Drip Coffee Maker Vs Keurig: Which One Makes A Better Cup Of Coffee?

Many people start the day with a cup of coffee, but how they get that cup varies. You may opt for a traditional method, like a percolator, a french press, or if you're brave enough, the "cowboy method." Alternatively, you could just do what the majority of people do and get an automatic coffee maker. The two most popular styles of coffee makers in the United States are drip coffee makers and single-serve coffee makers like the kind Keurig makes. 

Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Which one you choose will more than likely be down to your personal circumstances. One is a better option if you want a quick cup of coffee or if you want to keep things simple. Another is an obvious choice if you want a large amount of coffee or you want the ability to customize your brew. There are other factors, too, like environmental concerns, reliability, and the quality of the end product.

What is a drip coffee maker

Picture a coffee maker in your head: there's a good chance you're thinking about a drip coffee maker. It's the most common form of coffee machine in the United States, though its popularity has been declining in recent years. If you get a coffee from a diner, fast food chain, or restaurant, there is a good chance that the place of business will be using a drip coffee maker. How it works is simple. 

Drip coffee makers use a filter containing a measured amount of ground coffee, placed in a hopper. Usually, one to two tablespoons of grounds are used per 6-ounce "cup" of coffee. A reservoir is then filled with the amount of water needed to make the batch of coffee. The user presses a button on the machine, it heats the water, and steadily sprays it over the grounds. The coffee then drips through the filter basket into the carafe below. Some machines have "bold" settings for stronger coffee and settings for smaller (1 to 4 cup) batches. Many drip coffee machines make around ten cups, though machines with larger and smaller carafes are available.

What is a Keurig?

Keurig is the manufacturer of the most popular brand of single-serve coffee machines. They differ from drip coffee machines in a number of ways. The most obvious difference is in the volume of coffee each method produces. A Keurig produces a single serving, though the size of that serving can be adjusted. Most machines make between 6 to 12 ounces of coffee per "K-Cup." The K-Cup itself is a small plastic container with coffee inside. When a Keurig is used, water is placed in the reservoir and a coffee cup is placed below the Keurig's nozzle. Then the user opens the Keurig, inserts a K-Cup, closes the machine, selects their serving size, and watches the coffee spray into their cup. The K-Cup is then disposed of afterwards (although reusable filters are available).

Single-serve coffee makers, like the Keurig, are the second most popular method of making coffee in the United States. They are also growing in popularity. There are several kinds of Keurig models available at different price points and with varying features. More money tends to get a model with a larger reservoir, meaning you can brew more cups without having to refill your machine. Cheaper models can have a very small tank that is only capable of holding enough water for a single serving.

Keurig coffee makers use hot water and pressure to extract flavor from the grounds inside the K-Cups. It isn't the kind of pressure you'll see with an espresso machine, but it's enough to speed up the brewing process and deliver a cup of coffee in seconds.

The quality of K-Cups can vary greatly

How good your Keurig's coffee is depends on where you got your K-Cups. They vary greatly in quality. Keurig's own branded cups include lines like "Green Mountain." There are premium options available too, as well as budget options that can save you money if you're not too fussy about quality. Common coffee brands, which you may have tried, rank pretty badly in some K-Cup lists: Both Folgers and Eight 'O' Clock face accusations of being bland, aroma-free, or just tasting bad. At the other end of the scale, donut shop chain Dunkin' seems to offer a high-quality K-Cup.

Things can get confusing with brands like Starbucks. They offer several varieties of K-Cup and the quality varies between the lines. Flavored coffee "Starbucks Caramel" seems to be one of the worst on offer, while its "Pikes Place Roast" ranks amongst the best available if reviewers are to be believed. Personal taste and price play a large part, so if you find a K-cup you like at a reasonable price, make sure to stock up.

It's easy to make bad drip coffee

A Keurig is incredibly easy to use. You just make sure it has water, put a new K-Cup in, line up your cup, and select your serving size. Drip coffee is a bit more complex. There's plenty that can go wrong with drip coffee, and there's a chance you'll wind up with something completely undrinkable if you mess up badly enough.

You can make a common mistake by trying to make your drip coffee experience a bit easier. Pre-ground coffee allows you to skip a step, and means you won't have to purchase an extra appliance in the form of a coffee grinder; however, grounds can go stale very quickly and will likely leave you with a flavorless and low-quality cup of joe. Companies do try to mitigate this by shipping the grounds in airtight, re-sealable bags. But exposure to oxygen is what ruins the grounds, and you just can't stop air from hitting pre-ground coffee. If you're grinding your own beans, the size of the grind is very important. Too fine, and you'll have a bitter drink with bits of coffee ground floating in it. Too coarse, and it'll be sour and under extracted. You can also mess up the coffee-to-water ratio quite easily. So if you have a drip coffee maker, take your time and make sure you do everything right to get the best out of your beans.

K-Cups are more convenient for light coffee drinkers

If you're the sort of person who is busy, happy to take a shortcut, and not a big coffee-drinker, then a Keurig is your ideal option. It's uncomplicated, almost automated, and delivers a cup-sized amount of coffee every single time — and it's not just convenience that makes the Keurig a good choice for light or occasional coffee drinkers. 

K-Cups themselves are individually sealed and can be stored for months. So if you buy a few boxes, you'll always have pretty fresh coffee on hand when you need it. It's also good for entertaining and variety. As the serving size is a single cup, you can have multiple kinds of K-Cup on hand and dish out a different drink for each of your guests. If someone wants pumpkin spice, they can have it. Someone else can have cinnamon. If someone likes their coffee plain, it isn't a problem — provided you have the right K-Cup on hand. You can even get other hot beverages, like tea and hot chocolate.

