Are K Cups Instant Coffee? Your Keurig Guide

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Everybody loves a Keurig – Shane Dawson 

Keurig K-Cups kick-started a coffee revolution and were the culmination of their creator Jon Sylvan’s life-long dream to make bad office coffee a thing of the past. 

Sylvan wanted to create a machine that would transform the way that people brewed and drank coffee, but it wasn’t his machine that the world fell in love with, it was the pod-based system commonly known as the K-Cup that they used that captured the public’s imagination.

Efficient and simple to use, K-Cups make a great cup of java in a fraction of the time that it takes a drip coffee maker to even get warmed up and start thinking about making coffee. 

It’s easy to mistake Keurig K-Cups for instant coffee, as they can make a single cup of coffee whenever you’re craving a caffeine hit and they do it quickly and efficiently.  In fact, you wouldn’t be wrong if you said that Keurig K-Cups made coffee in an instant.

They do, but that doesn’t mean that Keurig K-Cups are the same as instant coffee. The truth is, K-Cups aren’t instant coffee, they use ground coffee bean granules and filter paper (albeit in an incredibly clever way) to make coffee, which means that they’re closer to being filter coffee than instant coffee. 

We know, it’s a little confusing, and that’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to Keurig K-Cups, and by the time you’ve finished reading it, you’ll know as much about Keurig, their K-Cups, and everything else they do as their founder, and the father of the company, Jon Sylvan does. 

So come with us, it’s time to go on a coffee adventure unlike any you’ve ever been on before, during which you’ll find out why Keurig K-Cups aren’t instant coffee, but exist in their own separate, even more, delicious caffeine universe. 

What Is Instant Coffee? 

Before we embark on our expedition into the world of the K-Cup it’s important to understand and know what instant coffee is, and what separates it from the wonderfully rich and decadent brew that coffee shops, K-Cup machines, and traditional drip makers brew. 

Instant coffee is made from brewed coffee beans and is either freeze or spray dried and the resultant powder or granules (which form it comes in depends entirely on the process used to create it)  can be rehydrated to make a cup of coffee. 

It’s a mass coffee producer’s dream as it can be made in great volume at a frankly astonishing speed, and while the science responsible for making it isn’t as complicated as astrophysics, it’s still far too complicated for us to wrap our tiny minds around.

All that we do know is that it’s fast, cheap, and has helped to make coffee  America’s number one beverage of choice. 

The thing is, instant coffee is surprisingly old and has been made, sold, and drunk since the days of the Civil War, and the world of coffee, much like the world that the people who drink it live in, is constantly evolving at an incredible pace.

A relic of a bygone age that has more nostalgia value than taste, instant coffee is a thing of the past whereas the K-Cup is the taste of tomorrow and the future of home-based caffeine production. That’s why you need to jump on the Keurig train, so that you can catch up with, and join the rest of us in coffee nirvana. 

What Are Keurig K-Cups? 

That belief that K-Cups are the sole property of Keurig is one that, like instant coffee, belongs in the past.

Keurig might have invented K-Cups and they might have patented the name, but that doesn’t mean that they belong to them or that other coffee brands and manufacturers didn’t see how popular they were becoming.

They did, and every caffeine company in the world woke up, smelled what Keurig was brewing, and began to design, make and manufacture their own K-Cups. 

K-Cups were, and are specifically designed to be used by the single-serve machines that Keurig invented, and K-Cup has now become a catch-all term for all single-serve coffee pods that use the same system as Keurig did and continues to.

The brilliant thing about K-Cups is that they’re made using exactly the right amount of coffee grounds for one cup, and the strength of the brew that they serve can be adjusted on the machines that they’re used in. And, even more bizarrely, K-Cups aren’t just used to make coffee,

They can be, and are, also packed with everything that you could ever need to make a delicious cup of hot chocolate.

But that’s another subject for another day, and as much as we like to talk about chocolate, right now we’re talking about the original K-Cups, the ones that were made to transform coffee by locking all of the flavor that people love in simple to brew, single-serve coffee pods. 

The success of the K-Cup took the world by storm, and before Keurig and their rivals knew it, every coffee roaster in the world was queuing up to join the K-Cup revolution.

Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Folgers, Gloria Jeans, and just about every other coffee brand that you can think of all have their own K-Cups that can be used to make a great cup of coffee in any K-Cup friendly machine.

Thanks to Keurig, we’re now living in a single-serve coffee world, and the K-Cup is your passport to join it. Regular coffee is a thing of the past. So ditch your coffee ground, espresso maker, and French press for a Keurig coffee maker.

Can K-Cups Make Instant Coffee? 

Honestly, we don’t know why you’d want to make instant coffee with a K-Cup, but as they’re packed with coffee grounds rather than freeze-dried instant coffee granules, the answer to your question is a resounding no.

