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Keurig’s line of single-serve coffee makers is designed to replace drip coffee, but most Keurig users have wondered at some point: Can I make espresso in my Keurig?
And there’s plenty of reason to think that. Keurig’s design was inspired by espresso machines, there are plenty of espresso k-cups for Keurig machines, and most Keurigs have a strong coffee option now.
So let’s settle this question once and for all: Can you make Espresso in a Keurig? I’ll explain how Keurigs compare to espresso machines, other ways of making espresso-like drinks, and which k-cups come closest to mimicking the taste of an authentic espresso brew.
Just want the list of best espresso k-cups? Here are my top 3.
- Best overall espresso k-cup: Café Bustelo Espresso Style Dark Roast
- Best Italian espresso k-cup: Illy Coffee Forte
- Most eco-friendly espresso k-cup: Timothy’s World Coffee Rainforest Espresso
What’s the Difference Between Espresso and Coffee?
There is no absolute difference between espresso beans and coffee beans — you could use any coffee beans for espresso. There are, however, certain types of beans, blending styles, and roasting methods that are more often used for espresso than for other types of coffee.
So what does it mean when you see coffee beans labeled as espresso beans?
There are a few differences you might find between those beans and your typical coffee beans.
- The roast level — In most cases, it just refers to darker, more intense roasts. Espresso is generally made from dark-roasted or medium-roasted beans, whereas regular coffee uses a wide range of roasting levels.
- The type of coffee beans — Many espresso blends use Robusta beans along with the more common Arabica. Many high-quality drip coffees avoid Robusta beans because of their additional bitterness, but they produce a richer, thicker crema — that layer of foam on top of the espresso — than you get with pure Arabica.
- The grind size — If you are buying pre-ground coffee, there actually is a pretty crucial distinction because most regular coffee is sold as a medium grind, whereas espresso grounds are sold as a fine grind (also called an espresso grind). If you buy whole beans and grind your own coffee, this is something you should keep in mind when selecting a grind size.
What’s the difference between a coffee maker and an espresso machine?
Here’s where we come to the most important difference when making espresso vs coffee — and a point that will be crucial later in this article:
It takes high pressure to make real espresso.
Most coffee makers, including percolators and drip coffee makers, operate at room pressure. In a drip coffee maker, water is dripped over the coffee beans and gravity does the work of pulling the water down through the beans and into your cup.
Espresso makers, on the other hand, pressurize the water before it reaches the coffee grounds. Instead of relying on gravity, the water is pushed through the grounds with at least 9 bars of pressure. Most of the best espresso machines will actually use 15-19 bars. For comparison, the pressure in your car tires is only about 2 bars!
Can You Make Espresso in a Keurig?
No. If you’re familiar with how Keurig machines work, you know that Keurigs are influenced by both drip coffee makers and espresso machines in their design. Like espresso machines, they pressurize water to speed the brewing process, but they don’t reach pressures anywhere near as high as the 9+ bars used by espresso machines.
So if a Keurig can’t make espresso, why did I even bother to write this article?
Because I want you to have access to the best k-cup espresso alternative you can make. Not everyone wants to run out and buy an espresso machine, and these are much closer to a real espresso shot k-cup than anything else in the Keurig pod lineup — especially if you brew them on strong.
The Best Espresso K-Cups
When you are trying to figure out how to make espresso with Keurig machines, there are two key things to remember. (Well, three if you count the fact that Keurigs can’t make real espresso).
- Brew the coffee on the strong setting.
- Pick a dark roast or a k-cup that is made to mimic espresso.
Here are the best options I’ve found so far.
Best overall: Café Bustelo Espresso Style Dark Roast
Cafe Bustelo is one of the best alternative Cuban coffee brands I’ve found. They are not based in Cuba, but they are inspired by Cuban coffee styles and traditions.
If you want to make a cafe Cubano or a cortadito, it just makes sense to start with a Cuban-style roast, but you can certainly use these pods for your lattes as well.
Best Italian espresso: Illy Coffee Forte
Illy is a giant in the world of Italian coffee, particularly in the Italian espresso market. Their coffee is a blend of beans from nine countries, and they offer it in three different roast levels: medium, dark, and very dark. The Forte is their darkest blend, and it is a great place to start for lovers of Italian espresso.
Most eco-friendly: Timothy’s World Coffee Rainforest Espresso
Timothy’s Rainforest Espresso blend is made to be smooth, rich, and sweet — which is exactly what you want in your espresso. The convenience of coffee pods comes with a larger environmental impact, so it’s also good to see that these pods are recyclable and that the coffee is Rainforest Alliance certified.
San Francisco Bay OneCup Espresso
San Francisco Bay’s blend of South and Central American coffee beans produces a bold, sweet, and lively brew. Their pods are 97% biodegradable, which is great news for Keurig fans that are looking to enjoy their coffee with minimal environmental impact.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Dark Magic
Green Mountain Coffee is one of the most popular k-cup brands, and for good reason — they make great coffee. Their Dark Magic blend is a dark roast that produces a particularly rich brew that is ideal for espresso-like beverages.
