Whether your ideal morning cuppa is bold and buzzy or light and mild, the one thing K-cup coffee pod users can agree on is convenience. Popping that capsule into your coffee maker means you can have your morning pick-me-up ready in just 60 seconds.
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While palates may vary, freshness, quality and eco-friendly processing are key factors when it comes to choosing your K-cup, according to coffee expert Tom Saxon, co founder of Batch Coffee.
Saxon who has been in the coffee business for over 10 years, says he favors independent roasters because not only does he find their blends to be fresher than larger commercial brands, but many also have more eco-friendly versions of the classic K-cup coffee pods.
These days, you can choose from the roasts of well-known brands like Starbucks or opt for a wide variety of smaller boutique blends.
The Best K-Cup Coffee Pods
Best Overall: Green Mountain Coffee Pods Breakfast Blend ($51.50, Amazon)
Best Sustainable: Ethical Bean Coffee Pods Lush Dark Roast ($19.76, Amazon)
Best Low-Acid: Lifeboost Organic Coffee Pods Light Roast ($15.95, Amazon)
Best Fair-Trade: Aldi's Barissimo Columbian Coffee Pods Medium Roast ($12.80, Amazon)
Best Medium Roast: Caribou Coffee Pods Medium Roast ($32.34, Amazon)
Best Decaf: Newman's Own Organics Special Decaf Coffee Pods Medium Roast ($45.99, Amazon)
Best Dark Roast: Starbucks Sumatra Dark Roast K-Cup Coffee Pods ($55.97, Amazon)
Best Eco-Friendly: Cambio Roasters Light Roast Hazelnut Coffee Pods ($16.74, Cambio Roasters)
Best Affordable: Eight O’Clock K-Cups Dark Italian Roast ($58.99, Amazon)
Best for Versatility: Java House Cold Brew Coffee Pods Medium Roast ($25.99, Amazon)
Best Sweet: Dunkin' Caramel Me Crazy ($46.74, Amazon)
How We Chose
We chatted with RDs and coffee experts to find out about the most important factors for choosing the best K-cup or coffee pod. Our top picks are based on the following criteria:
1. Best Overall: Green Mountain Coffee Pods in Breakfast Blend
Green Mountain Coffee Breakfast Blend is a perfect choice for those who want a smooth, refreshing way to start their day.
It has been described as having a "clean and crisp" taste, and it's made with 100 percent Arabica coffee beans, which have a smooth flavor.
This light roast is also Kosher certified and responsibly sourced.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $51.50 for 100 pods
2. Best Sustainable: Ethical Bean Coffee Pods in Lush Dark Roast
This coffee is made from 100 percent Arabica beans, and they're harvested seasonably sourced for an optimal flavor. Plus, the brand is known for supporting farmers and sustainability.
"Buying K-cups that are filled with fair-trade coffee is a good way to know that you're supporting ethical and sustainable harvesting, manufacturing and labor," says Kelsey Lorencz, RD for Zenmaster Wellness.
Ethical bean coffee is fair-trade, organic and B-corp certified — a measure that ensures a brand holds to ethical and sustainable practices.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price $19.76 for 24 pods
3. Best Low-Acid: Lifeboost Organic Low-Acid Coffee Pods
These coffee pods may be an ideal choice for people with sensitive tummies.
"Not only are they organic and non-GMO, but they have lower acidity compared to standard coffee," says Aysegul Sanford, recipe developer and founder of Fool Proof Living. Sanford also appreciates the fact that these pods can be easily composted to decompose for sustainability.
To establish purity, Lifeboost's USDA-certified organic coffee beans are single-origin, hand-selected, sun-dried and spring-washed. Tests show these beans are about 27 percent less acidic than standard coffees.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $15.95 for 10 pods
4. Best for Fair-Trade: Aldi's Barissimo Columbian Medium Roast
You may choose to buy from Aldi for its affordability and select brands that suit a variety of dietary needs. Purchasing this Aldi brand instant coffee also means you are supporting the business and livelihood of its coffee growers.
Aldi's Barrissimo Columbian Medium Roast is made with 100 percent premium Arabica beans and no artificial flavors or colors. It is also fair-trade certified, which means it ensures the coffee farmers can earn fair wages.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $12.80 for 12 pods
5. Best Medium Roast: Caribou Coffee Pods
For those who appreciate coffee like sommeliers do wine, this medium roast has a balance of sweet and spicy berry notes and a bitter-sweet chocolate finish. Smooth and full-bodied, this is a solid choice for medium roast coffee lovers.
