When Four Barrel veterans Tim & Elisha Griffin opted out of San Francisco, they landed in Fargo, where their small shop (handed over from a previous owner) quickly rose through the ranks in a city already mindful of the benefits of a solid cup of coffee. Right now, they're working with Heart, out of Portland, but rumor has it they'll be roasting their own soon, not to mention moving to a larger location in Fargo's happening downtown.
It feels disingenuous to make pour-over coffee with Folger’s from a plastic tub, but I have done it, and the results are quite drinkable. Canned coffee has a heftiness to it that only the darkest-roast bagged coffee achieves, and often at the expense of flavor. Folger’s is dark enough to mask distracting flavors, thin enough not to coat the esophagus with silty grounds, and so, so cheap. The label  estimates it contains 60 servings—I make my coffee fairly strong, so I might not quite hit 60, but I bet it’d last me two weeks or so, which at $8 a month is cheaper than Netflix. Much like deli coffee, Folger’s has a flavor that depends greatly on proper drinking temperature—it is punishing when tepid. A microwave brings it almost back to where it needs to be, almost, but with such a large tub there’s no reason not to fix yourself another pour-over.
That is a lot to ask for a cup of coffee, and not all coffee brands will be able to meet all three criteria. This doesn't necessarily mean the company isn't socially responsible: it is often the case that these designations are difficult to achieve all at once and still produce coffee at the volume and price necessary to satisfy the market. But they are good things to watch for when you compare brands and taste organic coffee.
Another great thing about organic coffee is that it helps the environment. When coffee beans are grown in fields that have been chemically treated for mass production, the soil is poisoned and the local ecosystem suffers for it. Meanwhile, organic coffee doesn't damage the earth, and it's harvested in a way that emits less carbon into the air. It's often grown in the shade, too, so it encourages and utilizes tree growth. You'll battle deforestation, climate change and environmental pollution all at once!
First, I don't know jack about coffee, so take this for what it's worth. I thought this was decent coffee and it is organic which is a plus, but it is too finely ground for my use, goes right through a metal strainer and will require a paper filter. The taste is definitely a medium roast which I am perfectly happy with, and it is better than the free stuff I get at work.
All of these questions are enough enough to make you want to reach for … well, a cup of coffee. Luckily, we’ve performed the coffee research for you. We reviewed the best advice from top experts as well as feedback from coffee drinkers in general. The recommendations above and buying guide below will help simplify your quest for the best-tasting cup of home-brewed coffee.
Over the course of the year, we reviewed fewer than a dozen darker roasts. Most were medium-dark at best; some barely that. The majority of darker roasts we reviewed were sent by roasters in Taiwan and most were espressos, reflecting both the time-honored espresso practice of emphasizing chocolate and sweetness through moderate dark roasting, as well as, perhaps, a preference in Taiwan for more traditional styles of espresso as opposed to the lighter-roasted, brighter style of espresso now popular with the leading edge of North American roasters.
A startup from Vermont, our friends at Brothers Coffee Company select a new roaster each month that has found a new and innovative way of facing a challenge the coffee industry faces. Not only will you get fresh, top-tier specialty coffee, you’ll also help enact real change around the world. Along with the coffee, subscribers receive information on the roasters, their coffee, and why they were selected for the month, making every month a new story. They also donate $1 per subscription to Grounds for Health, a non-profit that screens and treats women for cervical cancer. If you love coffee and want to make sure your money is being used well, Brothers Coffee is the subscription for you.
Subtle Earth whole bean light roast is one of the only coffees that made our list, boasting both certified organic and GMO free ingredients. You can tell the care that is taken from farming to finish when looking at the story of Don Pablo’s Subtle Earth coffee. Our tasters picked out a number of fruity and herbal flavors, but what won everyone over was the sweet finish with no added flavor in the beans. Costing you only $.53 per ounce, this flavorful cup provides more than just a boost of caffeine, it can also boost your savings.
Heat, as always, is an essential factor in coffee drinkability, so my taste tests have included an assessment of the flavor at brew temperature, at room temperature, and after microwaving to return the coffee to brew temperature. Anyone who’s left a fresh, full cup sitting out just a little too long—while changing over a load of laundry, say, or tackling a pet barf emergency—knows the tragic dilemma of the cold cup, too full to top off with hot-from-the-pot coffee, too cold to drink. I am a staunch proponent of microwaving coffee rather than wasting it, though I know many people (my own boyfriend included) might call this the line between cheapness and frugality. After all, if the coffee’s cheap to begin with, what’s the waste? Still, I believe microwaveability is essential to any home coffee, and can indicate whether coffee left on the burner will deteriorate or stay more or less stable, flavor-wise.
You can make iced coffee/tea as well, plus hot chocolate and a range of different brews in different sizes. There’s a permanent micro-filter basket that you can replace with paper filters. Of course, we could not resist and quickly swapped the filters for some testing. But, the paper filter did not yield any noticeable difference in the quality of the brew when compared to the permanent filter.
Wouldn't it be amazing if a coffee actually boosted your metabolism? Fit brew incorporates several metabolism-boosting ingredients into their coffee, blending organic coffee with extracts of green tea, guarana, and inositol to provide antioxidants and boost energy and focus. Fit Brew also has blends of vitamin-infused coffee to support calmness, clarity, flexibility, immunity, and energy.