Brooklyn Beans Express-O
These espresso pods are proof that I can love a coffee even if I absolutely hate its name. Their small batch dark roast blend has a particularly bold flavor, perfect for lattes and cappuccinos. Their pods are also entirely recyclable.
Barista Prima Espresso
These are not the cheapest espresso k-cups, but they are some of the best. Frankly, if they weren’t at the upper-end of the k-cup pricing, I might move them to the top of the list. Their dark roast is extremely bold and has soft, woody, and bittersweet chocolate notes.
Does Keurig Make Espresso Machines?
The classic Keurig line is focused on replacing drip coffee, but Keurig has branched out into machines that produce more espresso-like beverages.
The Keurig Rivo (discontinued)
The Rivo was Keurig’s first attempt to break into the espresso market. It seemed like a great idea — all the advantages of a pod-based coffee machine, but with 15 bars of pressure to allow the brewing of espresso instead of drip coffee.
But the Rivo only lasted about four years before it was discontinued. Keurig didn’t give much of a reason for shutting down the Rivo line, but it likely had something to do with the Rivo pods. The Rivo used a special type of pod, different than the k-cups used by most Keurigs, and that meant there was far less variety available. Keurig users expect a certain level of variety, and the Rivo just couldn’t deliver.
The Keurig K-Cafe
Keurig tried again to stake out a place in the espresso market in 2018 with the K-Cafe. They learned from one key mistake of the Rivo: the K-Cafe uses regular k-cups instead of specialized pods. This means that you have the whole range of Keurig beverages available if you purchase a K-Cafe instead of the handful of options that the Rivo had.
The K-Cafe doesn’t actually make espresso though. It uses the same levels of pressure as a standard Keurig.
The primary innovation in this machine is the inclusion of the ‘shot’ button that produces a richer, more concentrated brew. This is a common method used by Espresso alternatives, that is particularly liked by people that are looking for a way to make cappuccinos and lattes without having to purchase an espresso machine.
If you drink your espresso straight, though, you will quickly notice the difference between this concentrated coffee and a real shot of espresso.
Are There Other Pod-Based Espresso Machines?
If you want a capsule espresso maker, they do exist — just not in the current Keurig line of products.
Aside from Keurig, Nespresso is the most popular capsule coffee machine on the market. Unlike Keurig, Nespresso’s machines use pressures up to 19 bars and are designed to produce real espresso instead of drip-style coffee.
Just like Keurig, Nespresso has a wide range of capsules available to ensure that you’ll never run out of exciting coffee options to try. When you buy, be sure to check out the best Nespresso pods for both the OriginalLine and VertuoLine machines, as they aren’t interchangeable.
Illy and Lavazza
I won’t go into too much detail on these, since they don’t have the variety of drink options that most Keurig drinkers have come to expect. The Italian coffee market is dominated by the battle of Illy vs. Lavazza, both of whom you might know from their coffee selections.
What you may not have known, is that both companies have also branched out into capsule-based coffee machines. Neither of these systems is particularly popular in the US, but they have some real potential if neither Keurig nor Nespresso is providing the capsule espresso experience you are looking for.
Other Ways to Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine
You can’t. If you want an authentic espresso brew, there are budget espresso makers.
That being said, there are other ways to make concentrated coffee that is similar to what you would get from the K-Cafe machine.
Espresso from a Ninja coffee maker
Many of the better Ninja coffee makers have a specialty coffee setting that produces a rich coffee designed to mimic espresso for use in lattes, cappuccinos, and other espresso beverages.
Espresso from an AeroPress
The AeroPress was already designed to create a coffee concentrate, but the standard brew it creates definitely resembles a cup of coffee more than a shot of espresso. That all changes when you discover the espresso AeroPress recipe that uses the inverted espresso method. This recipe gives an extra kick to the brew, making it an excellent alternative to a real cup of espresso.
Espresso from a Moka pot
There are plenty of differences between the AeroPress and a Moka pot, but there is one important similarity: they both use added pressure to brew coffee. Of course, neither one uses enough pressure to make real espresso, but the Moka pot’s 1.5 bars of pressure come closer than most other espresso alternatives.
Espresso from a French press
Last, and absolutely least, we come to the French press. You can tweak the grind size, amount of grounds, and brew method of a French press to produce a richer brew, but it is the worst imitation of espresso on this list. I can’t recommend it, but I’m including it here for completeness.
The Last Few Drops
Can you make espresso in a Keurig? Not really.
But with the best espresso k-cups, you can get as close as is humanly possible. If that’s not good enough, I’ve tried to give you options for pod coffee makers that can produce espresso as well as some other ways of making espresso-like coffee without having to buy an espresso maker.