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While it may sometimes seem that Maxwell House and Folgers have a lock on the coffee aisle, your local supermarket actually offers some great choices if you want a little more flavor and variety in your cup. Most cost a little more than the international brand names, and less than the pricey café brands. The tradeoff they offer is more flavor, more variety and, often, the promise that the coffee producers – the farmers, pickers and their families – have received a bigger share of the profits for each pound of coffee you buy.
The next time you’re looking for something a little different in your morning mug, try one of these easily available supermarket coffees that are better than your standard tinned ground coffee.
One of the oldest coffee companies in the nation, Eight O’Clock has enjoyed a popular resurgence in recent years. It’s one of the few national brands that’s regularly available as whole beans, which boosts it above most brands of supermarket coffees by default – freshly ground coffee is nearly always tastier than a pre-ground alternative. Eight O’Clock offers a range of varieties, including Colombian, French Roast, Central Highlands and African Peaks. In addition, Eight O’Clock is now also available in several flavors, including French Vanilla, Chocolate Mint and Hazelnut. Depending on the variety, you can buy Eight O’Clock
Try: Central Highlands blend, available in whole bean, containing 50% Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee beans. The dark roast accents the lightly spicy, cocoa flavor notes that make this a great choice for anyone who likes bold coffee.
Closely associated with the Keurig brand, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has been a popular favorite with coffee lovers since the company first debuted in the 1980s. The company offers a wide variety of coffee choices, including many Fair Trade certified options. You can buy Green Mountain coffee at nearly any supermarket or order it online, either as a one-time purchase or as a continuing subscription so you never run out of coffee. The specialty coffee company carefully roasts each variety or blend to bring out the best flavors in the beans, and its coffees regularly come out up top in tasting competitions of large-scale coffee roasters. In addition to popular blends, such as the Breakfast Blend and Dark Magic Espresso Blend, Green Mountain frequently offers single origin coffees from Africa, Central America, South America and Indonesia, as well as seasonal flavors, including Blueberry coffee in spring and summer, and Eggnog
coffee for the winter holidays. Depending on the variety, you can buy Green Mountain Coffee ground, whole beans or in K-cups.
Try: Newman’s Own Organics Special Blend from Green Mountain Coffee, a medium roast blend of Indonesian and Central American coffees is bold, smooth and always satisfying. It’s just as welcome as a morning brew as it is in your after dinner cup.
Available at Whole Foods Markets, Allegro Organic Special Blend took top marks in the 2014 Consumer Reports grocery store taste-off. Founded in 1977, Allegro was acquired by Whole Foods Markets in 1997. As you might expect from a coffee company owned by Whole Foods, Allegro offers a huge range of organic, Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified coffees as single origins and blends. Most Allegro coffees are available ground or as whole beans. Some are available only in store at Whole Foods. Others are available online or in store. Allegro offers blends, single origin and occasionally, single origin direct coffees – beans that are bought directly from coffee farmers rather than through traders, which generally guarantees that more of the profit goes to those who grow the beans.
Try: Consumer Reports rated the Organic Special Blend coffee from Allegro at the very top of their list in terms of flavor and value, but we’re particularly fond of Allegro’s Ethiopian Organic Espresso Suke Quto. The light roast single origin is delicate and bold at the same time, and bursts with ripe, juicy fruit flavors that make it a joy to drink any time of the day.
Coffee people have a love-hate relationship with Trader Joe’s coffee. On the one hand, most of their available beans are so much better than anything you find in a tin can at most supermarkets. On the other hand, they’re still they’re not up to the prissy small-batch-roasted preference of coffee snobs. That said, TJ offers a huge range of coffees in blends and single origins, and walking down the coffee aisle at your local Trader Joe’s is a pure treat for the senses. Be aware that not all of the offerings are Fair Trade or otherwise “responsibly sourced” – it’s almost impossible for a large conglomerate to buy the amount of coffee they do and have it all meet Fair Trade standards – so do read the labels if that’s important to you.
Try: We’re huge fans of Trader Joe’s Nicaragua Tarrazu, a light, sweet, very well-balanced cup of coffee. It’s nearly always available, and is bargain-priced compared to many other specialty brands. We also really like the Tanzanian Peaberry, though it’s not always available. If you like blends, the breakfast blend is smooth, rich and balanced.
What can we say? Rogers Family Coffee is still our hands-down favorite mass-market specialty coffee. The family-owned company has been in the coffee business for generations, and their experience shows in the quality and taste of their roasts. Like most coffee businesses that have been around for a while, Rogers has developed close ties with many coffee producers, and they make a point of responsibly sourcing their beans. The company also partners with their producers to do good things for their regions, and often goes the extra mile. After an earthquake destroyed the homes of five coffee farmers in the Chiapas region of Mexico, Rogers mobilized their customers with a funding drive to help the families rebuild their homes. Not only did they match every donation made dollar for dollar, the company also used its organizing power to deal directly with local contractors and cut through red tape to get the families housed as soon as possible. And that’s in addition to producing some of the best widely available coffee you can get anywhere. Rogers Family Coffee offers ground and whole bean coffee alongside its own Keurig-compatible One Cup single serve cups – for which they successfully sued Keurig – and their newest One Cup Bio biodegradable and compostable single serve coffee capsules. You can choose from a wide range of single origins, blends and flavored coffees, including seasonal flavors.
Try: Check out our review of Rogers Family Coffee from earlier this year for some suggestions – and if you like a bold, full-bodied roast, we’d suggest San Francisco Bay Fog Chaser Blend.