/ 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?

Comments
Profile photo of martinuk
Member

In addition to taste, I feel it’s important to buy only coffee that is ethically sourced. For me that means organic and Fairtrade even though I know that doesn’t always been a cheap cuppa. My favourites are (no particular order): Percol Rainforest Organic Colombia, Percol Fairtrade Organic Americano, Taylors of Harrogate Organic Fairtrade (medium roast), Cafe Direct Fairtrade Organic Machu Picchu Sainsbury’s “SO” Organic Peru

Profile photo of Chris Christoforou
Member

Coffee is a fairly rare event for me, I don’t have the equipment//desire to make a good cup at home, preferring it to be made for me by someone who knows what they’re doing in a nice environment (hence I have my favourite cafés!). ! I agree with Martin about looking out for Fairtrade…

Interesting how some of the cheaper ones tested did better in the taste tests though!

Profile photo of Hannah Jolliffe
Member

I’m not surprised Asda coffee did well. I’ve tried loads of different ones and found that Asda’s is really good – and much cheaper! Coffee is a product I’d expect to be better if you pay more so it’s good that you can get nice, reasonably priced alternatives.

Member

Although I do enjoy coffee I do not pretend to be an expert and a cup or preferably a mug of reasonably strong instant satisfies me. I would prefer it to be ethically produced but am not willing to pay a premium for it.

Coffee houses to me are more style over substance and the choices on offer reflect this. When out I like to find a Pret that sells a mug of filter coffee for a little over a pound and that only recently, previously 99p. No coffee for me is worth £3 and I will not pay more than £2 wherever, restaurant or cafe or worst still the mobile van at an event.

I will, following your test, be trying the Asda product.

Member

I was surprised that you made the coffee in your tests using boiling water – water should be about 96 degrees Centigrade to bring out the aromatic oils whilst bitter acids in the coffee are released if boiling water is added to the coffee grounds. I would be interested in your reponse. We also always used to keep coffee in the freezer assuming this was the place to store it – apparently this was wrong so it now sits in a sealed bag in the kitchen cupboard.

Profile photo of Shefalee Loth
Member

Hi Brian

Thanks for your comment and you’re right, I checked with Giles our expert and this is his reply:
‘It is correct to say that “off the boil” water (ie 96 degrees) is the correct temperature.
However the water does need to have hit boiling point first; and it takes only a count of 5-7 seconds to stop bubbling and drop to 96.
In the ‘tasting room’ we are used to intentionally starting off slowly – ie the water has had time to go off the boil.’

Member
Bill Pearson says:
25 September 2011

I buy all my coffee from Has Bean (www.hasbean.co.uk) who are small independent coffee roasters near Stafford. They buy direct from the grower and support small growers who can’t afford to be in Fair Trade. They don’t over roast the beans (like some high street chains) and they sell about 60 different varieties which are freshly roasted when you order them. I’ve no connection with this business, other than being a very satisfied customer.

Member

It’s all very well comparing things to find the best one but unless you’re grinding coffee yourself you’re already doing yourself a disservice. More surface area means going stale all the more quickly – sure the first cup of pre-ground stuff might taste ok but after that it’s going rapidly downhill. I’d recommend whole bean, and if you can, roasted in the previous 2-3 days. Grind what you need each time. Preparation method is a whole other business but do that at minimum. Good coffee should vividly taste like the description on the packet if it’s made properly, various fruits and toffees and chocolates etc., if you’re not getting that it’s worth the little extra time to source and make.

Member

We’ve been enjoying a cup of ‘real’ coffee every morning for years. However, if you use ‘ready ground’ coffee you’re already using an inferior product, which tastes stale even from a newly opened packet. We agree with Bob; the best flavour is from freshly ground beans, using only what you need at any one time. Preparation takes less time than it takes the kettle to boil! Adding boiling water will spoil the flavour, so let the water cool a bit before adding to your coffee.
I think probably coffee is a bit of a luxury, but no more so than enojoying wine, and you can always source it cheaper online – try discountcoffee.co.uk. It starts at about £7.50 per kilo bag. We prefer to use Fairtrade coffee, which costs £9.89.per kilo, plus delivery. However, if you get together with some coffee-loving friends and family, you can buy 2 x 4 kg boxes, with no standard delivery charge. This works out at £8.21 per kilo, which is pretty good. The bags have a long ‘use by’ date and once opened I keep the bag in the freezer. (I disagree with the Which? tester here.) A 1kg bag lasts us about a month.

Member
R Jones says:
28 September 2011

I use Cosco colombian beans and grind my own coffee-pretty easy.This blend gives a fabulous cup of coffee and is cheaper per kilo than any of the products that were tested in this recent article-accepting that these are beans not ground,and there is usually a small difference between gound and beans at RSP.By the way keeping coffee in the freezer keeps it fresh for longer.Coffee contains oils and fats which go stale(rancid) when exposed to air.Freezing slows this process right down.
Coffee should be drunk fresh.Not stood(as they do in the US) and kept warm-it goes rancid.Never drink it very hot ,allow the vapours to come off ,these smell good but don’t taste good if drunk immediatley.
I know a bit as I ran a large coffee processing plant a few years back.

Member
Robin Sjoholm says:
28 September 2011

I agree with Bill. Hasbean is great. I also like Sea Island Coffee – http://www.seaislandcoffee.com – it does an amazing rare coffees such as Jamaica Blue Mountain and Kopi Luwak coffees, which are very hard to find.

Member
Gaboppy says:
29 September 2011

I agree with a couple of the other commenter’s above…

We have bought stuff online from:
1. hasbean – always ULTRAfresh and just lovely
2. squaremile coffee is also very good and fresh.
3. nextdaycoffee.co.uk who have a good range at great prices….

