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Coffee Brands Comparison: Is Cheaper Better?

Coffee prices may not reflect flavor, a magazine finds.
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WebMD Expert Column

Here's good news for Americans trying to save a few bucks at the grocery store: A recent coffee brands comparison suggests that some types of inexpensive ground coffee may taste as good --or better -- than higher-priced varieties.

For the coffee brands comparison in its March issue, Consumer Reports magazine tested 13 brands of ground caffeinated 100% Colombian coffee and 6 brands of ground decaffeinated coffee. The magazine rated the coffee on positive taste attributes (such as earthy, fruity, or nutty) and negative ones (like woody, papery, or burnt).

Three of the caffeinated brands came out on top with a "very good" rating. The No. 1 caffeinated coffee, Eight O’Clock Coffee 100% Colombian, was also one of the most reasonably priced, at $6.28 per pound or 15 cents per 6-ounce cup (using the manufacturer's suggested amount). It beat out brands like Gloria Jean’s and Peet’s Coffee, which sell for $13-$14 a pound (32 cents a cup), and which both got "good" taste ratings.

And what could this mean for your pocketbook? If you drink a couple of cups of coffee each day, choosing a more reasonably priced brew could save you upwards of 30 cents a day or $9 a month ($108 per year). Consumer Reports estimates Americans drink roughly 400 million cups of coffee daily. So by switching from coffee that costs 30 cents per cup to coffee costing 15 cents per cup, we could collectively save $60 million a day.

If you're a decaf fan, you'll be happy to know that the top three ranked brands all cost less than 20 cents per cup. The No. 1 brand was Dunkin’ Donuts Dunkin’ Decaf (19 cents a cup), followed by Millstone Decaf 100% Colombian Medium Roast (14 cents) and Folgers Gourmet Selections Lively Colombian Decaf Medium Roast (11 cents), all of which got "good" ratings. One of the more expensive brands, Starbuck Coffee Decaf House Blend Medium, was rated only "fair."

According to Bob Markovich, home editor for Consumer Reports, it's no surprise that even the best decaffeinated coffees couldn’t match the caffeinated brews.

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