/ Food & Drink

A good cuppa coffee doesn’t have to cost the earth

How do you drink yours? Whether it’s strong and dark or long and milky, the quality of coffee can vary a lot, as our tests prove. So will you believe us when we say a budget supermarket beat the big brands on taste?

A daily cappuccino or latte has become a way of life for many of us, but at over £2 a time this can add up over the month. If you’re trying to save money by making more coffee at home we have good news for you – the most expensive coffee isn’t always the best.

When we taste-tested 16 premium fresh ground coffees earlier this month our results showed the most expensive aren’t the best.

We asked supermarkets and brands to nominate an after-dinner coffee for a dinner party and got three coffee experts to blind taste them.

The experts rated Asda Extra Special Fairtrade Colombian Roast and Ground Coffee (£2.78) and Taylors of Harrogate Guatemala Cloud Forests Ground Coffee (£3.59) as the best tasting, scoring them both 81%.

Expensive isn’t necessarily the best

The most expensive coffee was Rombouts Brazil Sul De Minas Brazilian Ground. At £5.25 it’s nearly double the cost of the Asda brew and yet it only scored 60% and came joint 11th. And Starbucks House Blend (£3.79) came a sorry 15th.

The popularity of coffee shops has made us all a bit more adventurous and we seem to be moving away from instant coffee. Data shows that demands for fresh coffee are growing and last year we spent £222 million on it in the UK.

But with so many varieties and blends on supermarket shelves what should you go for? Our expert, Giles Hilton, recommends a medium roast if you like a smooth but full-bodied coffee. A full/dark roast is more suitable if you prefer an espresso style coffee with a kick, or if you drink your coffee with a lot of milk so that the flavour comes through.

Have you started to make more coffee at home? Or will you sacrifice other things before giving up your daily Costa or Starbucks?


Hi everyone,
If you’re also a take-away coffee drinker then you may like to join in the new discussion about what to do with your used coffee cups, which can be found here:

Stuart says:
3 November 2011

I’m not a coffee buff but enjoy columbioan coffee from M&S. On the packet it says keep in the fridge after opening. The article in Which-October says ‘not necessary to keep in the fridge’. Is this food labelling overdoing it again?


Duncan says:
20 September 2012

What strikes me about this matter is how completely subjective it is. I actually only stumbled upon this page in Google because I am looking for somewhere to buy Rombouts Sul de Minas coffee. I bought it in Sainsburys recently and thought it the best coffee I have ever drunk, but it has disappeared form their shelves for some reason, at least locally.

Now I read it in this article that it the writer considers it mediocre and expensive. Well I don’t agree, and wonder why someone should presume to tell me what coffee to like! Fridges and vacuum cleaners maybe, but this is a matter of personal taste, and I have to question the point of articles like this. Also, I’m sure I didn’t pay £5.74 for it!

No-one has told you which coffee you should like, Duncan. Shefalee is reporting the findings of taste tests carried out by coffee experts in a blind test. These people are likely to have a wider experience of tasting different coffees than most of us.

Obviously tastes differ but experts’ views can be useful. Many people make use of experts’ views on wines, in particular.

Price is something that is not subjective so saying that a pack of the Rombouts coffee is expensive at £5.25 is true, and I’m not sure where you got your price from. You can ask Sainsburys why they stopped stocking it, but poor sales, lack of availability, or rotating product choice are the most likely reasons.

Duncan says:
20 September 2012

ok wavechange, it might help if I know what makes someone a coffee expert, for example by reading the original article and test mentioned here, to which there does not appear to be a link.

Anyone who tastes coffee as a job could be regarded as an expert. I believe that there are professional qualifications. I assume that there must be reasonable agreement between tasters or there would be nothing worth publishing.

The Which? website has information that is freely available and other information that is only available to subscribers to their magazine or who have paid for access to an article.

Hello Duncan, if you’re a Which? member you can read a PDF of the taste test here: http://www.which.co.uk/documents/pdf/p62-63_coffee-266375.pdf

Alternatively you could join a more recent Conversation on coffee here: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/best-coffee-machine-makers-cost-buying-or-making-coffee/

Duncan says:
20 September 2012

Sort of gets more and more interesting. If they taste coffee for a job, then one would want to know, for example, what the job is so as to be sure they are not biased. Plus, it seems odd for a reputable organisation such as Which? to publish a commentary on the results of a test such as this, which may very well push the casual reader such as myself in a certain direction (despite what you say about no one telling anyone to do anything), while not allowing them freely to study the original test so they could evaluate it (and the testers) for themselves, and form their own opinion.

Still, it’s only coffee, and I won’t lose any sleep over it! Cheers!

With blind taste tests, the tasters don’t know what they are sampling, so there is little opportunity for bias.

With fairly inexpensive products like ground coffee and coffee beans, I tend to explore the different varieties on offer, rejecting anything that I have disliked in the past and highly priced products. (The Rombouts coffee costs more than I’m prepared to pay.) I am happy to pay a little more for Fairtrade products. If it was more expensive, I might pay attention to the experts’ recommendations.

