Keurig coffee brewing systems have been around for a while now. There have been a lot of models over the years, but they remained pretty much the same. They still only brewed a single cup at a time. They all used the little pre-filled K-Cups available in a wide variety of flavors and brands. If you preferred your own coffee, there was even a reusable My K-Cup accessory that you could fill with your own grounds. Things have changed with the recent update to the Keurig 2.0 line. The most obvious update is that you can also make carafes of coffee when you need larger quantities and the single servings when it’s just you, or when everyone wants a different hot drink. Keurig sent a Keurig 2.0 K550 Coffee Brewing System to The Gadgeteer for review. Let’s discover the good and the bad points.
The Keurig machine was delivered in a huge cardboard box. This beautifully float-mounted on foam poster was inside, welcoming me to the Keurig 2.0 world.
There are three machines in the Keurig 2.0 lineup: the K350, K450, and K550. The models have many of the same features, and all three are capable of brewing either a single cup or a carafe. They differ in a few ways, including the size of the touchscreen interface, and whether it is black-and-white or color, and in the size of the water reservoir. I received the flagship K550, which Keurig describes as:
“The brewer has other great features including an extra large 80 ounce water reservoir, 2.8 inch color touch display, programmable clock, an auto brew option and a strength control setting for brewing bolder coffee. There’s even a separate setting for hot cocoa and other specialty beverages like lattes and mochas. The K550 model also has a customizable night light in the water reservoir and offers hot water on demand. So many options to choose from — not at all like a typical coffee maker.”
There were some extra items floating around in the box with the packaged K550. I received a ring-bound introductory manual, seen in the front of this image. There were several individual K-Cups, and four of the big, carafe-sized K-Carafe cups. Keurig sent a sampling of various flavors in these cups, but they also sent along a $20 gift card so I could purchase some K-Cups for myself. I thought this was a good idea, because I could try out a flavor that most appealed to me in the Keurig machine. (Before I started the review, I headed over to the local Bed Bath & Beyond with my $20 gift card and a 20% BBB discount coupon I already had and purchased a couple of boxes of the K-Cups and K-Carafe cups.)
Testing the K550: Getting set up
I opened up the box containing the K550 system and started unpacking all the following items.
The clear plastic object is part of the 2.0 Water Filter Starter Kit. It holds a filter and fits in the reservoir to filter out unpleasant taste before the water is used to brew coffee. The white package holds a filter. Purchased separately, the 2.0 Water Filter Starter Kit has an MSRP of $18 and comes with two filters; a box of six replacement filters has an MSRP of $25. Keurig recommends changing the filter every 2 months. We have filtered water in our kitchen, so we don’t need to use this filter.
The user manual is in the gray cardboard case.
The machine also had some coffee packs to get you started. There were four K-Carafes and six K-Cups in assorted flavors.
This is the standard black plastic pitcher that comes with the brewer. It’s nice looking, and it seems to be double-walled for insulation. It has a lid that stays on while serving the coffee to help hold in the heat. Just visible in this photo is a rounded bump on the front that fits into a depression on the front of the brewer to let the Keurig know when you’re brewing a pot instead of a single cup.
The K550 has an 80 ounce water reservoir. This is the largest reservoir that we’ve ever had on a Keurig machine at the Cloninger household. The reservoir has a lid that flips open on the front end so you can easily load up more water as needed. It fits onto the side of the machine that’s facing it in this image.
This is the drip tray that’s used when brewing a single cup. The bump on the front of the drip tray fits into the bottom of the brewer. This bump is a different size and shape than the bump on the carafe to indicate to the brewer that it’s brewing cups, not carafes.
The orange piece is covering the compartment that holds the coffee packs. It works with both the single K-Cups and the bigger K-Carafe packs. This orange piece must be removed before using. I washed up all the parts of the brewer and assembled everything.
Here’s the K550 with the drip trap in place, looking like it’s ready to be placed on the kitchen counter and have water added to the reservoir.
It fits into the space used by my old Keurig K75 brewer. It’s hard to measure because of the shape, but it’s about 11″ wide X 12″ deep X 13″ tall. You also have to allow space above to open up the coffee pack holder.
When plugged in, the machine takes you through setting it up and getting it ready for brewing.
You can choose the language for the on-screen prompts, set the clock, and choose the clock display style (analog or digital).
