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  • What is the Keurig K-Café Smart?

  • How we tested

  • What we like

  • Related content

  • What we don't like

  • Should you buy the Keurig K-Café Smart?

Pros

  • Space saving, attractive design

  • Remote-controlled through fun app

  • Large water reservoir is easy to fill

  • Milk frother works very well

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with a reusable pod

  • Espresso shots are underwhelming

  • Sub-par pods still make bad coffee

With an overwhelming selection of single-serve coffee makers on the market—from brands like Keurig, Nespresso, Instant, and Moccamaster, to name a few—you might be tempted to default to the simplest one you can find. You’d be doing your hot beverage game a serious disservice.

We’re not saying that you need a Keurig coffee maker. Between the expense of K-cups, the substandard quality grinds that most contain, and the environmental impact of K-cup disposal, there are a lot of cons to this style of coffee maker.

However, if you’re determined that a Keurig system is for you, the latest Keurig K-Café Smart is the best Keurig we’ve tested. The previous K-Café was crowned our Most Versatile single-serve coffee maker, but this new version unseated it.

With more customization options, in both coffee and frothing, than the previous K-Café version, you can create more unique coffee drinks to your exact specifications. It’s also better looking than its predecessor.

What is the Keurig K-Café Smart?

Close view of the button controls on the top of the Keurig K-Cafe Smart.
Credit: Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

The interface on the machine is intuitive, and it connects seamlessly to the app for more customization.

This new machine lets you customize every aspect of your beverage of choice. As a follow-up to the previous K-Café model, the new K-Café Smart includes an upgraded milk frother with three hot frothing levels, as well as cold frothing.

From the amount of coffee you make—6-, 8-, 10-, or 12-ounce cup sizes—to the strength of the brew, which puts the grounds in contact with the water for slightly longer, is only where the customization begins. From there, there’s a setting for brewing directly over ice, and you can also select a single or double espresso-like shot to combine with your choice of frothed milk to create café-style beverages—both hot and iced.

With the updated 5-hole brewing process—Keurig calls it multistream technology—significantly more water makes contact with the coffee in the pod, fully saturating the grounds to extract more coffee flavor—and it works. Of course, you have to start with quality coffee to end up with a good cup, which is not always easy to find in pod form.

How we tested

Close view of creamy foam being poured from the K-Cafe Smart's milk milk frother into a coffee mug.
Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

We tried every style of coffee and café drink we could think of to see how this machine performs.

Testing a single-serve coffee maker with as many functions as this one requires drinking a lot of coffee. Thankfully, as a mom of two young kids I’m always up for that task. But, I’ll be honest, I’m also a bit of a coffee snob—usually starting my day with a Chemex pour-over made with freshly ground beans that were roasted no more than three weeks ago.

That’s why, in addition to all the standard testing procedures of brewing, cleaning, and assessing every aspect of the machine, I also brought in reinforcements. To round out the evaluations, I recruited several family members, all who own older Keurig models, as well as several Reviewed staffers.

We first made standard 10-ounce cups of coffee with pods of choice, then moved on to café drinks of all kinds—lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, iced coffees, and iced lattes. While I assessed the functions of the machine, I gathered feedback on the beverages themselves from my recruits.

What we like

It has a small footprint and better design

The Keurig K-Cafe Smart shown on a kitchen counter with a glass of iced coffee prepared.
Credit: Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

A sleek design with a small footprint earns this machine a spot on the counter.

The folks at Keurig put some thought into the design of this model, economizing on space while elaborating on functions. The streamlined design of the water reservoir—and the way it’s positioned behind the milk frother—not only makes the unit take up less space, but also looks aesthetically pleasing.

The app works well and is fun to use

A close up of a person using the app on a smartphone to control the Keurig K-Cafe Smart coffee machine.
Credit: Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

You can set up your customized brew and control the machine directly from the app.

While you can manage all of the settings using the buttons and digital screen on the machine, it’s fun (and easy) to connect to the app for even more customization. The BrewID technology recognizes most K-cups and recommends the initial brew setting, but you can take it from there and make it your own. It’s simple to set up, plus easy and fun to use.

From the app you can control the machine, adjust your brew settings, set schedules, and get reminders about cleaning. You can also shop for pods and accessories, making purchases directly through the app. In the Café Creations section, you can select a recipe for any kind of beverage you can think of, and get step-by-step directions.

