/ 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?


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


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.’

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.


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.


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