HI Benji! Happy New Year! I enjoy reading your articles. I get most of my whole bean single origin specialty coffees from Lakota Coffee Co in Columbia, MO. The roastmaster does an exceptional job with all of his coffees. I was curious …. do you like Indian Monsooned Malabar? Three of my other favorites are Papua New Guinea, Guatemala Antigua, and Tanzania Peaberry.
Promising review for the Blueberry Cobbler blend: "Since discovering this blend several months ago, I have ordered seven bags, all of which have been vacuum-sealed and fresh. I gave my mom part of a bag to try, and now she's hooked, even though she doesn't normally like flavored coffees! If it is hard for you to imagine the mixture of blueberry and coffee, I urge you to give this a try." —Rachelle
When it comes to buying coffee to brew at home, I often feel lost. In an ideal world, I buy Stumptown or other great regional roasters. But that habit can get expensive—and that coffee isn't always widely available in a pinch. We all need a good—or, at least, drinkable—widely available go-to coffee brand, if for nothing else than storing for emergency situations when the good coffee has run out.
Also, to be purely selfish and not think about the planet for a moment, organic coffee often simply tastes better. Grown in their natural environment, the beans take longer to mature, and develop a deep, complex flavor without as much acidity. Of course, the finished taste of a cup of coffee has as much to do with the roasting and brewing as it does the origin of the beans, but organic coffees generally come out far ahead in taste tests.
Home roaster and New England native Chris Gatti moved back from Seattle with the goal of turning his hobby into a full-time job. Fast-forward a couple of years, and here you have one of the most worthy additions to an already sizeable regional scene. Operating out of an elegantly minimal space, Gatti's micro-roasting operation and café adds quite handsomely to the area's culinary cred—the other thing Ipswich is famous for is fried clams.
Out of all the coffee subscription services I’ve tried, these guys did it the best! Not only do they know how to source really great coffee from some of the best roasters, their packaging design was top-notch. As a designer myself, I was highly impressed. Their coffees are all single origin. It’s a signal that they truly care about great coffee by supporting the farmers who grow the beans and the roasters.

Kim Westerman is a licensed Q-grader, a longtime food, wine and travel writer and a certified sommelier. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, Bay Area Bites, and many other publications. She happily brings her sensory training in wine to the evaluation of coffee in Coffee Review’s Berkeley lab. She also handles communication with roasters and review logistics.
We used our favorite drip coffee maker, the Bonavita 8-Cup Brewer, to brew all of the beans. We used coffee and water measurements recommended by the Bonavita brewing instructions: 70 grams of ground coffee for the 8-cup machine. We drank each coffee hot, at first black, then with milk added if that's how the taster preferred their coffee. When possible, I bought whole beans and ground them (we wouldn't recommend buying pre-ground coffee), but a few of these coffees only come—or are much more commonly found—ground. It's worth noting, however, that all of our winners were whole bean coffees in this second round of tasting.
For our search through the sea of delicious coffees available for purchase online, we stuck to mostly whole-bean coffee blends to narrow down the playing field because we find buying whole beans to be most economical for the average consumer. Whether you use a classic drip coffee machine or a pour-over coffee maker at home, these coffee bean brands will make sure you start your morning off on the right foot.
Promising review for the Dark Italian Espresso blend: "Over the past 30 years, I've spent a small fortune on exotic brews. But, when the last of my protected-rain-forest coffee bean was harvested in South America, I was flustered. The vendor claimed it was too expensive to continue harvesting (despite how much they charged for importing those beans), and a friend suggested I try Eight O'Clock. I love strong and bold coffee, and this reasonably-priced coffee foots the bill; I've been a fan since my first cup. It's amazing that after spending thousands the past 30 years to chase a rain-forest bean in South America, and what I wanted was in my local market all along. What a dufus snob I was!" —AMG
My husband and I decided that if we are going to be drinking something everything morning for the next 50 years of our life, we want it to be organic. Fair trade just happens to be another bonus. Both coffee and sugar are the highest sprayed crops in the world. Coffee especially so we first made the switch over this brand and tried this flavor first. We grind it at home and brew it with an AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker with Bonus 350 Micro Filters. The combination of grinding it fresh every morning and brewing it with the aeropress makes for the best cup of morning coffee EVER. We use a simple Krups 203-42 Electric Coffee and Spice Grinder with Stainless-Steel blades, Black and simply grind it for 15-18 seconds. We also switched sugars and now use organic and fair trade sugar as well along with locally bought raw milk. The best sugar for this is Rapunzel Pure Organic Whole Cane Sugar, 24-Ounce Packages (Pack of 6).

