Single-serve coffeemakers like the Keurig have several big advantages. They're simple to use, convenient, and make the ideal amount of coffee for one person per use. There are also a wide range of pods (commonly referred to as "K-cups") on the market, which makes it easy to be spoiled for choice when choosing what to put in the machine.
We've tried 20 different kinds of K-cups, ranking them from worst to best. The selection of pods we tried includes a number of flavored offerings, alongside plain old coffee. We aimed for a good mix of roasts, manufacturer, and prices, and our choices include pods from several major grocery stores and fast food chains.
As a rule, we tried each pod "as-is." So regular coffee was sampled black, and nothing was added to each flavored concoction. We did this for consistency reasons, as you may not have access to the same additives or use the same quantities we would use and that might skew the results. So without further ado, here are 20 of the best K-cups you can get in 2023, ranked from worst to best.
Original Donut Shop Twix
Adding flavorings to coffee can push the beverage beyond its natural limitations, creating something else entirely. The success of additives like pumpkin spice show how far this concept can go, and the potential for crossovers is ripe. One such hybrid involves Original Donut Shop coffee and Twix — a popular snack many people have probably enjoyed on a coffee break.
The potential for this one seems high, which makes its subsequent disappointment all the more crushing. This tastes of nothing. Nothing at all. The additives have served to somehow eliminate any coffee flavor whatsoever. All that remains is a weirdly chemical aftertaste. It lingers like the coffee equivalent of increased radiation following some sort of nuclear disaster. Please don't purchase this one.
IHOP Signature Blend
This one is very bad, easily the worst regular coffee option on this list. The coffee produced by these pods is quite watery, but that in itself is a blessing when you dig into the flavors that IHOP's K-cup does actually provide. The smell gives off some vague tobacco notes, and it's all downhill from there. After the initial warm watery burst washes over your tongue, you'll be greeted by a flavor that will make you double check the Keurig you're using for mold, and change the water just in case. We did this, tipped the initial 12 oz serving down the sink, and tried again — only to get the same results.
We've had the coffee IHOP serves at its locations, and thankfully that's a lot more palatable than this. The flavored offering may mask the shortcomings of the "Signature Blend" with a dollop of flavor, but please don't subject yourself to this particular variant. It's like drinking liquid that was squeezed from the festering seat cushion of a chain smoker's 1992 Ford Sierra.
Original Donut Shop Nutty + Caramel
Sometimes a single flavor isn't enough. Keurig's Original Donut Shop line has decided to push beyond traditional flavored coffee and offer some well thought out combinations to its customers. For the purposes of this test, we tried "Nutty + Caramel." When the Nutty + Caramel coffee is brewing, you'll notice a strong caramel smell filling the air. Said smell doesn't linger once the brewing process is complete; it is replaced with a pleasant, equally strong hazelnut smell. There is also a fruity artificial sweetness lingering in the background.
What follows that smell is disappointment. Initially, Nutty + Caramel doesn't taste of much at all. After an initial burst of slightly off-tasting hot water, the ghosts of the original scents will begin to dance around in your mouth. Your tastebuds will detect hints of hazelnut, and caramel, and artificial sweetness but unfortunately nothing substantial will appear.
Walmart Great Value House Blend
Although people can get picky with their purchases, Great Value isn't a brand to be written off hastily. While it's easy to look down on value brands, many of Walmart's in-house offerings have been surprisingly decent in tests we've previously conducted. Great Value's "House Blend" K-cups don't make that list, however; they are genuinely awful.
The only flavor you will notice is that of a greatly over roasted coffee bean. You can also expect an extremely watery aftertaste. The exact burnt to wateriness ratio varies, as the grounds used seem to be pretty inconsistent. The only reason this didn't place last is because it's merely bad instead of downright awful. But this line of K-cups has no redeeming qualities, and should be avoided if there are other options available.
Bowl & Basket Donut Shop
A single serve coffee machine like a Keurig can be a great way to fill a kitchen with that delightful fresh coffee smell. Those who love coffee, however, should probably avoid Shoprite's "Bowl & Basket Donut Shop" pods. The scent of the coffee produced by said pods is less what you'd expect, and closer instead to a pile of burning bicycle tires.
Thankfully, the taste is a bit better than the smell. Bland and unremarkable is the best way to describe it. Some hints of over roasting and acidity permeate through the wateriness of it all. This isn't the worst on the list, but it isn't something we'd encourage you to seek out either. Like many other supermarket brands, Shoprite's effort retails for around $5.
Cafe Escapes Chai Latte
This one isn't technically coffee. But it is a fantastic way to get a quick, hot, chai latte with minimal effort. It does very little wrong in the chai department. It's hot, creamy, and sweet -- so it ticks all the boxes as far as chai latte flavorings are concerned. It's also a great option if you're looking to lower your caffeine intake. It isn't 100% caffeine free, but chai in general contains a fraction of the caffeine present in coffee.
