How Do Keurig Coffee Makers & K-Cups Work? (Complete Guide)

Keurigs and K cups have changed the coffee world. They give us all the ability to make barista-grade coffee at home and upgrade our morning cup of coffee.

Still, have you ever wondered, "How does a Keurig work exactly?" I did too.

I was using my Keurig 4 times a day but didn’t have a clue how it actually brewed my coffee.

Eventually, my curiosity got the best of me, and I started looking more closely at how Keurigs work.

In this guide, I’ll explain what a Keurig is, the different parts they all have, and break down every step of the brewing process.

A Keurig coffee maker is a specific coffee machine that lets you make high-quality coffee at the push of a button.

They work using single-serve coffee pods, called K cups, which are used to be a single cup of coffee.

The Keurig company was founded by John Sylvan and Peter Dragone in 1992. The name 'Keurig' was used as it's the Dutch word for "excellence."

In 1993 they allied with Green Mountain Coffee roasters and went on to design the first Keurig coffee machine.[1]

After several Keurig brewer prototypes, they launched the first Keurig brewer in 1998.

Every Keurig brews single-cup coffees using K cups. At first, there was only one Keurig machine and only one company making pods (Green Mountain Coffee Roasters).

There are now a wide range of Keurig machines and K cup pods, though Keurig Green Mountain pods remain popular.

A Keurig coffee maker offers an alternative to drip coffee or other home brews. You can choose from a wide variety of different K cups and create a fresh cup of coffee that you love.

In short, a Keurig machine makes it easy to have great coffee in your home daily.

Let's Break Down How Keurig Coffee Makers Work!

We all know that a Keurig is great for brewing coffee, but how does a Keurig work?

Let me take you through the parts and process to help you understand how your cup of coffee is made.

1. Keurig Parts Explained

Every Keurig machine is slightly different, but here’s a list of the parts found in all Keurigs:

  • Outer Housing: This is the plastic outer casing of the Keurig machine. Keurigs are usually bigger than standard drip coffee machines and take up more space on your kitchen counter.
  • Water Reservoir: This holds the water you use to brew the coffee. It can be removed from Keurig coffee brewers to be refilled or cleaned.
  • Heating Tank: Keurig machines have a separate internal heating tank. As long as the Keurig is powered on, the water is continuously heated for brewing coffee.
  • Water Pump: This pushes water from the heating tank, past a filter, through the brew head, and into your K cup to brew coffee.
  • K Cup Holder: This is where K cups are loaded into Keurig machines. It holds them in place so you can brew coffee.
  • Brew Head: The brew head sits above the K cup holder. It has a needle that pierces the top and bottom of the K cup, allowing hot water to pass through the coffee grounds and into your cup.
  • Handle: This allows you to lift the brew head up and down to load K cups and start the brewing. When you pull the handle down, the needle in the brew head pierces the lid of the K cup so hot water can pass through.
  • Drip Tray: This tray sits beneath the brewing area, underneath the K cup, to capture any excess hot water or coffee that doesn’t make it into your coffee mug.
  • Control Panel: This is the panel or buttons on the front that make the Keurig coffee maker work. Each Keurig machine is slightly different, but you can usually choose the brew size.
Keurig Coffee Machine Parts Assembly

2. Keurig’s Easy Brewing Process Examined

Now you know what components Keurig brewers have, let’s see how they make your Keurig coffee maker work in practice.

  • 1
    Fill the reservoir
    Start by detaching the water reservoir and sliding it back into the Keurig. Many people use filtered or bottled water in the brewing process, but most Keurigs have a built-in filter.
  • 2
    The Water Starts Heating
    If your Keurig is on, the pump moves the water into a heating tank with a heating element to warm it.
  • 3
    Insert the K cup
    Lift the handle to reveal the K cup holder. This allows you to insert coffee pods into the device.
  • 4
    Close the K cup holder
    Slide the handle down to lower the brew head. The needle pierces a hole in the top and bottom of the K cup, allowing water to pass through.
  • 5
    Select your coffee
    Use the buttons on the control panel to decide which freshly brewed coffee you want. Make sure your mug is the right size for the one you choose.
  • 6
    This is where the magic happens. Once you start the brewing cycle, the Keurig passes water from the heating tank through the brew head and into your K cup. The water travels through the hole created by the needle and into the K-cup coffee grounds to capture the coffee flavors.The water absorbs the coffee flavor and passes through a filter within the K-cup coffee pod. It flows through the hole in the bottom of the K cup and into your mug. The whole brew cycle takes 30-60 seconds. The Keurig brewing process is similar to an espresso machine because hot water is forced through the ground coffee at high speed and pressure. This gives a shorter extraction time than drip coffee or other brewing methods.
  • 7
    The water absorbs the coffee flavor and passes through a filter within the K-cup coffee pod. It flows through the hole in the bottom of the K cup and into your mug.
    The whole brew cycle takes 30-60 seconds. The Keurig brewing process is similar to an espresso machine because hot water is forced through the ground coffee at high speed and pressure. This gives a shorter extraction time than drip coffee or other brewing methods.
  • 8
    Enjoy your brew
    Once the water stops flowing, remove your mug, add any extras, and enjoy. Remember to lift the handle and remove your K cup coffee pod, as K cups can only be used once. Your Keurig will keep the water in the reservoir warm so you can make another brew quickly whenever you like.