I now tend to buy mostly from nextdaycoffee.co.uk as I have started buying syrups from them (oh yes shock and horror…. don’t worry they are for cake making, not coffee).

We have a local independent store nearby that roasts in house….. always very good coffee from them, and the staff can tell you lots about where the coffee comes from if interested.

@Robin – I saw seaislandcoffee people in a coffee exhibition in London earlier this year – very expensive…. but some lovely coffee on sale 🙂

Profile photo of smass
Member

The various comments about the better taste of freshly ground beans are, of course, right. The other advantage of grinding your own is that you can get the grind right for your particular coffee maker. Although most of these coffees are sold as suitable for all coffee makers most are too coarse a grind for mocha pots or espresso machines and subsequently produce a weak and watery cup. The testing of the coffee brands did not show the difference that a different grind can make to the flavour when used in different makers.

Member
Bob B says:
2 October 2011

I use a bean to cup machine that grinds the beans fresh, although I am not convinced it is any better than pre ground coffee, it is a lot less mess and cleaning than a filter or expresso machine. I am currently using Costco Columbian beans but find them slightly bitter and I use a weak brew setting. I normally limit my coffee to two cups a day before midday. The beans and pre-ground I consider the best are Sainsburys Premium blend £2.50 for 227 gms, occasionaly they are at special offer at 1/3 off.

Nespresso machines give very good results but the cost per cup is about double at 25-30p.

Member
Andyroo says:
3 October 2011

Years ago when ground coffee became more popular through the supermarkets the boiling water point was one of the first I learnt—so glad it has been picked up. I have just had a mug of Guatamala Cloud Forests, purchased before I saw the report, for a much cheaper price than £3.59.(£2.40 I think). This is because I keep my eyes open for bargain offers, which can be on most coffees even some pricier ones. I don’t restrict myself to a favourite, and so can experiment as well as achieve a saving. Waitrose had an excellent offer recently, I think two bags for £5 or £4.50, which needed keen observation to see and a quick exit from the shop before my purchase achieved ‘loss-leader’ status.

Member
Anthony Mitchell says:
3 October 2011

I am glad that Which has produced a good article about ground coffee. While I agree that the grind of the coffee and how fresh it is can make a difference to the overall taste it is of course impossible to test all independent suppliers of coffee. I am however not suprised to see that the likes of Starbucks are overpriced and of average qaulity. I will be trying ASDA’s house blend in my filter coffee maker and look forward to trying the results.

Member
John Williams says:
11 October 2011

I am a coffee addict! In Holland, there is available ‘Coffee Melk’ as an alternative to milk or cream, and in UK the nearest I have found is low fat, skimmed evaporated milk (Carnation Light or similar own brands) … It really enhances the coffee experience! I have a ‘bean-to-cup’ machine, and gasp at some of the prices for unground beans! However, I found the best of all … At Ikea! Their whole beans, dark roast at £1.60 for 250gms, served with just a splash of skimmed evaporated milk, rivals Ambrosia!! Please dear Which? Do check out some of the cheaper or less common brands … as regards coffee, the Ikea beans are less than half the price of your best buy from Taylors, and I respectfully suggest in these cash-strapped times, I enjoy my 5 cups of Ikea coffee which cost about the same as two cups of your Taylors!

Profile photo of Shefalee Loth
Member

Hi John

Thanks for your comment. When we carry out taste tests there are a limited number of products we can feasibly include and as such we tend to choose the main supermarkets and leading brands as these are the ones that are widely available and mainly bought by consumers. As such we are unable to include products from outlets like Ikea but it is interesting to see how much the price differs between their beans and the ones in our taste test.

Member
Anthony Mitchell says:
13 October 2011

I went to ASDA today and found that they now sell an unground version of their Asda Extra Special Fairtrade Colombian Roast. I do not grind my own coffee but I would be interested to see how it compares with its ground equivilant.

Member
tony knifton says:
13 October 2011

I am not a ‘coffee buff’ but I do enjoy one a couple of times a day. My morning coffee is usually ‘out’ either at Pret a Manger (sometimes a bit weak) or a local gallery which, in common with a number of local establishments, use ‘Illy’ coffee -quite pleasant. At home I use Lyons which is CHEAP, 99p for a 175gm bag and OK for everyday use. I have a Dualit espressivo machine, which although a bit fiddly to use does make good coffee, and is excellent at frothing milk

Member
John Williams says:
14 October 2011

Too much strong coffee must make your eyes hyper-sensitive … Or you’re posting on the wrong site!!!

Member
Denise Ahern says:
16 October 2011

I have been drinking Asda’s Fairtrade Colombian coffee for a good few years now and I love it so was really pleased to see it got Best Buy. I don’t have a fancy coffee machine, just a cafetiere that I use to brew my 2 cups every morning. I keep mine in a plastic tupperware box in the door of my fridge. Just wish Asda still did the Vanilla Syrup they used to do. A small dash of that added and I’m in heaven!!

Profile photo of Lisa Galliers
Member

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:
https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/recycling-disposable-coffee-cups-starbucks/

Member
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?

Stuart

Member
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!

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Member
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.

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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.

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

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/

Member
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!

Profile photo of wavechange
Member

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. 🙂

Member
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.

Member
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
http://www.adamsmith.org/news/press-releases/fair-trade-is-unfair

Member
Gareth says:
22 August 2013

@Alimac.
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)

Finally,
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 ?

Member
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 .

Member

Please repeat this review

Profile photo of Patrick Steen
Member

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

Profile photo of malcolm r
Member

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.