Consumer Reports was a great tool for me to use in my search for the top 10 coffee makers that are on the market, and now we’re on a mission to try some of the top 10 coffee brands in hopes of finding the brand of coffee with the best taste, even if it means having a pay a little more.
Online reviews about coffee can be confusing sometimes, since some coffee brands are those we’ve never even heard of, or the reviews are not based on the most current information. Did you know there are more than 70 brands of coffee on the market today?
Having grown weary of the bitter taste and poor flavor quality of many of the cheaper coffee varieties in the grocery stores we’ve tried, we decided to compare coffees and began looking for a list of coffee brands and companies that make the best tasting coffee, and was surprised to learn there are more unrecognizable names and brands of coffee than there are well-known brands.
It comes as no surprise to me that coffee is one of America’s favorite drinks, with average coffee drinkers consuming more than 1,000 cups of coffee each year. Most coffee drinkers, including us, rank coffee blends such as breakfast or house blends as their personal favorite. It doesn’t matter to us whether we drink caffeinated coffee or decaf, or a combination mix of both, but we do enjoy our cups of java every morning and sometimes at night.
I was able to get my hands on the most recent March 2010 edition of Consumer Reports Magazine that came out in February, where experts blind taste tested 37 varieties of coffee with some surprising results. None of the 37 caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees tested by Consumer Reports coffee experts earned an “Excellent” or “Very Good” rating. Many well-known coffees rated only “Fair”, including some of the cheap brands we’ve tried and nearly choked on.
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According to CR, coffee drinking consumers like us can still find at least a few “Good” cups of coffee. Expert taste testers sipped their way through more than 3-dozen varieties of coffees to find which coffee brands taste the best. Amongst the list of well-known coffee blends tasted by the experts were Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Folgers and Maxwell House.
A good cup of coffee should be smooth and complex, without any excessive bitterness or off-flavors, such as woody, grainy or papery, like the cheap coffee brands we’ve been drinking lately, such as: Folgers Classic Roast Medium and Maxwell House Master Blend Mild. The coffees were taste-tested black to get the true flavor, but if you normally add cream and sugar (or International Delight French Vanilla creamer like we use) some of the coffee brands tested would probably taste fine. Those include Starbucks’ House Blend and Green Mountain Signature Nantucket Blend, the Medium Roast.
When Consumer Reports tested 100 percent Colombian coffees, it found several that tasted very good even when black. One recommended coffee to try is the top-rated Eight O’Clock Coffee 100 Percent Colombian. Consumer Reports also taste-tested 13 decaf blends. Just like the caffeinated blends, none rated excellent or very good, but some were improved by adding milk and sugar or your favorite coffee creamer. Consumer Reports said for the best combination of taste and price, try Starbuck’s Decaf House Blend or Peet’s Decaf House Blend.
Both the Starbucks House Blend (26 cents per cup) and Green Mountain Signature Nantucket Blend Medium Roast (23 cents per cup) offer a good combination of taste and price. Both have an earthy, woody taste, but Starbucks was found to be a fairly bitter to very bitter darker roast, while the Green Mountain has green/sharp flavor.
Decaf Coffees vs. Caffeinated Coffee
There’s slightly better news for decaf drinkers. Although none of the 13 decaf blends Consumer Reports tested scored higher than Good, several performed at least as well as their caffeinated brand counterparts, which is quite a feat, because the decaffeination process can harm flavor. Allegro Organic Decaf Blend Medium Dark, Peet’s Decaf House Blend, Caribou Daybreak Coffee Morning Blend Decaf, and Bucks County Decaf Breakfast Blend were among the better scoring varieties.
All coffees consist of arabica or robusta beans, or a combination. Arabica beans are more expensive and tend to make better coffee. So perhaps it’s not surprising that blended coffees scored lower than several 100% Colombian arabica caffeinated brands tested by Consumer Reports last year in March 2009.
In rating coffee, Consumer Reports experts look for smoothness and complexity, with no off-flavors. The beans should be neither under-roasted nor charred, and the brew should have at least moderate aroma and flavor, and subtle top notes. Some sourness and bitterness are desirable, too, to keep the coffee from tasting bland.