K-Cups aren’t the same as instant coffee, they don’t make coffee the same way as the instant variety does and their end product doesn’t taste even remotely similar. 

K-Cups use ground coffee, which is packed tightly into each pod (sorry, cup) along with filter paper and in order to deliver its promise of caffeine heaven, needs to be loaded into a K-Cup machine in order to start brewing.

The best way to understand the difference between the coffee that K-Cups use and the sort that you buy in jars from supermarkets is to break open a used K-Cup and take a look inside it. 

While instant coffee dissolves completely in hot water, when you’ve finished brewing coffee with a K-Cup, the grounds inside the pod will still be inside it and you’ll have to dispose of it the same way that you’d get rid of used filter coffee.

And we know what you’re going to ask us next. Does that mean that K-Cups are the same as filter coffee? 

Go On, Ask The Question… Does That Mean That K-Cups Are The Same As Filter Coffee? 

Technically, as K-Cups use coffee grounds and filter paper to brew coffee, the coffee that they make could technically be called filter coffee.

It’s certainly closer to filter coffee than it is to instant and it tastes better than instant coffee, so it has that in common with coffee brewed by drip makers too. 

But is it really, in a practical and not technical or theoretical sense, filter coffee?

That’s a tough question to answer, and the only way to really explain the differences between filter and K-Cup coffee is by looking at the science behind, and taking a deep dive into, the way that K-Cups and K-Cup machines actually brew coffee. 

Brewing Coffee The K-Cup Way 

Keurig set out to make the impossible possible and with the K-Cup system, they solved the age old conundrum of substandard filter coffee and made a machine and a pod that would produce a consistently good cup of coffee time after time after time.

And it’s all thanks to the ingenious way that the machine brews, and the wonderful design of the K-Cup capsule.

K-Cups are sealed tighter than Tutankhamen’s tomb, which means that the coffee inside them is kept fresh until the second the machine gets to work.

And as their design uses a combination of foil and plastic, no UV light can get through the dense packing to contaminate the coffee, which means that they also make the most demanding of coffee snobs unhappy, because they can’t find anything to complain about. 

Would those snobs be able to tell the difference between a freshly brewed cup of barista made coffee and one that was served to them by a K-Cup machine?

Probably not. And does UV light make any difference to the quality of the coffee grounds in a K-Cup capsule or the taste of the coffee that it’ll eventually create? Almost certainly not. 

Back to brewing the K-Cup way. When the capsule is placed into the K-Cup machine, the lid is closed and the brewing button is pushed, the K-Cup is pierced by two needles, one on the top and one on the bottom.

The hot water is then injected into the top of the K-Cup, mixes with the granules inside the capsule, and then flows out of the bottom of the K-Cup and into the waiting cup below.  

One of the best-kept secrets of most K-Cup machines is that you can actually control the strength of the brew with a touch of a button or a twist of a dial, so the coffee that the machine and the ingenious little capsule makes can be crafted to suit your caffeine hardened taste buds.

It isn’t just clever, it’s an incredibly efficient way to make the most out of the perfect amount of coffee for one cup.  

It’s also worth bearing in mind that K-Cup machines brew a lot faster than conventional drip makers do, and if you take your eyes off the prize, you’ll miss all the magic as it happens.

How do they do this? As tempting as it would be for us to say that they actually do use magic to brew coffee, as the amount of water in the reservoir of a K-Cup machine is much lower than it is in a standard coffee maker, it heats up much faster and brews quicker.

It’s all to do with the way that the machines are engineered, the heating elements, and the pressure system. All that we really know is that they do what they do in less than half the time it takes a drip maker to do the same.

K- Cup Coffee – It Goes A Little Something Like This 

Using a K-Cup machine isn’t all that different from using a drip maker, so if you’re familiar with the latter, you’ll easily get to grips with the former.

All you need to do is fill the reservoir with the amount of water that you want the machine and the K-Cup capsule to turn into coffee, and open the top of the machine and instead of putting a filter into a basket, slide a K-Cup capsule into the slot.

Close the lid, put your mug in place, select the size of the coffee that you want to make (usually six, eight, or ten ounces), select the strength of the brew that you want the machine to make, hit the brew button, step back and wait and less than ninety seconds later you’ll be greeted with a freshly made mug of K-Cup coffee. 

We know that it sounds a lot like the way that a drip coffee maker works, and in all fairness it really is. You add water, push a button and let the machine do what it does.

The only differences are that the machine uses a capsule instead of filter coffee, it’s a lot less messy, it’s quicker, it only makes the amount of coffee that you actually want to drink and you can control the strength of the brew without having to experiment with the amount of coffee that you put in the machine.  

So, taking into account the fact that the capsule uses ground coffee and a filter paper and the machine that brews the coffee works in a similar fashion to a drip maker, it isn’t crazy to think that maybe, just maybe, K-Cups and filter coffee aren’t all that different after all.