Cheers. 🙂

JonMcD says:
16 July 2013

For many years I used various electric espresso coffee machines, including a lovely lever operated La Pavoni, and ground premium beans in a hand operated Zassenhaus mill. Frothing milk with steam from the machines was always a bit hit and miss.

Now I’ve gone back to basics with Lidl Bellarom ground Arabica coffee, a simple Aerobie Aeropress coffee maker and a Bodum Latteo milk frother. Coffee still tastes good and froth for cappuccino comes up like whipped cream. All much simpler with the only down side being the thin crema on espresso.

Alimac says:
22 August 2013

Some vital points seem to be missed in above comments
Better choose a single country source and labeled 100% Arabica on pack
ALDI do Columbia. Ethiopia or Indonesia single source arabica at £1.99 or less in 200 gm pack
The quality of blends used in some High Street Coffee Shops is too horrible to comment
Even my local M and S uses a blend of 5 unspecified countries made in Glasgow
Were it wine would you drink it?
A blend is most likely geared to controlling price dont you think?
Where a blend sells on its advertised ethical status wont that trade off against quality for
any planned level of sales at a given price?
See Fair Trade is Unfair

Gareth says:
22 August 2013

You say that your better to choose a single country source?
why? You do realize that single country can still be a blend from various estates? I have tried some very tasty coffees that are blends from various countries.

You say the Should be labelled 100% arabica?
why? – one of my favourite coffees is an 80/20% blend and includes a Rwandan robusta – it is delicious. (it is also £9 per 125g)

You say the quality of blends in some high st shops is horrible?
Well I have some local shops in Glasgow and Edinburgh that serve fantastic coffee blends from some of the most respected roasters in the UK. If your local shops are rubbish, vote with your feet and find one that is decent.

Your local M&S has a unspecified 5 country blend made in Glasgow and you wouldn’t drink it?
That roaster is most likely to be Matthew Algie, they are very respectable (look them up). The coffee will be from unspecified countries as the coffee will be roasted to 1 set profile/taste. As the seasons change, the crops of coffee will change and it is IMPOSSIBLE for a roaster to keep using the same beans – their master roaster will use other beans from other region/countries to match the profile the customer (M&S) has chosen. This is common practise in larger commercial roasters.

You think a blend is to control price…
This one is partly true. But it is also to enable roasters to achieve a certain taste profile and match it year round. No point in having a massive customer who would be constantly unhappy that the taste profile of their coffee keeps changing (due to the availability of coffee beans)

You say: Where a blend sells on its advertised ethical status wont that trade off against quality for any planned level of sales at a given price?
Your having a pop at Fairtrade I assume. It is not an easy one. Anywhere where money is involved will attract corruption – and the system defo isn’t perfect. And the Foundation do try and make a difference, and I’m sure from videos I’ve seen that they have made a difference in various countries (see their youtube channel).

If you are so concerned about the ethical status then there are roaster who use DIRECT TRADE with FARMS and pay over the odds to give those farms cash straight into their pockets to make a difference…. but I suspect you won’t pay £12 for 250g of this direct trade coffee will you? You would rather pay £2 from Aldi.

Ironic eh ?

donna jackson says:
1 February 2014

Hi ,
I love rombouts original blend one cup filters ,can anybody reccomend one that tastes as good as this ,thanks .

Please repeat this review

Thanks for the request Steve. I’ll share it with our research team

I enjoy a large cup of strong coffee with a little milk and, as we shop at M&S, buy their various ground coffees like Peruvian and Honduras – usually strength 4 and 5 – and brew in a cafetiere. It’s so quick and little trouble and always produces a decent cup of coffee. Clearly I don’t get all the hissing and bubbling effects. I’m a bit of a scrooge and resent paying £2.50 a cup when I can make it for 25p a 1/2 pint with cheap equipment.

Hi, I’m curious where the test results of this comment are found? All I can find are the results of the taste test that give top marks to Aldi Ethiopian Coffee which, as far as I can see, is no longer stocked by Aldi.

I’m wondering if anyone has had a difficulty with ground coffee & the pot’s plunger? I’m going to try another brand because Asda’s ‘fair trade’ blends make plunging very strenuous as there’s something about them which seems to block the plunger. On several occasions it’s caused a huge mess due to the downwards force required, which suddenly causes coffee to squirt everywhere. I wonder whether some sort of filling ingredient is to blame. I’ve also noticed that the quantity of ground coffee needed to obtain the desired intensity of flavour has needed to be increased. Any comments welcome.

Hi Rachel – It may be that the metal gauze in the plunger has become blocked, which would cause the problem you have described.

It is generally recommended that a coarser grind is used for plunger pots whereas a finer grind is best for filter coffee. Unfortunately a coarse grind will not produce as much flavour, so you need to use more than you would need if you were using fine ground coffee and a filter.

Here is some useful advice: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-use-cafetiere