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Coffee Pods vs K-Cups: What’s the Difference?

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K cups vs Coffee Pods

Have you recently purchased a single-serve coffee maker like a Keurig, and now you’re wondering if you can use both coffee pods and K-Cups in it? Outwardly, coffee pods and K-Cups look similar enough that you’d think they’d be interchangeable. Unfortunately, they are not. But if you have your heart set on using a particular coffee pod (or already bought one for your Keurig by mistake), there’s still hope! You can purchase an adapter like this one by The Green Cup.

According to a recent study, single-serve coffee makers are the second most popular brewing system after a traditional drip coffee maker. With these convenient machines came different methods of delivering the coffee: pods or K-Cups.

If you’re curious about what makes these two so different, read on.

Differences at a glance

A coffee pod is a single serving of coffee or tea packaged in filter paper. Pods are usually small, round, and flat. Sometimes they will be additionally wrapped in foil to help them stay fresh.

A K-Cup is a single serving of coffee or tea (or hot chocolate) packaged in a little plastic cup. Within the cup is a filter that contains the coffee or tea, and there are two needles in the Keurig machine that puncture the lid and bottom of the K-Cup. Water flows through the cup and into the filter, allowing the coffee to flow out the bottom without the grounds dripping into your cup as well (in theory).

Coffee pods

Even though Keurig may seem to dominate the industry to most Americans, Nespresso is credited with making the first coffee brewing system that used pods in 1976. Therefore, coffee pods existed long before K-Cups were first invented in 1992.

If they’ve been around that long, why aren’t they more popular? The answer is in their manufacturing. Each company that made a single-serve coffee machine made its own coffee pods, and there was no interchanging them. They were made for that specific machine only. It wasn’t like today, where you can go to the local grocery store and pick up a huge variety of K-Cups. Coffee pods have very limited roasts, flavors, and brands that produce them.

Like anything else, though, they have pros and cons.

coffee pods

Image credit: Andrés Nieto Porras, Wikimedia

Pros of Coffee Pods

  • Stronger and more flavorful. Many say the coffee is stronger and more flavorful coming from a pod. This makes sense because there is more surface area for the water to extract the coffee.
  • Eco-friendly. Pods are much more eco-friendly, as their packaging is minimal, and they often come in biodegradable paper.
  • Better smell. You get that amazing freshly brewed coffee smell because the grounds aren’t hidden away in a plastic container like they are with a K-Cup.
  • Lower cost. They cost much less than K-Cups. For example, Melitta coffee pods are only about $.26 per pod on Amazon, as compared to the Green Mountain K-Cups, which are around $.48 per cup.

Cons of Coffee Pods

  • Fewer options. There simply aren’t as many manufacturers of coffee pods as there are of K-Cups. Therefore, there aren’t as many flavors, roasts, and blends available.
  • Harder to find. You can’t just walk into your local grocery store and pick up a box as easily as you can with K-Cups.
  • Fewer pod machines. Because K-Cups have taken over the market, the majority of single-serve coffee machines are going to use them. There are only a few machines that are compatible with coffee pods, such as Senseo and Hamilton Beach.


K-Cups are the trademarked property of Keurig Green Mountain, but Keurig has partnered with other major brands—like Starbucks, Folgers, and Gevalia (and many, many others)—to produce K-Cups of their own specialized roasts and flavors.

K-Cups were invented in 1992 by John Sylvan, who wanted to create a single-serve coffee machine that could be used by office workers to avoid a shared pot of coffee that quickly grew stale and unpalatable. He succeeded, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters became the first to offer coffee in a K-Cup.

Many others quickly followed, and now, hundreds of coffee varieties are on the market. You can even buy non-coffee K-Cups, including tea, lemonade, hot chocolate, and soup!

As convenient and mass-produced as they are, K-Cups still have pros and cons.

Angelino's K-cups

Pros of K-Cups

  • K-Cups make it easy for anyone to brew an acceptable cup of coffee quickly. Additionally, they’re available just about everywhere.
  • There are countless brands, roasts, flavors, and even non-coffee options with K-Cups.
  • Inexpensive options exist. You don’t have to go out and buy a box of Starbucks K-Cups. Almost every coffee brand produces its own, though we can’t speak to the taste.
  • Most single-serve coffee machines are going to be compatible with K-Cups, even if they aren’t made by Keurig.

Cons of K-Cups

  • K-Cups cost quite a bit more than coffee pods, and even more when compared to ground coffee. According to this article on Smart Family Money, K-Cups cost about four times more than ground coffee.
  • Less eco-friendly. K-Cups create a lot of waste. Those plastic cups aren’t recyclable, unless you seek out brands that have made the effort to make them so (which will cost you more). However, Green Mountain has announced that it will be making all its K-Cups recyclable by 2020.
  • Not as strong or flavorful. Many people complain that K-Cups produce coffee that isn’t as strong or flavorful as coffee pods or traditional drip coffee machines. This depends on the roast, flavor, brand, and ounces of water chosen.
  • Coffee smell not as potent. Love the smell of a freshly-brewed cup of coffee filling your entire house when you first wake up in the morning? Well, you can forget that with K-Cups. The plastic container eliminates a lot of that lovely coffee smell.

Bottom line

  • K-Cups and coffee pods are very different in appearance. K-Cups are plastic cups with a self-contained filter filled with coffee grounds. Coffee pods are round, flat, and contain coffee grounds wrapped in filter paper.
  • Coffee pods cannot be used in Keurig machines, but K-Cups can be used in many single-serve coffee machines in addition to the ones made by Keurig.
  • K-Cups are more expensive, but there is a greater variety of them than coffee pods.
  • Coffee pods are more difficult to find and not as readily available as K-Cups.
  • K-Cups are less eco-friendly than coffee pods.