3. How Do Keurigs Heat Water So Quickly?

All Keurig brewers use a stainless steel heating element that heats water to 192 degrees Fahrenheit in 15-30 seconds.

It sits within a unique heating reservoir inside the Keurig where water is continuously warmed.

This continuous heating lets a Keurig heat water faster than other coffee makers. In fact, many other coffee makers have copied this technique to speed up their brewing process.

There is some debate about the optimal brewing temperature for coffee drinks.[2]

However, the Keurig system works well and makes a delicious, piping-hot cup of coffee every time, with no waiting around.

What Exactly Is A K-Cup? (An Overview)

Keurig K cups (sometimes called Keurig pods) are small pods designed to be used in your Keurig to create a single cup of coffee.

K cups are filled with an individual portion of ground coffee. The plastic cup is then vacuum sealed and covered with an aluminum lid that keeps the ground coffee fresh.

Each K cup also has a filter to keep the coffee grounds out of your coffee when you brew.

There are a wide variety of K cups available, but they are all cup-shaped and designed to fit in Keurig machines.

However, different Keurig machines use slightly different K cups, and newer models (like the Keurig 2.0) need specific K cups with a barcode on top.

You can check the compatibility on the packaging of your K cups to see which Keurig brewers work with the coffee pods.

However, since the Keurig 2.0 line was discontinued, it’s less of a problem.

Putting K Cup In A Keurig Machine

Unraveling The Mystery Of How K-Cups Actually Work

K cups are specifically designed to interact with your Keurig coffee maker and create freshly brewed coffee. Here's how they work:

  • The K cup is inserted into the Keurig coffee maker. The K cup should be placed in the K cup holder and secured in place. There are usually arrows to indicate the orientation of the coffee pod.
  • Needles puncture the top and bottom. As you pull the handle down, needles in the brew head puncture holes in the top and bottom of the K cup.
  • Brewing. Once you turn your Keurig on, hot water flows into the K cup. The hot water mixes with the coffee grounds, picking up the flavor and caffeine from the coffee. It then passes through the K cup filter and into your mug.

The whole process takes less than a minute and leaves you with a delicious cup of coffee.

What’s The Difference Between A Drip Machine & Keurig?

A drip coffee maker (or drip brewer) works similarly to a Keurig. They both drip hot water through ground coffee beans to create a delicious coffee.

However, there are 5 main differences between drip brewers and Keurigs:

  • 1
    A drip brewer makes more coffee. A drip brewer is generally designed to make a pot or carafe of coffee, whereas a Keurig only makes a single cup of coffee. The single-serve coffee industry (created by Keurig) is perfect for a coffee lover brewing for one. However, a drip machine is quicker when brewing for multiple coffee drinkers.
  • 2
    Drip brewers take longer. A drip brewer takes longer to brew than a Keurig because they make a higher volume of coffee and drip the water more slowly over the ground coffee beans. A drip brewer can take 5-10 minutes to make a carafe, whereas a Keurig should only take 1 minute to create a warm cup of coffee.
  • 3
    Drip brewers make more full-bodied coffee. Keurigs make barista-style coffee at home. However, the coffee filter in the K cups may mean you aren’t capturing all the oils and aromas in your cup. Drip brewers use a paper filter and a slower brewing technique. This can give you a more flavorsome brew (though it depends on the type of coffee and paper filter that you’re using).
  • 4
    Keurigs can be used to make a wider variety of drinks. With a Keurig, you can choose from all your favorite coffee brands and pick a delicious K cup that matches your tastes. You can also use them for making K-cup hot chocolate or other hot beverages. A standard coffee maker only brews coffee. You can’t use it for specialty brews or hot chocolate drinks; it’s only for hot coffee.
  • 5
    Keurigs are more expensive to run. You can use any coffee grounds in a drip brewer and buy the grounds in bulk. This is a lot cheaper than buying K cups every time.
Preparing Espresso Shots In A Keurig Top View

Which is best?

It all depends on how much coffee you want and the coffee experience you are looking for.

