Consumer Reports Confirmed Something I Already Knew…

February 7, 2009

Folgers, Maxwell House, and Starbucks are overrated.

Eight O’Clock apparently makes the best Colombian coffee out of all the brands CR tried. Dunkin’ Donuts and Millstone had the best decaf.

Now is as good of a time as any to throw in my expertise on how to pick a good cup of coffee:

1) Fresher is (usually) better: If we take two roasters of equal skill, one within driving distance and one 300 miles away, and compared their coffee, the nearer one will win. Some of the subtleties of coffee (exemplia gratia, the aromatic compounds) is lost over time, especially when the coffee is ground or exposed to oxygen. This is not to say that the local guy will always be better; a bad roaster will make a bad cup of coffee not matter how close you are to them.

2) Smaller batches are (usually) better: The giant industrial roasters Starbucks and the like uses can make for a bad time. Again, a bad roaster will screw up not matter what size roaster they are using.

3) Whole bean is better than pre-ground: As noted above, coffee will degenerate faster when ground.

4) Growing regions and conditions matter: Different soil conditions and rainfall affect the taste of the coffee. Exemplia gratia, African coffees tend to have an earthier taste than the South American coffees.

5) Sit time matters: The longer the coffee pot sits, the lamer the coffee tastes. Aromatic compounds are lost and the temperature starts to decrease. Brew no more than what you can drink in 30-45 minutes to maximize the flavor of every cup.

The best recommendation I can make: visit all of the coffee shops in town (all the Starbucks should be the same, just visit a single stand-alone Starbucks, if you must). Ask for a French Press, which will ensure a fresh, intense cup; the shops that care about quality should comply (they may charge you more for a French Press than for an auto-drip cup, though). Try to stick with the same type of coffee when comparing. The goal here is to find a good roaster; figuring out if you prefer Indonesian coffee over Ethiopian can wait. If you find a roaster that you like and the shop will sell you beans (or tell you how to get the beans they get), congrats. If not, it is time to buy a good grinder and start testing the coffees in the grocery stores (try the local co-opt or health food store amongst the big box stores; they should have a different selection and might even brew you up a sample, saving you some effort). If you are still unsatisfied, some of the bigger local coffee shops/roasteries sell beans on-line, but shipping cost and time may not give you the same quality product as what it would be if you had it at their store.


2 Responses to “Consumer Reports Confirmed Something I Already Knew…”

  1. coffee Says:

    Eight O clock coffee is cheaper than Starbucks, obviously, but i’m not so sure they can beat the Bux in taste

  2. liberexmachina Says:

    Never actually tried either of them, but Consumer Reports thinks they do.

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