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K-Cups and Compatibility Explained

Some background can be helpful in understanding this confusing market space of single serve coffee, brewing machines and compatibility.

What is a Keurig? What is a K-cup?

Keurig® and K-Cup® are registered trademarks of Green Mountain, Inc., a coffee company that created and owns the Keurig brand. Green Mountain decided to call the cup that their new machine uses, a “K-cup” for short (instead of a Keurig cup). Then they went to other large coffee brands and signed them up to package their coffee in K-cup format.

Now since Green Mountain owns the word “K-Cup,” no other companies can sell a “K-Cup” unless they now license this privilege from Green Mountain. But other companies can make a cup of similar characteristics and dimensions, which will work functionally just like a K-cup—they just can’t legally call it a “K-cup.” So on Single-Serve-Direct, we call those “generic” type k-cups “K-Cup® Compatible.”

There are also two other types of K-Cup compatible products. The first is called RealCup® and it is a registered trademark of Mother Parker’s Tea and Coffee Inc., a rival to Green Mountain. Realcups feature a unique internal filter system and are fully biodegradable, so if you don’t like the eco-unfriendliness of the K-cups, you may want to try Realcups. Realcup brands available on Single Serve Direct include Martinson Coffee, Brown Gold Coffee, Marley Coffee, Higgins & Burke, Second Cup, Tim Horton’s and Numi Tea.

And there are also coffee filter pods as a type of K-cup alternative, made by brands like Boyd’s Coffee, Copper Moon, Margaritaville Coffee and Reign Tea. A filter pod does away with the plastic cup, and uses are mesh filter instead. For those who might fear the leaching of chemicals from the plastic of traditional K-Cups, these filter pods avoid that issue. They are also more eco-friendly, as they are largely biodegradable.

What are all these “K cups” compatible with?

The Keurig K-cup Standard

The first Keurig brewing machines are informally known as “Keurig 1.0”—this is a catchall terms that includes the original Keurigs, the Keurig Elite and a variety of other model variations, all of which adhere to the K-cup standard. The reason they are sometimes collectively referred to as “1.0” is to differentiate them from the Keurig Vue and the Keurig 2.0. (I’ll explain the differences in more detail in a moment).

So basically everything made by Keurig that isn’t a Vue or a 2.0 is a “1.0,” and these 1.0s all use a single serve, pre-filled cup called a “K-cup” as described above. And from that explanation, you already know that there are really four types of “k cups”:

  1. Officially licensed K cups, packaged by Green Mountain, Inc.
  2. Generic k cups, packaged by independent coffee companies
  3. Realcups, packaged by Mother Parker’s (and which are biodegradable)
  4. Coffee filter pods, packaged by independent coffee companies

Okay, that sounds pretty straightforward. But it’s quite that simply…

Brewers: Not Only Keurigs Use Kcups, and Not All Keurigs Use Kcups

Huh? Well, first of all, as I’ve already indicated, not all Keurigs are K-cup compatible. The Keurig Vue uses a larger cup and carafe system. And now to really muddy the waters, Keurig has released the 2.0 machine.

The Keurig 2.0 is a machine that accepts BOTH K-cups and Vue cups. Sounds good, but there is a catch. The 2.0 is also designed to reject non-official (Keurig licensed) K-cups!

This peculiar move by Keurig to “lock up” and fully monopolize the market has essentially failed, however, on two levels. First, the public just didn’t buy the 2.0 in appreciable quantities and sales have been very poor. Second, plastic “liberty rings” or “freedom rings” are now available to defeat the Keurig 2.0’s finicky nature and allow the 2.0 to use non-Keurig cups. So much for the monopoly. Keurig will just have to settle for being the industry leader.

Next, we must also consider that we have machines made by brands other than Keurig that also use the K cup standard. That is, certain models by Breville, Cuisinart and Mr. Coffee have licensed the K-cup technology from Green Mountain and made k cup models. They say “K-Cup® compatible” on the label. So these are all really “1.0” machines, too, and all four of the K cup types listed above will work with them.

Other Single Serve Formats

And finally, there are other single-serve brewers sold which do NOT adhere to the K-Cup standard. These include primarily the Keurig Vue, Tassimo, Dolce Gusto, CBTL, Nespresso. Each of these machines requires a completely different style of pods/cups.


So let’s recap: We have four types of K cups. All four work in all Keurig 1.0 machines (including those made by other manufacturers). The Keurig Vue does NOT use the K cup standard. The Keurig 2.0 sort of does—that is, it does if the cup is an “officially licensed” K cup; if not it may need a freedom ring to work.