A Keurig is best for:

  • Those who drink coffee alone or in smaller amounts
  • Coffee lovers who want the perfect cup every time
  • People who want specialty drinks or non-coffee beverages

A drip brewer or regular coffee maker is best for:

  • Those who want several cups of coffee ready at once
  • Making a high volume of coffee in a communal kitchen or office space

K-Cups Vs Coffee Pods (Is There Any Real Difference?)

K cups and coffee pods both offer a convenient way to make a single serving of instant coffee at home.

They are both containers filled with pre-packaged coffee, but they usually can’t be used in the same coffee makers.

K cups can only be used in Keurig coffee machines. Regular coffee pods can only be used in other coffee makers and won’t work in Keurigs.

Coffee pods can often be used to make cups of coffee in a variety of different coffee makers (Nespresso, De’Longhi, Tassimo, etc.). K cups will only work in Keurig machines.

It’s important to check the compatibility of your regular coffee pods and K cups to ensure it actually makes coffee in your specific Keurig brewer.

Awesome Benefits Of Using A Keurig Every Morning!

It’s Very Fast

Keurigs let you create instant coffee, and the whole brewing process takes under 60 seconds.

It’s Affordable and Great Quality

Keurigs create coffee shop-quality coffee. It’s more flavorsome than regular coffee and gives you a cheaper way to get a delicious cup of joe.

It’s Easy To Use

Keurigs make it easy to get a perfect cup of coffee. There’s no need to source or grind coffee beans or mess around with a filter.

It's just one simple coffee pod that you can throw away afterward.

Endless Flavor Options

There are hundreds of K cup brands and thousands of K cups to choose from.

You can choose different grinds, roast levels, and flavors to make the perfect brew. There are even some fruit-flavored drinks to choose from!

It's an easy way to get a coffee you will really love.

Keurig Coffee Maker On The Fritz? (Fix It With These Tips!)

Is Keurig maker not working? Here are some quick fix tips to get it brewing a delicious cup of coffee again:

  • 1
    Check the power. If the power light isn’t on, there’s an issue with the power supply. Check the cable and make sure the power outlet is on. This may sound obvious, but it happens a lot.
  • 2
    Fill the reservoir. It's easy to let your water reservoir run dry, but if it's empty, your Keurig won't brew. Check and fill the water reservoir to get your Keurig brewing again.
  • 3
    Check the needle. Open the brew head and look for any debris blocking the needle. Removing this should let it function properly again.
  • 4
    Check your K cup. Make sure your K cup isn’t punctured or damaged. This could stop your Keurig from brewing or cause leaks. Even if it does brew, it could produce stale coffee. If your K cup looks damaged, throw it away and use a new one.
  • 5
    Descale the machine. Mineral deposits (limescale) will naturally build up in your Keurig over time. It's more likely to happen in areas with hard water and can cause blockages in your machine.[3] Descale your Keurig by removing the water filter and filling your reservoir with about 16oz of descaling solution or white wine vinegar. Place a mug on the drip tray and run a descale cycle by pressing the button. Repeat this process until the reservoir is empty. Leave the machine to stand for 30 minutes and then run a freshwater rinse to remove any excess cleaning solution.
  • 6
    Contact customer services: If none of the above works, contact customer services. They should be able to help you get it running again.
Cleaning Needles of A Keurig

Related Keurig Questions Answered

Can you run a Keurig machine without a K-Cup?

Yes, you can run a brew cycle without a K cup in your Keurig machine. It will just give you hot water.

How do you descale a Keurig coffee machine?

Descale a Keurig by putting a descaling solution or white wine vinegar in the water reservoir and pressing the descaling button to run a descaling cycle. The solution will dissolve any limescale deposits from your internal mechanism and clean the machine.

How do iced coffee K Cups work?

Iced coffee K cups can be brewed over ice to give a cold coffee drink. Fill a mug with ice, put it on the drip tray, and select the 'brew-over-ice' or 'Iced' setting. The Keurig will start brewing with hot water to extract the coffee flavor and then switch to cold water so the coffee cools. This should give you a cold brew without melting the ice and making it watery.

How long does a Keurig coffee machine last?

On average, a Keurig will last 3-5 years if it’s properly cleaned and maintained.


Keurigs are designed to be simple to use, so simple that you don’t even need to know how they work.

The processes and components used in Keurigs give you high-quality, convenient coffee at home, and many other brands have imitated their techniques.

Hopefully, this guide has given you a peak beneath the hood, and you now know how your Keurig makes such delicious coffee every time.


Kayla Stavridis

Kayla Stavridis

Kayla Stavridis is the Head of Marketing here at Barista HQ. While keeping up-to-date on the latest trends in coffee, you can find her sipping a cold brew with just a touch of milk on the beach in the afternoon and a Corona with lime in the evening. She is passionate about keeping you informed about what’s new in coffee.

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