I work right by Equal Exchange and like to go on walks mid morning to grab my coffee. Working in this area, there's a lot of options for coffee. I tried Equal Exchange because I wanted to be more ethical in my purchasing decisions despite paying more. I heard good things about Equal Exchange from my coworkers but I experienced really bad service which is really unusual in places like this (I think). The cashier was SO rude to me especially when I asked if they had any flavors to put in the coffee. It was a bummer because normally my walks at work to coffee shops are one of the best parts of my day! The coffee is really good here though, so I may come back in hopes to interact with more friendly employees.
Promising review for their Dark Roast blend: "I've always been wary of cults: the blind loyalty, bad punch, separation from family, etc. However, after going through about 40 pounds of Koffee Kult Dark Roast in the last year, I'm now a well-informed and dedicated drinker of exceptional koffee with my whole family. Yes, even my 9-year-old loves this stuff." —Ben V
Brought to you by the Death Wish Company, Valhalla Java Odinforce Blend is a top-ranking ground coffee made from beans sourced from Indonesian and Central and South America’s very best. It is a masterful artisan roast, carefully processed to yield maximum rich flavor along with a reinvigorating caffeine content. Its coffee beans are expertly selected and carefully roasted for an ultra-strong, bold, yet at the same time, surprisingly smooth cup of coffee.

"I know this is the most basic version of a coffee maker, but I love it. It’s easy to use, easy to clean, and isn’t too complicated for someone who isn’t picky about their coffee. I make two of the large options, let them cool, and then pour them over ice for iced coffee. Plus, you can get K-Cups in practically every brand of coffee. My regular pick is Starbucks' K-Cups."
On the other hand, the appearance of certain coffees on our list also suggests the value of continuity and tradition in processing. All four Kenya coffees in the Top 30 were subject to the meticulous Kenya variant on wet-processing that has been helping produce consistently great coffees in Kenya for decades. The two Sumatra coffees owe their distinction in great part to refined application of the decades-old “wet-hulling” process still largely unique to Indonesia, particularly to Sumatra. See our 2016 report Learning from Sumatras for more on wet-hulling and sensory distinction.
This best-selling medium roast blend from The Original Donut Shop is smooth, well-balanced, and downright delicious paired with your favorite donut. Reviewers love this blend's pastry-shop-sweet aroma and nutty flavor that hits just the right spot in the morning. Dunking is encouraged! These coffee pods are compatible with Keurig single-serve coffee machines.

And while you could certainly buy an expensive cup of coffee on your way to work, it’s far more economical – and often, far tastier – to brew your own. But how do you know which beans make for the best cup of brew? Should you buy whole beans or pre-ground coffee? What’s the difference between robusta and arabica? And does the degree of roasting affect the flavor?
Like the others, this coffee is certified both Organic and Fair Trade. But it was the only one among the 52 varieties that is also Rainforest Alliance Certified (RAC). This set them apart and gave them extra points in our Eco-Friendliness category. RAC is a credible certifying body that aims to protect our rain forests, soil, and other ecosystems from the devastation caused by coffee production.

K-cups are the ultimate in convenience – ideal for those who only want to brew one cup at a time, or for offices and large households where everyone wants something different or doesn’t want to assign anyone the duty of cleaning, prepping, and brewing for the masses. K-cups come in just about any kind of coffee, from dark to light roasts, organic, flavored, extremely caffeinated to decaf. You can also buy latte or cappuccino K-cups with the sweetener already mixed in. Other choices include tea, cider, and cocoa. And since they cost about 40 cents each, you can stock up on your favorites and treat yourself to something else with all the money you’d spend at a cafe for an almost identical beverage.
As more and more coffee companies cave to the temptation to adulterate with soy beans sprayed with chemical flavors and questionable trade practices, Equal Exchange may be the last coffee company standing to offer organic whole beans sourced from small producer coops, and roasted at a worker owned facility stateside. The company maintains its commitment to fair trade and supports many worthy causes. I recently had cause to engage in a lengthy discussion with reps at Equal Exchange and consider their inteigrity (and really great tasting coffee!) unsurpassed.
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