Taste-Off: The best K-cup and coffee pods — and the bitter truth about the rest
When Keurig introduced the single-cup coffee maker more than a decade ago, coffee-drinkers fell in love. No more bitter, stale coffee. No more bottom-of-the-pot blues.
On the downside, the prefilled plastic cups that fit into the brewing chamber more than doubled the price of a cup of homebrewed coffee, and coffee choices were minimal. Today, more than a half-dozen companies make single-cup brewers, and store shelves are crowded with single-serve coffee pod options. Some are straight forward cups of Joe, others are dessert-minded twists on the topic — and we’ll tackle the latter next time.
While it’s tempting to stock up on the cheapest or those that sound like the most fun — who wouldn’t want a cup of coffee from the likes of Guy Fieri or The Cake Boss? — the quality of that single-serve cup is entirely dependent on the quality of the grounds. The best coffee pods are filled with coffee sourced from the best farms in the world. The beans are perfectly roasted, ground, packaged and sold long before their “best by” date. Translation: Coffee pods from coffee-centric companies tend to taste better.
We brewed and tasted our way through a stack of coffee pods, all brewed in the same machine. (Important note: While most pods claim to be “Keurig compatible,” newer Keurig machines will only brew K-cups that are imprinted with a specific ink. There are cut-and-paste hacks to get around that –www.keurighack.com — but not everyone may want to go to that trouble.) Then we sipped the results, both hot and cold, and evaluated them on roast, aromatics, body and freshness. Here’s the bitter truth about the best — and the wickedly undrinkable.
Peet’s Caf Domingo
The Caf Domingo is bold and full-bodied, but retains the natural sweetness of the coffee bean — making for a perfect cup of Joe. The newly introduced Luminosa is light and bright, with faint caramel notes and the Major Dickason’s is just as bold and roasty as a cup served at a Peet’s store. $6.99 for 10 at FoodMaxx; $12.98 for 16 at Walmart. (4 stars)
Starbucks Guatemala Laguna de Ayarza
A stash of these pods is pure gold. It’s Starbucks at the push of a button, for a fraction of the price it costs in-store. Tops marks go to the entire line, which encompasses a broad range of coffee varietals, including some stellar single-origin varietals. Rwanda Rift Valley and the lemony Aria get thumbs-up ratings as well. $9.99 for 10 at FoodMaxx; $13.99 for 16 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. (4 stars)
Green Mountain Sumatran Reserve
The chocolate-forward flavor of this dark-roasted coffee is both rich and fruity. The nutty, lighter-bodied Breakfast Blend is just as pleasing. $11.99 at for 18 at Walmart. (4 stars)
San Francisco Bay Fog Chaser
This artful blend makes a rounded coffee that’s both sweet and bold, mildly acidic, with no off-flavors. The partly biodegradable cups need to be kept in their plastic wrap to preserve freshness. Modification required for some Keurig machines. $15.99 for 36 at Bed, Bath & Beyond. (3 stars)
This super nutty, light-bodied coffee is smooth and bright. Good for those who prefer an extremely light-roast coffee with no bitterness on the finish. $8.98 for 16 at Walmart. (3 stars)
Cake Boss Buddy’s Blend
While this blend lacks the personality of single-origin coffees, it’s a solid medium-roast with no off flavors. Modification required for some Keurig machines. $12.99 for 16 at Office Depot. (2 stars)
Kirkland Pacific Bold
Deep, dark and just short of a French roast, this coffee has stout tannins and a roasty kick, but it’s missing sweetness. $38 for 100 at Costco. (2 stars)
These individually-wrapped cups lack complexity, but the coffee is clean and smooth. The cups themselves are partly biodegradable, which is a bonus. Modification required for some Keurig machines. $4.99 for 12. (2 stars)
Barnie’s Blend Coffee Kitchen
Even though this coffee is smooth, it lacks aroma and is more akin to instant coffee than fresh-brewed. This would be a great coffee for newcomers to the brew. Modification required for some Keurig machines. $14.90 for 24 online. (1 stars)
McCafe Medium Roast
The bright acidity of this lighter-roast brew is pleasing, but it has some odd, murky flavor notes and an unexpectedly bitter finish. $11.99 for 12 at Target. (1 stars)
Guy Fieri Redwood Roast
Guy should stick to what he knows best “” flavorful food. Here, a flat, cardboardy flavor coupled with a bitter finish make this a rough, stale-tasting sip. Modification required for some Keurig machines. $12.99 for 18 at Office Depot. ( a star)
Rewarmed, day-old coffee would taste better than this wicked cup of burned, bitter java. Modification required for some Keurig machines. $9.49 for 16 at Target. (No stars)