The Keurig vs The Espresso Machine: A Tale of Two Brews

The Keurig vs The Espresso Machine A Tale of Two Brews

Many prefer their morning to be caffeinated, it’s just the best way to get the day going. So comparing the way we brew our coffees seems like the next best thing to do, so that we can all get the very best out of our day.

If you’re trying to go for the gold, and do it with ease, then it’s likely you’ve got a Keurig, but what about the flash-in-a-pan convenience of espresso?

We need to compare and contrast these two giants of today’s coffee world and see which fits your routine best. Enter the ring!

The Keurig Brewer: Always On Point

keurig brewer

Sometimes, a single cup of coffee is just enough (Especially if you’re drinking it at the right time of day).

This is exactly the demographic Keurig had in mind when creating this convenient for convenience sake brewer. And that is when a Keurig single-serve coffee machine can come in handy. First introduced in 1998, Keurig’s machines run water through small packs to make one cup of coffee — or other beverages, including hot chocolate and tea.

The idea has been popular among consumers.

The history of the quick brew single-cup coffee maker is one just as succinct as it’s brew process. The company that owns Keurig, Green Mountain Coffee, claims to have sold nearly 1.4 million single-cup brewers since their inception. They exist to fulfill the need for a quick but single cup coffee brew, with a variety of styles defined by the small portions of coffee grounds per K-cup.

Keurig brewers are specially designed to extract coffee from a K-cup and only a K-cup. A K-cup is a highly engineered, technologically sophisticated mini coffee brewer inside of a very tiny body. This means that competing brands that want to release their coffee in the K-cup will have a hard time unless it’s sanctioned under the K-cup company umbrella.

The Keurig is known for its quick brew, and that comes thanks to the technology outside the brewer and inside the K-cups.

Anatomy of A K-Cup

The K-cups consist of four parts:

First, we have the outer plastic casing. This is a specially designed housing that blocks out moisture, light, and air allowing your precious coffee to remain perfectly fresh until you are ready to brew it. Next, the innermost layer of the K-cup makes a special permeable paper filter. The paper filter allows for optimal flavor extraction, just like the paper filters you’d use in your everyday drip coffee maker. The coffee grounds are seated in this filter just waiting to be brewed. Finally, a foil seal helps to keep the coffee airtight and blocks out oxygen and humidity.

anatomy of the K-cup

The coffee contained with the K-cups are a perfectly measured amount which is specific to creating a consistent brew cup after cup, for whatever kind of drip brew they wish to emulate.

To brew coffee with a Keurig is an incredibly easy task. It’s almost like the people at Apple designed a coffee brewer, simple and with minimal controls to get in your way. Insert your pod of coffee and when the handle is pulled down closing the chamber, from here simply differentiate how many ounces you’d like to brew for your cup, and the machine will begin its process.

More on the exact details later…

Keurig K-cup technology is pretty impressive all things considered. Many users find that they have issues when using mineral water and buildup often occurs in the moving parts and pieces, from coffee grounds in the brewing needles that expel water and coffee, as well as within the tubing from the reservoir to the heating chamber.

Luckily, we’ve got a great troubleshooting guide for you to peruse.

The Magnificence of Espresso

Espresso is a fantastic drink that is great if you’re trying to have a quick drink and get out the door. The bold taste is something that many connoisseurs of coffee are ever-searching for the perfect cup of. If you’ve ever had a great craft espresso then you need no convincing.

The likelihood you get the drink right on your first try is pretty far off, yet it’s a path worth venturing down.

Most people that are coffee novices think that espresso and the brew from the Keurig are of a similar method. While these newbies to the coffee realm might see machines pouring a near-instantaneous beverage, the processes themselves are vastly different.

First, to address the function of the espresso machine:

A shot of espresso is made by forcing about 1.5 ounces of hot water through tightly packed, finely ground espresso coffee. If everything goes well, what comes out is a dark brown, slightly thick liquid with a small amount of crema (a foam, sort of like the head of a beer) on top.

The Difference in Brewing Methods

The Keurig functions in a very interesting way. It’s quite a feat of engineering.

First, as the K-cup, a sealed package of coffee is penetrated by two needles, one to push hot water in, and another to remove the brewed product, each stroke of the piston pushes a small amount of water into the bottom of the already full tank. That’s the signature brewing sound that we all associate with the Keurig. This action, forcing hot water at the top to flow to the entrance needle, sends water into the specifically weighed K-cup, through the coffee, and produces an incredible quick cup of coffee.

By simply pressing the “Brew” button and a piston pump drawing water from the reservoir, anyone is able to have a cup of coffee in just a few moments.

On the other hand, the espresso machines function a bit differently:

First, there are the pump-style espresso machines. These are typically the most affordable if you’re just looking to get into espresso as an experiment. These function by storing a reservoir of cold water and heating it in a separate chamber. This heating chamber is a sturdy, stainless-steel structure with a heating element built into a groove in the bottom.