All Caribou Coffee beans are Rain-Forest Alliance Certified, which is a mark that the company is dedicated to sustainable practices.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $32.34 for 72 pods
6. Best Decaf: Newman's Own Organics Special Decaf Coffee Pods
If you want something rich and full-bodied without the caffeine, Newman's Own Organic Coffee has got you covered.
This organic medium roast brew has a bold, rich taste that's not too strong or too weak, and it doesn't have the aftertaste that many decaf coffee pods can have.
To remove the caffeine, the beans are water processed, also known as the Swiss water process. While caffeine is typically removed using chemical solvents, this method uses water from the mountains to gently remove caffeine, which is said to preserve the flavor.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $45.99 for 72 pods
7. Best Dark Roast: Starbucks Sumatra K-Cup Coffee Pods
For those of you who like a familiar brand they can trust, Starbucks offers this earthy, robust K-cup dark roast coffee.
Starbuck's Sumatra Dark Roast K-cup is a full-bodied brew with a smooth, earthy flavor. It's also single-origin and is suitable for those following a Halal diet.
It's also worth noting that Starbucks is committed to 100 percent ethical coffee sourcing in partnership with Conservation International, a non-profit environmental organization.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $55.97 for 96 pods
8. Best Eco-friendly: Cambio Roasters Light Roast Hazelnut Coffee Pods
Cambio Roasters Light Roast Hazelnut Coffee pods deliver the rich, nutty, mildly sweet flavor of hazelnut with a smooth and creamy mouthfeel.
Made from 100 percent Arabica beans, these K-cups are made with coffee that's been expertly roasted by the company's 5th generation roastmaster.
Offering eco-friendly coffee is part of Cambio Roasters' mission to support people, the plant and profit-sharing opportunities. They donate 20 percent of their profits to the coffee growers, and their coffee pods are 100 percent compostable.
Buy it: CambioRoasters.com; Price: $16.74 for 27 pods
9. Best Affordable: Eight O’Clock Coffee Pods in Dark Italian Roast
These dark roast K-cups from Eight O'Clock are a best seller among coffee pods, and for good reason — they come at a reasonable price and deliver on rich, bold taste.
This blend is intense and full-bodied with chocolate notes. And at 67 cents per cup, it is definitely a cost-effective choice.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $58.99 for 96 pods
10. Best Cold Brew: Java House Cold Brew Coffee Pods
Unlike most K-cup options, this pod is filled with a liquid concentrate instead of a ground coffee. That's what makes it so versatile: You can pop these pods into your K-cup coffee machine for a warm brew, or peel open the pod and mix the liquid concentrate with water.
Cold brew coffee offers a smooth and sweeter, less acidic taste than most brewed coffees. Compared to hot, cold brew coffees have a lower concentration of acidic compounds, according to July 2018 article in Scientific Reports.
This smooth medium roast is made with 100 percent Arabica coffee beans.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $25.99 for 12 pods
11. Best Sweet Option: Dunkin' Caramel Me Crazy Coffee Pods
When you wake up craving a bit of sweetness in the morning, Dunkin' Caramel Me Crazy is the best K-cup option for you.
Brewing Dunkin's brand name coffee with decadent caramel flavor makes it feel like you're buying it from the actual restaurant without leaving your house. An affordable option, you can enjoy it for less than $1 per cup.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $46.74 for 60 pods
What to Look for Before Buying
Before you choose K-cup coffee pods to add to your cart, take heed of this advice.
Opt for Organic
"Organic is a healthier option," Young says. "Organic means it is grown without pesticides, so look for organic whenever possible."
Another benefit to consider is that organic farming tends to have lower nutrient losses and less of an effect on the environment, according to a December 2012 meta-analysis in the Journal of Environmental Management.
Seek Ethical Certifications
Fair-trade certification helps coffee growers receive more profits. It also means that company is supporting ethical and sustainable harvesting, manufacturing and labor practices, Lorencz says.
To further ensure quality standards, look for "B corp certified" on the label. This means a company meets high standards for social and environmental practices, according to B Lab.
Look for Compostable Options
"While K-cups are convenient, they can be incredibly wasteful," Lorencz says. Thankfully, there are some brands that have come up with solutions to work against plastic waste with biodegradable, compostable options (such as paper K-cups).
To be sure it's an eco-friendly option, look for "100 percent compostable" on the label.
Go for Arabica Beans
Registered dietitian Melissa Altman-Traub, RDN, LDN recommends Arabica beans for getting an optimal flavor.
You may see coffee pods made with robusta beans, which are used more commonly in instant coffees and as fillers. Robusta beans tend to have a distinct taste that ranges from neutral to bitter.
On the flip side, Arabica beans are known for their delightful fruity aroma and sweet flavor when brewed.