Coffee Brands Comparison: Is Cheaper Better?

Coffee prices may not reflect flavor, a magazine finds.

From the WebMD Archives

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.

Continued

"The general rule is, when you extract caffeine from the coffee bean you are also extracting some of the aromatics along with it," he says. And fewer aromatics in the coffee bean mean less flavor in your cup.

One way to counteract this, he says, is to buy whole coffee beans and grind them fresh at home. Once you grind coffee, you greatly increase the surface area, which exposes it to air. This makes it much easier for the aromatics (flavor) to escape.

For best taste, Markovich suggests grinding your coffee as you need it. He also recommends buying only a three-month supply of beans at a time.

"Whole beans lose their flavor over time, too," he says.

Here’s a partial listing of the coffee ratings from the March 2009 Issue of Consumer Reports:

Top 10 Caffeinated Coffees (100% Colombian)

"Very Good" Rating

  1. Eight O’Clock Coffee 100% Colombian, $6.28 per pound (15 cents per cup)
  2. Caribou Coffee Colombia Timana, $11.76 per pound (36 cents per cup)
  3. Kickapoo Coffee Organic Colombia, $14.33 per pound (40 cents per cup)

"Good" Rating

  1. Starbucks Coffee Colombia Medium, $11.53 per pound (25 cents per cup)
  2. Bucks County Coffee Co. Colombia, $8.85 per pound (34 cents per cup)
  3. Archer Farms (Target) Colombia Supremo, $9.05 per pound (27 cents per cup)
  4. Gloria Jean’s Coffees Colombian Supremo, $12.99 per pound (32 cents per cup)
  5. Chock Full o’Nuts 100% Colombian, $5.19 per pound (10 cents per cup)
  6. Peet’s Coffee Colombia, $14.12 per pound (31 cents per cup)
  7. Maxwell House Colombian Supreme 100% Colombian Med-Dark, $4.80 per pound (5 cents per cup)

Top 5 Decaffeinated Coffees (mix of Colombian and other beans)

"Good" Rating

  1. Dunkin’ Donuts Dunkin’ Decaf, $10.25 per pound (19 cents per cup)
  2. Millstone Decaf 100% Colombian Medium, $11.59 per pound (14 cents per cup)
  3. Folgers Gourmet Selections Lively Colombian Decaf Medium Roast, $8.55 per pound (11 cents per cup)

"Fair" Rating

  1. Maxwell House Decaffeinated Original Medium, $6.53 per pound (6 cents per cup)
  2. Starbucks Coffee Decaf House Blend Medium, $11.68 per pound (26 cents per cup)

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

WebMD Expert Column

Sources

SOURCES:

Bob Markovich, home editor, Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports, March 2009 issue.

Consumer Reports Press Release.

© 2009 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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