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Priciest coffee isn't necessarily the best

Want quality? Get a grinder and a good coffee maker.

By Karen Datko Oct 1, 2009 4:24PM

This post comes from partner blog

Eight O'Clock Coffee 100% Colombian at $6.28 per pound ranked No. 1 in Consumer Reports' tests of 19 ground coffees, besting Folgers, Maxwell House and Starbucks -- America's best-selling ground coffees.

A CR "Best Buy," Eight O'Clock costs less than half the price of Gloria Jean's, Peet's and other more expensive brands. CR's coffee experts deemed it a complex blend of earthy and fruity, with a bright, pleasing sourness -- a good thing in coffee parlance.

Starbucks Coffee Colombia Medium, $11.53 per pound, didn't place among the top regular coffees and trailed among decafs. While the regular was rated "good," testers said it had flaws such as burnt and bitter flavors, though milk and sugar may help.

Following Eight O'Clock and also ranking "very good" were two Midwest brews: Caribou Coffee Colombia Timana, at $11.76 per pound, and Kickapoo Coffee Organic Colombia, at $14.33 per pound. Both had fruity aromas and beat an array of larger players among regular coffees. But both come with a hefty price.

Other trendy brands fared less well. Testers said Bucks County Coffee Company Colombia, from Langhorne, Pa., tasted only OK, and Peet's Coffee Colombia from Berkeley, Calif., was burnt and bitter, despite costing $14 per pound.

Among decafs, Dunkin' Donuts Dunkin' Decaf, $10.25 per pound, Millstone Decaf 100% Colombian Medium Roast, $11.59 per pound, and Folgers Gourmet Selections Lively Colombian Decaf Medium Roast were the front-runners. But even the best decaffeinated coffees couldn't match the best regular brews in CR's taste tests.

The full results of the coffee ratings are available in the March 2009 issue of Consumer Reports.

"You don't have to spend a lot to get a great cup of coffee, despite what some coffee snobs may tell you," said Bob Markovich, home and yard editor of Consumer Reports. "Several of CR's top coffees could save you $25 to $75 each year over pricier brands even if you just drank one 6-ounce cup a day."

CR's testers focused on 100% Colombian -- a best-selling bean -- for regular coffee. Most of the six decaffeinated coffees tested are a blend of different beans. Testers consider a great cup of Colombian to have lots of aroma and flavor, some floral notes and fruitiness, a touch of bitterness, and enough body to provide a feeling of fullness in the mouth. Woody, papery or burnt tastes are off-notes.

Weeks of sipping and swirling confirmed that even 100% Colombian coffee and its Juan Valdez logo don't guarantee quality. CR's testers unearthed other surprises: Chock full o'Nuts and Maxwell House have pushed coffee that's "heavenly" and "good to the last drop" since 1932 and 1907, respectively. But off-notes, little complexity, and for Chock full o'Nuts, variable quality, put both behind Eight O'Clock.

How to choose

Consider how you take it. Coffees judged "very good" taste fine black. Milk and sugar can improve a mediocre coffee, but not even cream is likely to help the lowest-scoring coffees.

Choose a good coffee maker. The best-rated by CR reached the 195 degrees to 205 degrees Fahrenheit required to get the best from the beans and avoid a weak or bitter brew. A top Michael Graves model costs just $40.

Consider grinding for fresher flavor. Even the best pre-ground coffee can't beat the best fresh ground when it comes to taste. One top grinder from CR's January 2009 report, the Mr. Coffee IDS77, costs only $20.

Related reading at

Published Feb. 2, 2009


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