You can also choose the wallpaper background for the touchscreen and turn on a nightlight that illuminates the water reservoir, if you want. The nightlight can be programmed to turn on and off at certain times. Settings also allows you to program the brewer to have fresh coffee waiting for you at a specified time (you’ll have to set up the machine with water, a coffee pack, and a cup or carafe to catch the brewed coffee, of course); select high altitude mode to ensure your brewer works properly at altitudes of 5000+ feet; and turn on a reminder for changing the water filter.
The touchscreen has three buttons on the right side. The top button opens the settings routine. The middle button, with the H in the water drop, has the machine dispense about 6 ounces of plain, hot water. The bottom button with the power icon wakes the brewer from Energy Saver mode and begins the water pre-heating process when you want to brew coffee.
This is the K550 with its touchscreen and nightlight glowing green in my dark kitchen. It’s not bright enough to read by or to make a midnight snack, but it’s a nice touch of color.
Testing the K550: The Good
Before brewing the first coffee that we drank, we ran two or three hot water dispensing cycles and brewed one cup of throwaway coffee to make sure the internal structures were cleaned.
To dispense hot water, you have to press and hold the round, black brew button marked “Keurig 2.0”. The machine automatically stops dispensing after 6 ounces. This isn’t just a cleaning procedure. This works anytime you need hot water for brewing a cup of tea with a tea bag, to mix up some hot cocoa mix not in a K-Cup, or maybe to mix up some hot cereal.
Now we are ready to brew some coffee.
Keurig’s claim to fame is that you can brew a single cup of fresh coffee when you want it. You don’t have to drink stale coffee that’s been left on the heater plate of your automatic drip maker for who knows how long after it was brewed, just to save money. You don’t have to nuke cold, leftover coffee in the microwave to make it a drinkable temperature again. You always have a freshly made cup.
What happens when you have guests over or you have multiple family members who all want a hot beverage? With the old Keurigs, you stood there and brewed single cup after single cup until everyone had their beverage. This is fine when everyone wants something different, but it’s very time consuming and means the first person will be ready for another cup by the time you’ve gotten everyone taken care of the first time. When everyone wants the same thing, or when you decide everyone will be getting the same thing, it would be nice to brew a larger quantity and pour it into serving cups. With the Keurig 2.0, you can brew a pot of coffee using the supplied carafe and a K-Carafe coffee pack.
To brew a carafe, remove the drip tray and place the carafe under the spout. You can brew with the carafe’s lid in place, if you want, but I left it off for the first trial.
Place a K-Carafe cup in the pack holder. To make the large pack fit, I had to pull back on a lever at the bottom of the holder. Don’t be sticking your fingers in random places while the pack holder is open. There are large needles in here to puncture the top and bottom of the coffee pack.
Coffee packs that work with the Keurig 2.0 system are marked with a number. The K-Carafe pack in the earlier picture is marked with a 1. Once you insert the coffee pack and close the handle, you check the touch screen to make sure that the brewing number on the screen matches what’s on the coffee pack. Then you select the size of your brew. With the K550, I could choose 2-3, 3-4, or 4-5 cups. I chose the 3-4 cups amount, pressed the Keurig 2.0 brew button, and the K550 started brewing.
Soon, I could see rich, brown coffee being dispensed into the carafe. By the way, the carafe holds quite a bit of liquid. I used a liquid measuring cup to check the capacity. When completely filled with water, it held four full cups, or 32 ounces.
This is the amount of coffee brewed with the 3-4 cup selection. These are 15-ounce Tervis Tumbler mugs, and you can see each cup is about 75% or so filled. This amount is more than enough for the two of us for breakfast, especially considering I like my coffee to be about half milk. We could have each had a cup, and there would have been enough coffee left in the carafe for Butch to have a second cup.
We used one of the Donut Shop regular blend K-Carafe packs for this brew. This is a coffee that we’ve used before and liked in the single serving K-Cups. I thought this particular brew was a bit strong for my taste, but that could have been because I didn’t have enough room to add the amount of milk I normally use. It could also be that brewing the 4-5 cups amount would have diluted the coffee a bit and made it more to my taste.
The coffee was nice and hot, but not too hot to drink. Butch and I agreed that it had a good flavor; it didn’t taste scorched. It didn’t have any grounds or sediment, and it was clear, not cloudy. It was a nice temperature and a good, flavorful brew.