While it isn't perfect, if you need a sweet pick me up at any point in the day, Café Escapes have your back with this one. You also won't be left cleaning out a milk pan afterwards, which is a massive bonus.
Cinnabon Caramel Pecan
As with similarly flavored beverages, the Cinnabon Caramel Pecan K-cup will fill your kitchen with a sweet caramel scent as it's brewing. The caramel flavoring is fairly prominent, and it gives the drink a pleasant, sweet flavor without taking things too far. Unfortunately, the same can't really be said for any pecan flavoring. If it's there, it isn't discernable.
There is also no coffee flavor to this K-cup. This isn't necessarily a negative. If you dislike the taste of coffee, but are in need of a natural source of caffeine, then this is a pretty good choice. It can also potentially help the coffee-averse take advantage of the liquids' other benefits. Unlike certain competitors, there isn't a complete absence of flavor beyond a vague sweetness. So, this ranks highly amongst the flavored K-cups in our list.
Starbucks Pike Place
The good news for Starbucks fans is the company's Pike Place medium roast coffee pods taste very similar to what you get when you order a black coffee from the Seattle-based chain. The bad news for everyone else is, this opens the end result up to the same criticism's Starbucks' coffee gets from some quarters.
It is very dark and bitter, especially for a "medium roast." There is no complexity beyond the slightly burnt tones that initially hit the palette, and the coffee flavor that follows. As with the real Starbucks, this may be a good thing if you like to augment your coffee with milks and sweeteners. The stronger roast will be able to fight through the creams, mills, and syrups you slosh in there. But if you're keen on that, then one of the chain's flavored options may be a better pick.
Original Donut Shop Cinnamon Toast Crunch Latte
Original Donut Shop's other two efforts didn't fill us with hope, but the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Latte may have salvaged some pride for the brand. The latte format adds some much needed texture and flavor to the drink, and each element is clearly detectable — including the milk itself.
The initial burst of hot milky flavor will stay with you, acting as a platform for the rest of the drink to be built upon. After that initial hit, an intense and increasing sweetness will appear, before a distinctive cinnamon flavor arrives towards the end. In terms of negatives, there is a definite "artificial flavor" hovering around in there. It isn't the worst thing in the world, but it isn't particularly pleasant either. Despite this, the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Latte is a great option if you want a sweet coffee.
Cinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll
Cinnabon built its brand around delicious cinnamon rolls. The chain also sells coffee, and combining two of its best loved products seems like a no-brainer. So, how well does this home version of the combo work? Cinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll is the best tasting artificially flavored coffee we sampled. The cinnamon flavor is prominent, and the added sweetness is welcome.
Unlike other flavored coffees, some flavor notes from the java itself are present. If you pay attention, you'll notice some floral notes penetrating through the heavy cinnamon flavor. Cinnamon rolls may be a sweet treat, but thankfully the Cinnabon Classic Cinnamon Roll keeps things in check. It doesn't go overboard on the sweetness, and can be categorized as an all-around well balanced alternative to standard coffee.
Pics Colombian Blend
Oddly enough, this unassuming, brown-foiled, K-cup was probably the most difficult to judge and write about. There's nothing inherently bad about Pics' Colombian Blend K-cups, but there's nothing good about them either. They're amongst the hardest to rate because of sheer mediocrity. Any positives you can list are basically the absence of negatives. It isn't bitter. It isn't acidic. It doesn't have a weird aftertaste.
If you drink coffee, but aren't into coffee, then this might be for you. Without being entirely bland, it's what we would describe as a "plain" option. In terms of actual positives, it is one of the cheaper alternatives on the market. A 12-pack will run you a little over $5 if you head into a Price Chopper supermarket.
Krispy Kreme Classic
Unlike many "donut shop"-style coffees, Krispy Kreme seems to have opted for a medium roast for their K-cups. It's still on the lighter side of medium, and just what you need when looking to take the edge off a sweet breakfast treat.
The smell Krispy Kreme's K-cups put out when brewing is sublime, and the flavor is very close to what the chain pours into thousands of cups each morning. However, as with other "donut shop"-style coffees, the lightness of the roast may make Krispy Kreme's offering seem a touch weaker than other brews. It isn't, and lighter roasts provide the same amount of caffeine as dark, but if you're looking for an intense burst of flavor with each sip then you should go elsewhere.
Newman's Own Original Special Blend
As with many Newman's Own products, its K-cups are built on an idea. The profits from the company's products go to charity, and the coffee itself is organic. So the customer benefits directly, and also knows their money is going to a good place. But as nice as all that may be, it isn't much of a selling point if the coffee is bad.
Thankfully, the K-cups produced by the late Paul Newman's food and beverage company aren't bad at all. The "special blend" appears to be on the darker side of medium — offering a robust flavor and smooth finish, with little noticeable acidity and no odd aftertaste. It isn't the best coffee, but it's better than average and perfectly serviceable if you want a good, versatile, all-rounder.