The heating element is simply a coiled wire, very similar to the filament of a light bulb which gets hot when you run electricity through it. In a resistive element like this, the coil is embedded in plaster to make it more rugged and diffuse better.

The heating chamber also contains a one-way valve that lets water into the chamber from the pump, but not back into the pump from the chamber. That’s helpful or keeping your water source nice and clean.

espresso machine and brewing

Once one installs the porta-filter by twisting it into the machine, the machine can be powered on and water will start to come to temperature. Water begins to pressurize and thus the heating chamber and hot water will get to around 15 atmospheres (220 psi) of pressure.

That seems to be the magic number across the board for espresso. It’s enough pressure to force the hot water through the ground coffee and out of the spouts.

Ideally, it should take about 25 seconds for about 1.5 ounces of espresso to come out. The amount of time one draws out the shot espresso will determine the style, essentially. There are three main kinds of a draw:

  • Ristretto
  • Espresso
  • Lungo

Read more about the differentiation and origins of those styles over here.

It’s an interesting process that creates a dense and tasty espresso shot, it’s quite a contrast to many other brew styles. In fact, one will find the product different from most press coffee styles too, check out the differences it has from the AeroPress, here.

How to Make the Most of Your Brewing Process

What’s in the water? Well, this is a very important factor in brewing for both espresso and Keurig. Both processes require water. Duh!

However, one should make sure to know what to look for in their water chemistry to produce a fine cup of coffee.

As coffee is an acidic beverage, the acidity of your brew water can have a big effect on the way you taste the beans. Brewing with water containing low levels of both calcium ions and bicarbonate means you’ll get soft water and will result in a highly acidic cup, sometimes described as sour.

Brewing with water containing high levels of calcium ions typically means hard water. This will produce a chalky cup, as the bicarbonate has neutralized most of the flavorsome acids in the coffee.

Since brewing temperature and brewing time are under complete control of the Keurig, the only factor one has to consider here is the water. It’s likely that the water will be from your tap or fridge filtered water spigot. That’s just fine! If your home gets its water from a well, you may want to consider using filtered water for the Keurig.

It’s the change in water that will save your Keurig from getting needlessly clogged and won’t leave you worrying about what off-flavors will possibly be imparted in your drink.

Now to the challenge of optimizing your espresso.

Grinding your beans right before you start your espresso process is the way to go as well. You want fresh beans to be the defining factor of your brew. It’s simply the best way to consume coffee.

Fine Grind CoffeeThis is going to require a grinder and finding a grinder that fits your need for espresso can be a trying time. Check out our reviews of the various automatic and manual grinders that can be used to create espresso. First, here’s what you’re looking for:

Espresso uses a quick extraction, around a minute total, which means you’ll need to get the water through the grounds quickly, but maintaining pressure. Which is why it’s a great idea to stick to the traditional fine grind for your espresso. When you buy pre-ground coffee, it’s usually a fine grind size (unless otherwise stated). In terms of consistency, it’s a little finer than table salt.

We use a fine grind because espresso machines use pressure (measured in ‘bars’) to brew; meaning hot water is forced through your grounds. Too fine, and it won’t get through, too coarse, and it will gush through.

The not-so-obvious truth is that the ‘fine’ setting on one grinder may not be exactly the same as ‘fine’ on another, so your grind setting may vary.

Of course, the Keurig has no qualms with fresh ground coffee because it’s stored in a sealed container and delivered directly to your brew. However, regardless of how fresh you might think the coffee could be from air sealing or freeze-drying or whatever process could be involved. It’s complained about often from coffee experts because there is really no alternative to freshly roasted coffee beans that are ground just before the brew.

Of course, there are a few techniques to master perfect coffee storage.

If you’re searching for a way to try more coffee out there without making a large investment every single time (We know that good coffee can get expensive) then perhaps trying out the many lines of Organic K-cups which are not mythical and definitely exist out there and they will likely make the brew taste better, thanks to the kind of craft that goes into some of these meticulous coffee companies. There’s a K-cup for just about every coffee you could wish to try.

If you like black coffee or want to learn to appreciate it, then either of these brew methods will do you well.

Many coffee connoisseurs will constantly work to remind everyone that the Keurig does not produce espresso. We think that’s a good point to reiterate. Though there are some incredibly dense and strong K-cup varieties out there, you’re simply not using the espresso process of extraction under intense pressure in the Keurig.

Whether you want quick coffee that’s super strong (espresso) or just something quick and more on the standard (Keurig) side of the tracks then you’ll know which process of brewing is for you. If either of these has grabbed your attention then perhaps you’ll want to know more. Check out our brewing comparisons and other gear reviews here.

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Brian Mounts

I have been working in the coffee industry since 2013 and have been a professional online publisher since 2009. I am the current owner of and I love all forms of coffee. I roast my own green coffee beans, grind them, and usually make my own coffee daily in either a french press, moka pot, or a pour over coffee dripper. I am a nut for equipment so many of my articles are reviews and comparisons of best selling coffee brewing accessories.

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