Before I talk about single-cup brewing, let’s look at the touchscreen information. Right now, only the K-Carafe packs and the standard K-Cups are available. The Brew settings menu at the bottom of this page from the user manual shows the options and cup sizes available for those packs; compare those settings with the touchscreen representations in the upper middle and right of this photo.
In addition to the cup sizes, you can adjust the K-Cup brewing process to make the coffee stronger or to select special brewing for hot cocoa and other non-coffee packs. On the carafe menu, you have the option to set a particular brew size to be your favorite.
You’ll notice there are lots of future brewing options that seem designed for travel mugs with larger capacities, one method that looks to brew a 4 ounce espresso, and another that seems to be a multi-step frothing process.
Now let’s brew a single cup of coffee. I started by putting one of the provided K-Cup packs into the holder.
I didn’t check the Strong or Hot Cocoa options. Since my husband was going to drink this, I selected the 6 ounce cup size because he has always used that size for his Keurig single cups. Once the cup was in place, I pressed the Keurig 2.0 brew button and waited.
The touchscreen displays a caution message while brewing, reminding you that things are hot and you shouldn’t move the cup until brewing has stopped. Butch said that cup of coffee was as good as he gets from his previous Keurig. He’s brewed many single cups of coffee since this first one, and he’s liked how the K550 works with each. His only complaint has been with some of the particular blends in the sample K-Cups that he hasn’t tried before and doesn’t like as much as his tried-and-true varieties.
The Keurig K550 has worked flawlessly for brewing single cups and carafes. It’s quick and easy to use anytime you want a cup of joe. When you leave the machine plugged in, it stays at a particular state of readiness, so the pre-heating stage is much faster than it used to be with our previous Keurig that could be powered completely down even when left plugged in.
As I mentioned earlier, because the machine is always semi-ready, you can set up the machine the night before, program then K550 to start brewing automatically at a specified time, and you’ll wake to the aroma and taste of freshly brewed hot coffee. Even if you don’t choose to brew automatically, you’ll be ready to have a hot beverage quickly whenever you want one.
Testing the K550: The Possibly Bad
All this sounds perfect – a machine that does everything that previous versions do and adds the ability to brew carafes and has future expansion for new types of brews. There is a fly in the ointment, though. When Keurig machines were first introduced, they were created by a coffee brewer company. They were interested in working with coffee companies to produce the coffee packs for their machines. They had a patent on the coffee pack format, and they licensed coffee companies to produce K-Cups with their coffees, teas, and cocoas to work with the Keurig machines. Green Mountain Coffee bought a 35% interest in Keurig early in the history of the company, but they weren’t the only coffee manufacturer to produce the K-Cups. Eventually, Keurig introduced a My K-Cup, which was a refillable coffee pack that allowed the owner to use their own coffee with the Keurig brewer. This both reduced waste from throwing away all those disposable K-Cup packs and allowed the user to have exactly the coffee they wanted. This could potentially save money, too.
Two things happened to change things. Eventually Green Mountain Coffee Roasters bought Keurig outright, and the patent on the K-Cup pack expired. Now a coffee company owned the brewers, and they had a vested interest in controlling the coffee used by the machines. The patent expiration opened up the possibility that any coffee company could make K-Cup packs for the brewers without paying licensing fees, so grocery stores and coffee companies who weren’t working with Keurig before this could produce their own packs. To regain control of the market for coffee for their machines, Keurig (a wholly owned subsidiary of Green Mountain at this point) changed the look of their coffee packs and the function of the machines for the Keurig 2.0 lineup. (For more about Keurig’s history, check out the Wikipedia entry about them.)
In the above image, the Green Mountain K-Cup on the left is an old version we already had in the house. The Barista Prima K-Cup on the right is the new format. It has a white ring around the perimeter of the foil top of the coffee pack, and the Keurig 2.0 machines look for this white ring. If the ring isn’t found, as with the old Green Mountain K-Cup, the machine won’t brew the coffee.
I tested this by pre-heating the water, loading up the old Green Mountain K-Cup, and closing the handle. (I forgot to take a photo before closing the handle, so you can see the top of this K-Cup has been pierced when the handle was closed.)
When I closed the handle, I saw this message. Even though it was one of Green Mountain’s own K-Cups, the machine says it wasn’t designed for this brewer.