Which one is the cheaper option?

Each method of making coffee can be relatively cheap or wildly expensive. It all depends on the quality of coffee you use, the machine you buy, and the accessories you get to go along with it. However, if we're looking at basic or average users, the drip coffee maker is considerably cheaper than a Keurig. For a start, the machines cost a lot less. A functional drip coffee maker can be bought new for under $20. The cheapest Keurig on the market, the K-Express, is still over $55.

Then, there's the cost of the coffee itself. On average, a K-Cup will cost you four times as much as the equivalent amount of drip coffee. If you're a heavy coffee drinker, this will add up significantly over the course of a year. The average K-Cup comes in at $0.75. It's reasonable to assume that's $0.60 more per cup on average, though the costs can vary greatly. For some brands, the difference can be close to $2 per cup. If you drink two cups a day, you're spending around $700 extra a year to run a Keurig. If you really want to watch the pennies, research from Solar Mill suggests using a Keurig also takes more electricity — adding to the expense even further.

Drip coffee gives you more control

With a drip coffee machine, you have far more control over the quality, flavor, and strength of the coffee you're producing. While there is a great variety of K-Cups on the market, it's nothing compared to the seemingly limitless amounts of beans, blends, and roasts that are available. You can ensure the beans are freshly ground just before you use them. The coarseness of the grind is something you can perfect over time to make sure the right amount of flavor is being extracted from your coffee. You can experiment with different blends, roasts, and varieties.

It's also possible to mess around with the strength more when you have a drip coffee maker. Some Keurig models do have a "bold" setting, but it's far less common than it is on a drip machine. But it's possible to make drip coffee significantly more potent without an extra button. You just increase the ratio of grounds to water, and your coffee should be stronger. The more scoops of coffee you add, the stronger the end result will be. This isn't something you can easily do with K-Cups. The closest you can get is using the smaller cup setting and throwing an extra K-Cup in.

Reusable K-Cups are a poor middle ground

One of the biggest criticisms of Keurigs centers on environmental concerns. Not all K-Cups are recyclable, and of the ones that are recyclable, not everywhere recycles them; as a result, tons of plastic is destined for the landfill just so people can have a slightly more convenient cup of coffee. On top of that, while there are hundreds of kinds of K-Cups around, drip coffee aficionados still have a wider selection.

But there is a middle ground. You can buy reusable K-Cups that can be filled with whatever grounds you want to use. One of these will set you back around $10, but you'll save a significant amount of money in the long run. It's also far better for the environment. However, there are a few downsides to reusable K-Cups. Firstly, if you don't buy little coffee filters for them they can be an absolute pain to clean. Then there's the fact they take away a lot of the convenience of the Keurig — packing one with coffee takes longer than just popping in a disposable cup. Finally, there's the fact they don't seal as well as actual K-Cups. This results in less pressure and a noticeably weaker cup of coffee. So they are an alternative, but you can understand why many people don't bother.

Drip coffee makers are more reliable

If you own a Keurig and use it a lot, you may notice it develops a few problems down the line. Sometimes it will drip constantly, or you may notice you're only getting half a cup's worth of coffee even when you select the large option. There's also a chance the Keurig will just totally break, leaving you with very few options. 

Most Keurig issues are caused by scale buildup. You can fix them and give your machine a new lease of life by cleaning it with a vinegar solution (or commercial descaler). This will break down the built-up residue inside the machine and hopefully resolve any issues you have. While scale can certainly cause problems with drip coffee makers, it's less likely to cause the kind of problem that renders them useless. There are fewer moving parts, and high pressure isn't a necessity on a drip coffee maker. As a result, they can keep going even if your cleaning practices aren't up to scratch. If you're keen on reliability, it's always best to opt for the simpler device. Logically, the less complex something is, the less there is to go wrong.

Drip coffee is better for families or heavy coffee drinkers

If you're making coffee for more than one person when you wake up, or you like drinking a lot of it yourself, then a drip coffee maker is your best option. You can brew more coffee than the average person can drink, usually between 10 to 14 cups. A hotplate built into the coffee maker will also keep that coffee at a nice temperature for up to a couple of hours. It is worth noting that the quality of the coffee will decline in that time, so you should probably make a new batch if it's been sitting there for two or more hours. But if you just want to keep it hot while your house eats breakfast, it's ideal.

Similarly, if you're rushing out of the house but have a 24 ounce travel cup you want to take with you, you'll have to go with a drip machine. Most Keurigs can't handle a drinking vessel of that size. Even if you can cram something that big under your Keurig, you're probably going to need a few K-Cups to fill it. Drip coffee makers don't have this problem. Simply measure the amount of coffee you need then pour it into your cup once it's done brewing. This also applies to chronic coffee drinkers. While the drip coffee maker takes longer to brew the initial pot, having a large amount of coffee hot and ready to go will save you time over the course of a morning.

Conclusion: Keurigs have their place, but a drip machine is better

In most cases, if you have to choose between the two, you're still better off with a drip coffee maker. It's cheaper per cup, produces a higher-quality end product, and gives you the ability to brew in bulk. The machines in question are also less likely to malfunction, and if they break out of warranty, they aren't expensive to replace. The sheer variety of beans on offer also makes a drip machine the obvious choice for someone who takes their coffee seriously, but still wants to take things easy.

With that being said, Keurigs certainly do have their place. Occasional coffee drinkers, people who want a wide variety of drinks to offer guests, and folks who just want to keep things simple will be happy with a Keurig on their kitchen counter. It's worth weighing up your personal circumstances and requirements before picking one. If you really can't decide, a few companies also make hybrid machines that are basically a Keurig stuck to a drip machine. A device like this will give you the best of both worlds and allow you to use the best machine for the job every time.