/ 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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 🙂

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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

John Williams says:
14 October 2011

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

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!!