Keurig says these restrictions are designed to brew a better cup of coffee. By using an officially approved K-Cup and making sure the machine settings match the information on the K-Cup lid itself, the machine can brew a better cup, using the correct temperature and other settings for that particular type of hot beverage. You’d think the machine should be able to read a barcode on the pack so it would be sure to brew the beverage with the proper information. After all, the machine doesn’t know if you entered the correct info. It just checks for the white ring.
You cannot use a My K-Cup with the Keurig 2.0 machines, either. You won’t even find a My K-Cup for sale on the Keurig website for use with your older models now.
If you always buy official K-Cups and don’t bother with the store brands or with the reusable My K-Cup accessory, you won’t have a problem. Just make sure you buy fresh boxes of K-Cups that say they can be used with the Keurig 2.0 line of brewers or just check to make sure they have the white ring around the foil top. You’ll be able to brew anything you want from the hundreds of new packs mentioned by the warning message. If you have stockpiled large amounts of the old-style K-Cups when you found them on sale, you should hold on to your old Keurig brewer, because you won’t be able to use them with the new machines. You won’t be able to use your own coffee in the My K-Cup or any of the off-brand reusable grounds holders, either.
Testing the K550: The Optional
My review package also included a stainless carafe. This is an extra-cost option with an MSRP of $29.99. Like the plastic carafe that comes standard with the K550, the stainless carafe holds 32 ounces.
It is also double-walled, with a stainless interior. The area between the inside and outside walls seems thicker in the stainless carafe. It also has a lid that seals the top of the carafe, but the pouring spout in this lid is smaller and tighter than the opening in the plastic carafe’s lid.
I decided to compare the heat-retaining abilities of these two carafes. I started with the plastic carafe and brewed a 3-4 cup sized pot, inserted the metal probe of my digital kitchen thermometer through the pour spout of the plastic lid, and took measurements of the coffee temperature over a 30 minute period.
When that test was completed, I pre-heated the Keurig again and brewed another 3-4 cup pot into the stainless carafe. Because the spout was different on the stainless pot, I couldn’t feed the metal probe through the lid. I had to just drop the probe in the pot and then close the lid down over the metal cable as tightly as possible. Again, I took measurements over 30 minutes.
You can see that the stainless pot holds the temperature much better than the plastic pot. The plastic pot dropped 13 degrees in the first ten minutes, while the stainless pot only dropped two degrees. Coffee in the stainless pot was 22 degrees warmer at the end of 30 minutes than was the coffee in the plastic pot. Because the stainless worked so well, I took some additional readings for it. At 45 minutes after brewing, the coffee had only dropped about 9 degrees from the starting temperature, and it was still 20 degrees hotter than the plastic pot was after only 30 minutes. At an hour post brewing, the stainless pot had dropped 12 degrees from the starting temperature and was still 17 degrees warmer than the plastic carafe was after only 30 minutes. The coffee in the metal carafe was still at 165 after 1.5 hours; the plastic carafe reached this temperature in about 15 minutes.
If you are only interested in brewing a carafe because you want to serve several cups of the same variety immediately, the plastic carafe will work fine for you. If you’re like us and want three servings so that one of you can have a second cup immediately after the first is finished, you’ll probably be okay with the plastic carafe if you don’t mind a cooler second cup. If you want to make multiple servings and drink it slowly, you’ll do better with the stainless carafe.
Testing the K550: The Conclusion
In conclusion, the Keurig K550 Coffee Brewing System works very well. It brews single cups or a carafe, to suit your need at the moment. You can always have a hot, fresh beverage when you want one. No more scorched coffee that’s been sitting on a coffee maker’s heating pad for half a day for you. If you always want to use official Keurig K-Cups in either the single serving or carafe sizes and you make sure the packs you’re buying have the white ring and brewing numbers on them, you’ll have great coffee. If you want to use store brand cups or use your own grounds in the reusable cup, you’ll be out of luck with the Keurig 2.0 line. If you can live with the current restrictions, it appears that a whole new world of hot beverages will be opening up to you as Keurig expands their K-Cups into the future brewing methods shown in that chart in the user manual. The K550 is priced in line with the other larger Keurig machines made for home use, and the single K-Cups are about the same price as the previous, un-ringed K-Cups. You’ll have good coffee now and only new things to anticipate, if you can live with the restrictions.
Source: The Keurig K550 sample for this review was provided by Keurig. Please visit http://www.keurig.com for more info.