Coffee drinkers should look for the best combination of taste and price. Don’t count on familiar brand names or expensive price tags. Some coffees from popular companies like Maxwell House and Folgers languish near the bottom of Consumer Reports Ratings. The package price doesn’t accurately reflect the cost per cup because the density of the grind varies and manufacturers recommend using different amounts of coffee for a given amount of water.
Top 10 Caffeinated Coffee Brands – “Good” Rating
- Starbucks House Blend – $11.37 per pound, 26 cents per cup
- Green Mountain Signature Nantucket Blend – $11.21 per pound, 23 cents per cup
- Dunkin’ Donuts Dark Roast – $11.39 per pound, 28 cents per cup
- Allegro Blend Light Roast (Whole Foods) – $13.32 per pound, 32 cents per cup
- Archer Farms Breakfast Blend (Target) – $8.56 per pound, 29 cents per cup
- Kickapoo Organic Driftless Morning – $13.32 per pound, 32 cents per cup
- Peet’s House Blend – $12.91 per pound, 30 cents per cup
- Sam’s Choice House Blend Medium Roast (Walmart) – $8.00 per pound, 18 cents per cup
- Eight O’Clock Original – $7.35 per pound, 16 cents per cup
- Melitta Classic Blend Medium Roast – $7.08 per pound, 11 cents per cup
Top 10 Caffeinated Coffee Brands – “Fair” Rating
- Caribou Daybreak Morning Blend – $11.52 per lb, 42 cents per cup
- New England Breakfast Blend – $7.12 per lb, 11 cents per cup
- Folgers Gourmet Selections Morning CafÃ© – $8.29 per lb, 9 cents per cup
- Chock full o’ Nuts Original – $4.75 per lb, 12 cents per cup
- Maxwell Breakfast Blend Mild – $5.00 per lb, 4 cents per cup
- Folgers Breakfast Blend Mild – $5.39 per lb, 6 cents per cup
- Bucks County Breakfast Blend – $11.95 per lb, 44 cents per cup
- Maxwell House Original Roast Medium – $4.94 per lb, 5 cents per cup
- Maxwell House Master Blend Mild – $4.72 per lb, 4 cents per cup
- Folgers Classic Roast Medium – $5.69 per lb, 5 cents per cup
Best Decaffeinated Coffee Brands – “Good” Rating
- Allegro Organic Decaf Blend Medium Dark (Whole Foods) – $18.65 per lb, 42 cents per cup
- Starbucks Decaf House Blend – $12.36 per lb, 28 cents per cup
- Peet’s Decaf House Blend – $12.80 per lb, 29 cents per cup
- Caribou Daybreak Morning Blend Decaf – $13.99 per lb, 46 cents per cup
- Archer Farms Breakfast Blend Decaffeinated (Target) – $9.05 per lb, 34 cents per cup
- Seattle’s Best Blend Decaf Light Roast – $9.59 per lb, 15 cents per cup
- Kickapoo Organic Decaf Breakfast Blend – $14.65 per lb, 32 cents per cup
- Sam’s Choice Organic Blend Decaffeinated – $8.00 per lb, 18 cents per cup
- Bucks County Decaf Breakfast Blend – $11.70 per lb, 42 cents per cup
The 4 Decaf coffee brands with only a “Fair” rating are Maxwell House Decaf Original Roast Medium, Eight O’Clock Decaffeinated Original, Dunkin’ Donuts Dunkin’ Decaf and Folgers Classic Decaf Medium coffees.
For caffeinated coffee drinkers on a budget looking for a Good cup, Consumer Reports recommends Melitta Classic Blend Roast (11 cents per cup) and Seattle’s Best Breakfast Blend (15 cents per cup). Decaf coffee drinkers on a budget may want to consider Seattle’s Best Blend Decaf Light Roast (15 cents per cup) or Sam’s Choice Organic Blend Decaffeinated Medium Roast (18 cents per cup).