Hannaford Colombian Blend
Hannaford's Colombian Blend is surprisingly rich and satisfying. It is one of the better black coffees we sampled, and the best as far as supermarket-owned-brand K-cups are concerned. It's a medium roast, but isn't noticeably acidic. This alone is a huge benefit for heavy coffee drinkers as, in addition to the better flavor, a lower-acidity means you can put away several cups without feeling like you've been hit in the stomach.
With other value K-cups, consistency is often an issue. However, Hannaford seems to have somehow solved the problems Great Value and Bowl & Basket encountered, and has managed to produce the same superb cup every time. If you're on a budget and like black coffee, you might want to select this one as your daily driver.
Tim Hortons Original Blend
Tim Hortons, the beloved Canadian brand founded by a former hockey player, has spent decades honing its reputation north of the border. The chain's hard work seems to have paid off, as its marketing materials proudly declare "Canada's favorite cup of coffee." Our neighbors to the north may be onto something, as Horton's well balanced offering is not bad at all.
It's very smooth, and incredibly pleasant while hot. In terms of flavor, it isn't too far from what you get when you order a cup fresh from the chain itself. Which is very handy if you're a Mainer or Canadian in need of a taste of home. On the whole, there's no subtle little notes to detect or complex flavors to unpack. It's just a smooth, easy to drink, cup of hot diner-style coffee you can use to fend off the winter chills.
Tully's Hawaiian Blend
Tully's Hawaiian blend offers a bold, rich, flavor that is great when you want to kickstart your morning and versatile enough to handle pretty much anything. However, it is worth noting that this, as its name suggests, is a "blend" and not pure Hawaiian coffee. So you can experience hints of the floral, slightly acidic, flavors that beans grown in the state's rich volcanic soil are known for — even if those notes will be buried beneath a hefty amount of Arabica used in this blend.
It is more unique than other K-cups, but if you're a fan of Hawaiian coffee, you're better off dodging this and opting for a pod made by Kauai instead. Otherwise, Tully's does a good job with its K-cups and the Hawaiian Blend is superior to most of the single serve options on the market.
Dunkin' Original Blend Medium Roast
Right off the bat, we would like to state that this doesn't taste like the black coffee you can pick up from your local Dunkin'. The chain puts a lot of pride in its coffee, and its success shows that customers certainly jive with its java, so this may initially come across as a bad thing. However, the non-Dunkin' like coffee flowing from the branded K-cups is very nice in a different way. We'd describe Dunkin's Original Blend as surprisingly complex.
It has a milder coffee flavor than some of its peers, and this allows that complexity to blossom. The main thing we noted was a strong, almost perfume-like, collection of floral notes. It's one to enjoy, and places high on our list.
McCafé Premium Roast
The McCafé coffee at McDonalds is a not-so-hidden gem. The stuff you get from the almost omni-present fast food chain is cheap, flavorful, and pretty great value for the money. Now, thanks to this line of K-cups, you can enjoy the flavor of a McCafé without having to travel a couple to a Golden Arches.
There are many different fast food and chain store K-cups out there, but this effort from McDonalds might be the best. The smoky, punchy, dark roast is near indistinguishable from the beverage you receive in store. There's also a very slight, salty edge to its aftertaste — and a touch of substance to its mouth feel — which again, is just like the real thing. Serve it with a fried egg and sausage patty, encased in a toasted English muffin.
Peet's Coffee Big Bang
According to the Peet's website, Big Bang is its most popular bean — it's a medium roast, offering hints of "Fruit Cup, Milk Chocolate, and Graham Crust." You can buy a bag of whole roasted beans and carefully prepare the brew yourself, or you can grab a box of Peet's K-cups and have it spraying into your favorite mug in seconds.
We didn't exactly get the flavors Peet's website was shouting about when we tried its "Big Bang" K-cups, so maybe it doesn't transition to single-serve perfectly. But we did encounter a refreshing and vibrant drink, with a lot of natural sweetness to it. As an added bonus, the coffee smell that filled the kitchen was stronger and more pleasant than anything else we tested. So at the very least, consider using one of these as an air freshener.
We previously ranked Caribou Coffee's bagged beans as some of the best coffee you can buy. The Minnesotan company translates that excellence into the single-serving format very well. Caribou Coffee has somehow crammed an incredibly rich, delightful coffee drinking experience into a small plastic cup. It's the best K-cup on this list, and one of the better cups of standard black coffee we've had in general.
So, what does our winner taste like? It's basically everything you'd want in black coffee. Strong, without being overpowering or bitter and packing a deep, almost savory, aftertaste that lingers on the palate. It doesn't get boring either. Stock up on Caribou, it could be a reliable way to start your day for many years to come.
Read the original article on Tasting Table.