. Their entire dark roast line was explicitly crafted in response to consumers requesting a richer and darker K Cup, and the results have garnered them many fans.
Barista Prima sources only hand-picked, 100% arabica beans for their K Cup coffee, and they use a unique technology to pack even more grounds, and thus more flavor, into every pod (5).
This Coffee is strong enough to hold its own under a blanket of foamed milk, making it an excellent choice for a quick pseudo-latte.
Based in Italy, a country with a rich history when it comes to good Coffee, Illy is a household name for coffee beans, whether whole, ground, or packaged into K-Cup coffees. Founded in 1933 and still family-run, they now have a global reach, with products and cafes spread around the world.
Their Classico medium roast coffee is an original blend of nine different Arabica beans, which yields a rich and balanced drink with notes of chocolate and caramel. The decaffeinated version provides the same smooth and full-bodied taste, but with only 0.05% of the caffeine, perfect for avoiding the jitters without sacrificing great taste.
Not only does Illy produce great Coffee, they are also positive corporate citizens. As a global corporation, Illy is committed to sustainability initiatives. Hence, their naming to Ethisphere’s list of the world’s most ethical companies for the seventh consecutive year, one of the few in the beverage industry (6).
7. Dunkin’ French Vanilla – Best Flavored Coffee
- Tasting Notes: French vanilla
- Certifications: n/a
If you don’t want to drink flavored Coffee every day, a single-serve Keurig brewer is an excellent way to enjoy the occasional flavored treat. And French vanilla, with its enticing taste of sweet vanilla and creamy, eggy custard, is one of the best tasting coffee flavors.
Dunkin’ Donuts’ French Vanilla offering is a nearly ideal example of this flavor. It manages to be both light and rich at the same time, with a strong vanilla flavor without being overwhelming. This Coffee certainly tastes like vanilla, but importantly, it also tastes of Coffee. As it brews, it will fill your kitchen with a fragrant vanilla aroma, ensuring your mouth will be watering by the time you’re ready for your first sip.
This medium roast starts with high-quality coffee beans sourced from Central and South America. They scrutinize each batch of beans in a lab for optimum size and color. Only the ideal candidates qualify for roasting, which they do slowly to achieve a perfect medium.
8. SF Bay Organic Rainforest Blend – Most Environmentally Friendly
- Tasting Notes: Sweet berry, dark chocolate, jasmine
- Certifications: Organic, Kosher, Fair Trade
In the past, K-Cup pods haven’t necessarily been renowned for their positive environmental impact. Still, family-owned company SF Bay is breaking the mold by offering organic Coffee in innovative compostable pods.
Their Rainforest blend is a USDA certified organic medium roast, comprising a blend of 100% arabica coffee beans sourced from Mexico, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Colombia. The result is a flavorful, full-bodied brew with notes of sweet berry and dark chocolate and a subtle hint of jasmine.
The pods and their lids, as well as the bag they come in, are third-party certified compostable, which is just one aspect of the company’s overall commitment to sustainability. This commitment extends throughout their product chain, including initiatives to minimize waste and pay farmers above market value for their crops.
As we’ve said before, a K Cup might not be the most flavorful way to brew a coffee, but it can be an excellent option for a busy office or a harried morning. And using this guide, you can rest assured you’re getting the best K Cups coffee available.
Our favorite this year is Peet’s Cafe Domingo medium roast, a smooth and balanced coffee, made from beans sourced across Latin America. Try it today, and enjoy the smooth flavors of nuts, chocolate, and caramel sweetness.
The most caffeinated K Cup is the Green Mountain Double Black Diamond Extra Bold K-Cup. This is according to the Keurig website. This dark roast is a great option for the truly exhausted.
Keurig coffee can taste weak for several reasons. One of the reasons is that this style of brewing simply tends toward a weaker coffee.
Another possibility is that the piercing needle is clogged, which will cause water to flow around the K Cup and into your cup without ever extracting the coffee grounds. You can fix this by cleaning the needle using the tool provided and the manufacturer’s instructions.
Finally, because every K Cup contains the same ground, brewing larger coffee sizes will result in a more watery cup.
No, you cannot use K Cups twice. While you can theoretically reinsert them into the machine and run the brew cycle, the resultant Coffee will be so weak that it is not worthwhile.
- How to hack your Keurig machine and get the much better cup of coffee you deserve. (2017, March 1). Retrieved from https://nationalpost.com/life/food/how-to-hack-your-keurig-machine-and-get-the-much-better-cup-of-coffee-you-deserve
- Ospina, A. (2018, May 1). A Roaster’s Guide to Creating Coffee Blends. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/05/a-roasters-guide-to-creating-coffee-blends/
- Bradley, E. (2017, August 10). Coffee Certifications. Retrieved from https://www.freshcup.com/coffee-certifications/
- Smith, O. (2017, October 1). Mapped: The countries that drink the most coffee. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/countries-that-drink-the-most-coffee/
- Barista Prima Coffeehouse K-Cup Portion Packs Bring the Coffeehouse into the Home, One Cup at a Time. (2010, November 17). Retrieved from https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20101117005619/en/Barista-Prima-Coffeehouse-K-Cup-Portion-Packs-Bring
- The 2020 World’s Most Ethical Countries Honorees List. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.worldsmostethicalcompanies.com/honorees/