How Does a Keurig Work?

The Keurig has been on the Coffee Whisperer’s test bench for about two months now.  I’m impressed.  Does it make the absolute best cup of coffee that I’ve ever had?  No.  But it does create a perfectly drinkable cup with the lowest effort of any coffee system, including instants.  How does the K system make this happen?  How does it turn ground coffee into brew in under a minute?  It does this by blending together two traditional ways of making cafe:   It is part drip, part espresso.  A glimpse inside a K cup will illustrate this.

This cutaway view will show you what you’d see if you tore a used K cup apart … there’s a paper filter bonded to the top of the cup.  The cup holster assembly punches a hole in the top foil and pops a smaller passageway  in the bottom.  The 192 degree hot water is pushed through the top hole under pressure and moved through the grounds.  While not extremely high pressure, it IS greater than standard drip coffee makers that rely on gravity to pull the hot water down through the coffee and filter medium.  This pressurized process allows the 8- 10 ounces of water to move through the device in under a minute, extracting the flavors of the final product.  So while there are qualities of a drip system in place, the water mimics the characteristics of a pressurized espresso system.

The difference comes into play when it’s time to clear the spent grounds.  A espresso machine will require a swift rap on a knock box or trash bin to release the coffee “puck” and then a rinse under running water to clean the portafilter.  Then there’s some brushing to clean the metal screen that distributes water from the group head.  The Keurig requires a lift of the handle and cup removal.  We’ll talk later about the need or wisdom of running an empty shot through the machine as part of regular maintenance.  But here’s the real magic of the Keurig:  it’s EASY.  It’s easy to use, and easy to clean.  No brainer, grab a cup and you’ve got it  … coffee maker.  That is indeed the attraction of this system, you can’t make a fresh cup any easier.  Are there some downsides?  Any compromises?  Yes, sure.  But you get a solid cup without a bunch of hassle.  Actually no hassle.

And that’s how a Keurig works.   Basically.    There’s buttons and features and stuff.  But if you’re interested in how the coffee comes out….well, there you are.

4 Responses to How Does a Keurig Work?

  1. If I have to run the cycle a second time to FILL a cup, does it benefit from taking the K-cup out and taping it on the side of the sink to redistribute the grounds in the K-cup so when the machine goes through a 2nd cycle, the water doesn’t go through the SAME path that the first cycle did. Reason, if I don’t shakeup the K-cup on the 2nd go-round, the water coming into the coffee cup seems lighter, almost like it’s not getting the benefit of the grounds, like it’s going through a channel made by the first cup/cycle. I’m not trying to get a 2nd cup out of the K-cup, but trying to fill my cup to the top and none of the button settings do that with a 1 button cycle.

    • Chris: If you haven’t figured it out by now, yes, shake that bad boy! I find it works for a second cup as well (I really am that cheap!). I have the Vue system, which allows you to choose “strong” as opposed to “regular” brew, so a shake, “strong,” and maybe an 8 oz instead of a 10 oz (my usual), and there’s a pretty decent brew coming forth.

  2. I’m not really getting the cup size choice on my Keurig Elite. There are 3 cup sizes to choose from so my question is, if I pick the larger cup(mug) size, does that mean because there’s more water going in the coffee will be weaker?

    • Carol, the larger cup size does mean that more water is being forced through the grounds in the Keurig cup. So it stands to reason that the larger cup size will yield weaker brew. You don’t specify in your post, are you using a do-it-yourself K-cup? I’ve found that some store bought drip coffees are ground too fine for the Keurig system to pass through. Try some coffee with a slightly coarse grind and you may solve your problem.

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