Editor's Note, August 19, 2014: Keurig tells us that Vue Pack stock will ultimately be updated for compatibility with Keurig 2.0 brewers, including the K500. This review and the product rating have been updated accordingly.
The Keurig K500 is among the first of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' new generation of single-serving coffee brewers, dubbed Keurig 2.0. Like the brewers that brewed before it, the $190 K500 will serve up a mug's worth of pod-based coffee at the touch of a button in less than a minute. Unlike the last generation, however, it's also capable of brewing an entire pot of the stuff by way of new, large-sized pods called K-Carafe Packs.
Those K-Carafe Packs give Green Mountain a fresh patent to work with -- unlike the original K-Cup patent, which expired back in 2012. That's led to the unsurprising emergence of lower-priced, store-brand K-Cups that undercut the Green Mountain business model. So, accordingly, Keurig 2.0 brewers like the K500 come with a new solution: a scanner that will only let them brew Keurig-approved K-Cups. Toss a knockoff-Cup into the thing, and you'll get an error message.
This new design means that Keurig 2.0 users will actually have less coffee-making options than people using older Keurig models. Aside from being unable to brew bargain-branded cups, Keurig 2.0 brewers also won't work with the kinds of reusable plastic cups that let you use your own grounds, or even with Keurig's own existing stock of K-Cups and Vue Packs with outdated labels. Moving forward, there's potential for Green Mountain's new brewers to grow, but as of now, unless you really want to make large carafes of Keurig coffee, there isn't a great reason to upgrade to such a restrictive system, or to choose it over a competitor that's more flexible and less expensive, like the Editors' Choice-winning Bunn MyCafe MCU .
Design and usability
The K500 keeps many of the same curves and design touches that we saw built into the Keurig Vue V700 last year. It's still a bit bulky, though perhaps a touch more refined than the V700. The grey-bodied design looks good sitting on a kitchen counter, though the flimsy-feeling faux chrome accents might veer towards tacky.
Like previous Keurig brewers, the K500 puts a color touchscreen front and center for easy coffee controls. The menu is intuitive and careful not to crowd too many options into the basic coffee-making process. Design-minded home baristas might also appreciate that you can change the menu's color scheme, along with the color of the LED that shines up through the water reservoir.
Brewing a cup of joe is as simple as popping a K-Cup in and pressing the big "Keurig 2.0" button, which maintains the hallmark simplicity of the Keurig brand. In my tests, a single cup would routinely brew in about fifty seconds. Thanks to that new scanner, the K500 will automatically know if you're brewing a single-serving, or if you're using a K-Carafe Pack to brew an entire pot.
In addition to that scanner, the K500 uses a nifty slot at its base to figure out what you're trying to brew. The normal drip tray that you'll sit your mug on top of slides into place using a specific tab. To make a full pot, you'll pull the tray out of the way and replace it with the K500's proprietary carafe, which has its own unique tab. This is a smart, subtle design touch, as it means the K500 won't brew an entire pot's worth of coffee unless it senses there's actually a pot in place to catch all of it.
The K500 doesn't offer quite as much control over the brew process as we saw with the V700, which is a little disappointing. You can customize the size of your drink from four to ten ounces, but you can't tweak the temperature of the water, like you could before. You can press a button for a slower, slightly stronger brew, but there are no dedicated settings for brewing optimal iced coffee.
This lack of precision controls for more advanced brews is a bit puzzling to me given that the Keurig K500 is coming out of the gate with fewer coffee brands to choose from than the previous generation. I was expecting more of a focus on features and customizability to help compensate for the fact that you can't brew the bargain brands, but those settings just aren't there.
Features and performance
The K500 didn't leave me impressed with its features. As a single-serve brewer, it performs well, but not noticeably better than its predecessors or competitors. It's quieter and at 49 seconds per cup, a few seconds faster than the V700 -- but not quite as fast as the last generation's K-75 Platinum , which brews a cup in 44 seconds. The Bunn MyCafe MCU will get you there in 42.
In sum, there just isn't enough that's new and exciting about the K500 to make up for the fact that you can't brew the cheap stuff anymore. It's a consumer-hostile strategy that goes down like unwanted medicine sans the spoonful of sugar.
Of course, the K500's spotlight feature is its ability to brew an entire, four-cup pot -- and to this end, it does a very decent job. I clocked the brew process at just under 2 and a half minutes, which is faster and more efficient than simply brewing four consecutive cups.
I also appreciated that the new K-Carafe Packs borrow the Vue Pack's spouted design. Unlike K-Cups, which pass water straight through the lid and out the bottom, Vue Packs and K-Carafe Packs pass water through the top and then back out the top through a teapot-like spout. In our taste tests, we've consistently found that this method produces coffee that tastes better.
Another key Vue Pack feature that you'll also find with K-Carafe Packs is that they're recyclable. When you're finished, just peel the foil lid off, pulling the filter out with it -- the #5 plastic housing left behind can be recycled in most areas. K-Cups use a type of plastic that can't be recycled anywhere.
As for Vue Packs themselves, Keurig tells us that you'll be able to use them in the K500 and in other Keurig 2.0 brewers, which might help rejuvenate the recyclable pod's mojo. You'll need to be sure that you're buying Vue Packs that carry updated labels though -- the Keurig 2.0 scanner won't brew using existing Vue Pack pods with original packaging.
The same is true of K-Cups, so if you've been stockpiling the things, your stash might not work with the K500. Keurig-branded cups produced prior to January 2014 lack the specific labeling needed to pass the scan.
Another issue of note is that reusable cups like Keurig's own My K-Cup filter won't work with the K500 -- though, in fairness, I find it hard to imagine that Green Mountain won't ultimately compromise and release a Keurig 2.0-approved reusable cup that you can fill with the grounds of your choice.
The ultimate takeaway is that while the K500 is a solid enough performer, the thing that truly sets it apart from the previous generation is its more restrictive approach to brewing beverages. If Keurig is looking to win the war for single-serving coffee supremacy all over again, that's not the way to do it.
Keurig skyrocketed to coffee prominence -- and dominance -- with its convenient and innovative K-Cup design. Now, with that patent expired, parent company Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is trying to re-establish that dominance. However, the problem with Keurig 2.0, like so many sequels, is that it doesn't offer anything that's nearly as compelling as the original.
The Keurig K500 is a fine single and large-serving coffeemaker in its own right, but it's difficult to recommend. New buyers can do much better with a brewer that's more flexible and less expensive, like the Bunn MyCafe MCU . If you're a Keurig loyalist who already owns a brewer, upgrading to Keurig 2.0 will only leave you with fewer coffee brands to choose from. Unless being able to brew an entire pot is worth it to you, you're almost certainly better off saving your money and sticking with what you already have.