You obviously need to have some physical interaction with the machine before pressing go on the app, but once your pod and mug are in place you can walk away and control the machine from anywhere. Thankfully, the app will remind you to check that your mug is there, so you can’t accidentally brew hot coffee onto your countertop.

The app can’t control the milk frother, and you can’t brew and froth at the same time, but following the directions in the app helps each beverage come together quickly.

The water reservoir is super easy to fill

Not only does the water reservoir hold a whopping 60 ounces, it’s so much easier to fill than any Keurig I’ve used before. The sturdy handle makes it easy to maneuver to a sink for filling, eliminating any need for another vessel to pour from.

The simple round lid is finally easy to take off and put back on, eliminating any awkwardness from the process of refilling the tank.

It brews decent coffee and makes great café drinks quickly

Collage of a screenshot of the app featuring a recipe and two insulated mugs of prepared coffee with chocolate syrup topping.
Credit: Credit: Reviewed / Danielle DeSiato

The app gives recipes for every café-style beverage you can think of, and step-by-step directions to make them.

As previously mentioned, I’m a hard sell when it comes to pod coffee makers. But I was pleasantly surprised at the experience of drinking a Green Mountain Dark Magic 10-ounce coffee from this machine.

While there were plenty of sub-par pods we tried in this process (more on that later), using high-quality coffee and pairing it with frothed milk and other ingredients for a café-style beverage is where this machine really shines.

All of my visiting family members were impressed with the coffee I brewed with the pods of their choosing, claiming the coffee was more robust and flavorful than the Keurig machines they own. They especially loved the café-style beverages I made for them—lattes, mochas, and tea lattes were consumed quickly, with requests for more.

The milk frother, with its three hot settings plus cold foam, makes it fun and easy to create hot or iced lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, caramel macchiatos, or any other fancy coffee drinks you can dream up from the comfort of your own coffee bar—yes, even a pumpkin spice latte. And it does it quickly, making café drinks from start to finish in about 3 minutes. That’s faster than I can place a remote order at Starbucks.

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What we don't like

It doesn’t come with a reusable pod

If you’d prefer to use your own freshly ground coffee or, perhaps, don’t want to create the waste generated by coffee pods, you have to order a reusable K-cup separately. It’s not particularly expensive, and certainly saves you money over purchasing endless pods at about 50 to 75 cents each, but it’s an extra step required on the road to being more environmentally friendly.

You get out what you put in

A close up of brewed coffee from the K-Cafe Smart going into a white coffee mug.
Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

Even with an improved brewing method, the quality of the output is only as good as what you put in.

We certainly can’t fault the machine for this but to get a good cup of coffee, you need to start with good grounds—and that’s just a bit harder to find in pods than if you grind your own beans.

The robust flavor of coffee relies on the freshness of the beans, and pods that were filled long ago and sat on store shelves simply won’t produce a great cup of coffee, no matter the storage or brewing techniques applied.

When sampling a variety of plain medium roast coffee pods from brands such as Green Mountain, Dunkin’, Starbucks, and more, results covered the spectrum. At best, we got mediocre diner-style coffee, and at worst we got warm brown water with next to no flavor at all.

If you care about the taste of your coffee and you’re not going to fill your own reusable pod, you have to work a little harder to find the good stuff and buy pods that are fresh and flavorful.

Don’t expect actual espresso

In addition to the four standard coffee sizes, there’s an option to brew single or double espresso shots. The brewing process just isn’t conducive to making real espresso. It will certainly brew a small amount of exceptionally strong coffee to use in tasty café drinks, but you won’t get a true espresso shot with the tell-tale crema top produced by dedicated espresso machines.

Should you buy the Keurig K-Café Smart?

Yes, if you’re dedicated to Keurig and want café beverages at home

Credit: Credit: Reviewed / Tim Renzi

Good looks and an outstanding milk frother are two reasons to upgrade to this machine.

Whether you choose to fill your own pod or buy packaged pods, the experience of using the Keurig K-Café Smart is enjoyable. If you’re looking to explore making café-style beverages at home, you can do it easily with this machine, and at a fraction of what a regular espresso maker would cost.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

Meet the tester

Danielle DeSiato

Danielle DeSiato

Editor, Kitchen & Cooking

Editor, Kitchen & Cooking. Danielle has a B.S. from Syracuse University and a AAS in Culinary Arts from Newbury College. Previously, Danielle was a Test Cook and Associate Editor at America's Test Kitchen, as well as a freelance writer and recipe developer. She’s the mom of 2 boys and loves making pizza on Friday nights.

See all of Danielle DeSiato's reviews

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