But they’re different enough, and all of those little differences add up. Are they the same? No, but they are similar.  

The thing is when it comes to the crunch and you take an objective look at the drip makers and K-Cup machines, given how fast the world moves and the increasing pressure on our time and the way that we always seem to have less of it than we’d like to have, it makes perfect sense to use a K-Cup machine instead of a drip maker.

They’re quicker, they make less mess and as we’ve already said, as time is crucial to all of us, you’ve probably only got enough of it to enjoy a single cup of coffee before heading out to the office every morning. So why not use it wisely and brew the K-Cup way?  

Wait A Minute… Isn’t A K-Cup Just Another Coffee Pod?  

No, it absolutely isn’t just another coffee pod. We’re all familiar with pods, they’ve been around forever and they were supposed to cure all the ills of drip makers. Pods didn’t make coffee better, Keurig did.

K-Cups picked up the slack, saw everything that the pods did wrong and corrected those mistakes by making the system more efficient and brewing coffee the way that pods always should have done but never quite managed to do.  

The way that pods and K-Cups brew is also different, and trying to compare the two systems is like comparing drip makers to K-Cup brewers. They do the same thing, but one does it better than the other does and it does it with little flair and ingenuity, and at the end of the day the coffee that it makes just tastes better.

Maybe it’s because K-Cup capsules combine grounds and a filter in their design and pods don’t. Maybe it’s because K-Cups are a little more versatile or maybe it’s just because K-Cup machines are better at what they do than pod machines are. 

Whatever the reason is, once you’ve tasted coffee that’s been brewed the K-Cup way, you’ll never go back to using pods again. We didn’t.  

The bad news though, is that pod brewers and K-Cup coffee makers aren’t interchangeable, and you won’t be able to use a pod machine to make K-Cup coffee.

If you do want to drink K-Cup coffee, you’re going to need to buy a machine to make it with. We don’t make the coffee rules, we just have to follow them the same way as everybody else does.  

Do You Need A K-Cup Machine To Make K-Cup Coffee?  

Of course, you do, how could you expect to make K-Cup coffee without the right machine? Actually, that’s not exactly true.

You can make K-Cup coffee without a machine, it’s just a little complicated and involving, but seeing as you’re here and seeing as you asked, we’re going to tell you how to do it and share our favorite K-Cup hack with you.  

Truthfully, we’ve probably made it sound more complicated than it is, as all you need is a Keurig-ready single cup coffee filter and a cup and you’ll be able to make K-Cup coffee without a K-Cup machine. And this is how you do it.  

Put the filter in your cup, and then open up the K-Cup capsule of your choosing. Take the paper filter out of the capsule and throw it away – it’s no use to you and you don’t need it.

Empty the contents of your K-Cup capsule into the filter inside your cup. Pour hot water over the contents of the filter and allow your coffee to brew for a couple of minutes.  

Carefully remove the filter from your cup, the coffee is going to be hot and you don’t want to burn your fingers or your hand. You might have to be a little inventive and use some kitchen utensils to extract the filter from your cup.  

Once the filter is out, throw it away and add cream and sugar, if you really must, to your K-Cup coffee and it’ll be ready to drink and you’ll be able to enjoy it at your leisure.

Obviously, this cheat isn’t perfect, as the only way to control the strength of your brew is by leaving the filter in your cup a little longer, and it won’t actually taste as good as it would if it was brewed in a K-Cup machine, but if you don’t have, or don’t want to invest in a K-Cup machine and you really want to drink K-Cup coffee, this is the best, and probably only, way you’ll be able to do it.

The K-Cup Positives And Negatives  

Nothing in life is perfect, and while the advantages of K-Cup coffee far outweigh the drawbacks, it’s only right and prudent to talk about both.  So, let’s start with the incredibly long list of absolutely nothing that makes K-Cups a bad idea.

That’s right, you didn’t misread the last sentence, we actually said that there were no drawbacks to brewing coffee the K-Cup way.  

Despite what you might have heard about the plastic and foil packaging that the capsules use being toxic or poisonous or somehow detrimental to your health and wellbeing, it simply isn’t true.

All of the packaging that every brand of K-Cup maker uses has been fully approved by the FDA, so you use as many capsules and drink as much K-Cup coffee as you want to and the packaging won’t do you any harm at all.

You might get the jitters and develop the ability to see all of time and space merge as the result of consuming too much caffeine, but the packaging won’t harm you at all.  

And the advantages? Well, we’re glad you asked. Brewing the K-Cup way means that you’ll be able to make coffee efficiently, and quickly and the way you like it when you want it.

But best of all, as there are so many different varieties of K-Cup coffee, you’ll be able to submerge yourself in single serve coffee heaven and experience a never-ending caffeine taste extravaganza.

It’s a java rollercoaster that you’ll never get bored of riding and will always have a front-row seat for. And that’s all that any serious coffee devotee could ever want from life.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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