Are Kona Pods the Same as Kona K-Cups?
There’s a whole bunch of confusion these days about what to call the various types of single-serve coffees (and teas). If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you want to know about Kona Pods and K-Cups.
If you are like most folks, you’re probably thinking “What do you mean? A pod and a k-cup are the same thing, right?”.
The short answer is that pods will not work in K-Cup machines and vice versa (K-Cups will not work in pod brewers). They are not interchangeable… unless you have an adapter or were smart enough to buy a java maker that brews both right out of the box.
The K-cup and Pod Difference
Pods are brew that is sealed inside filter paper. They have a round, flat shape and are usually soft and pliable. They are sometimes individually wrapped in foil or just packed loose in a larger resealable bag. Pods are also known as pads.
K-Cups are grinds (and recently hot chocolate and cappuccino) that is sealed in some kind of cartridge, generally a plastic cup. The cartridge has a plastic ring covered with a foil top. The inside of the capsule is lined with a filter material and keeps the coffee contained while brewing. When you place a kona coffee k-cups into a compatible brewer, there are two needles that puncture the lid and the bottom of the cup. Water flows into the top, extracts the coffee, and out the bottom (the bottom needle punctures the plastic cup, but not the filter paper… usually).
The history of the single-serve coffee container goes back well before Keurig K-Cup packs were invented. In fact, coffee pods (as we know them today) were actually the first, and others before that.
While pods were (and are) a great product, it’s success was limited from the beginning. It was hard to find the pods themselves, there weren’t many good pod brewers available, and there was no industry standard size or specification for the pod itself. The brewers were the most successful both in Europe and the US. These machines, too, faced the uphill struggle of getting their products into consumers’ hands. The choices were very limited and many of the ones that were available were not very good. While the first was generally regarded as a good brewer, it had two drawbacks. One, the pod holder was a tight fit that almost made it brew under pressure like an espresso machine. Two, the finished coffee had a lot of foam… something that didn’t always appeal to American consumers. The pods were narrowed in diameter (55mm or less), were on the thick side, and were almost hard/tightly packed.
Other pods and pod brewers came to the market that used a different shape of pod, 60-62mm, thinner in height, and generally softer. Today, we like to call those “soft pods”… it’s what finally became the most popular type of pod.
Best advantages of pods:
- Better extraction (more surface area for the water to contact the grinds)
- More aroma while brewing (again, because it isn’t fully sealed in plastic)
- Less packaging waste (only the wrapper is not biodegradable)
Disadvantages of pods:
- Fewer options for pod brewing equipment
- Fewer flavors, blends, and roast options available
- Difficult to find in grocery stores (but are available online)
Best K-Cup Coffee
The K-Cup® term is trademarked by Keurig to describe their single-serve brewing capsule. As defined above, you can identify a kona coffee k-cup blends by the foil-lined, ringed design with a plastic cup. Other modified designs now exist, that eliminate the plastic cup but still use the plastic ring with foil lid.
There are different Keurig-branded brewer models for home use and commercial use. Commercial models, for example ones that can plumb into a water line, are exclusively available through traditional office coffee services (OCS companies). These providers have binding contracts with Keurig to install & maintain the brewers and delivers to the customers. They are only allowed to sell authorized brands and have strict requirements for the number of installations and new customers they must get to maintain their status. These providers are affectionately known as KADs (Keurig Authorized Distributors).
The home models, however, have no such restrictions – you can purchase the brewer from anywhere and the k-cups from anyone.
When key patents covering the design of K-Cups, it opened the door for other companies to make Keurig-compatible products. While these cannot be called K-Cups (because K-Cup® is trademarked), there are many that look-like and brew-like “official” ones. Nearly everyone has a “K-Cup compatible” coffee now.
In 2014, Keurig – faced with losing market share to the “other brands” – rolled out a new generation of brewer called Keurig 2.0. They heralded 2.0 as having more customization and brewing formats. Unfortunately, it also included a scanner that read the foil lids of capsules. If the K-Cup didn’t have their special ink (think barcode), it wouldn’t brew! Only kona coffee kcups officially manufactured or blessed by Keurig would work. This caused an uproar from consumers who purchased the 2.0 thinking they could continue to use their favorite other brand of k-cup.
Because of the lockout system, customers gave their brewers terrible reviews on websites and wrote lengthy letters complaining about the issue. Luckily, it didn’t take long for the competing brands to reverse-engineer the ink system and produce their own lids that were compatible with 2.0 brewers. In fact, in 2016 – months after the launch of 2.0 – they admitted the new system was a disastrous mistake. Despite of that, the K-Cup ecosystem has been wildly successful with a huge consumer market share.
Advantages of K-Cups -vs- Pods:
- Impressive selection of blends, varietals, and flavored coffees
- Lower-priced K-Cup compatible brands now exist
- For most bean drinkers, it brews a perfectly acceptable cup
- Highly convenient, self contained capsules
Disadvantages of K-Cups:
- Generally higher priced than pods (especially more than regular brewed!)
- Some claim k-cup coffee isn’t as flavorful as the soft pods
- Plastic cup, foil lid, and ring creates significantly more waste vs. pods