Everyone loves a delicious cup of Joe in the morning. For many of us, it makes the difference between a productive day, and a day spent shambling around like a caffeine-deprived zombie. And while there are plenty of coffee shops who make a living selling delicious bean-water, home-brewed coffee is always more fulfilling.
Now, the best way to make coffee is to use whole beans. They retain flavor better than their pre-ground counterparts and last longer in storage. But not everybody has the time or inclination to grind their own coffee. Some of us just want to open a bag, scoop some grounds into our coffee maker, and get on with our day.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of the best ground coffee we could find. These products range from top-end imports to underappreciated domestic blends. We’ve also included a buying guide, to help you cut through the marketing hype and find a grind that’s perfect for your taste buds.
Best Ground Coffee Money Can Buy
Blue Mountain Peaberry Coffee
Blue Mountain Peaberry Coffee is a medium roast, Jamaican coffee that’s available in coarse, medium, and fine grinds, as well as whole beans. This coffee is a unique local variety that’s grown in limited quantities. As a result, the price is significantly higher than most other blends.
That said, there’s a lot to recommend it. For one thing, it’s roasted after you place your order, so you’re guaranteed to get some of the freshest coffee available anywhere. For another thing, it’s an Arabica species grown in volcanic soil, giving it one of the richest flavor profiles in the world.
Death Wish Coffee advertises itself as the most caffeinated coffee in the world. We don’t know if that’s true, but we do know that it’s strong enough to give even the most dedicated coffee drinker a kick in the pants when they drink it. This is particularly impressive since it’s a dark roast, and dark roasts are usually low caffeine.
Death Wish has a bold, powerful flavor and a rich aroma that will wake you up no matter how sluggish you’re feeling. It’s certified organic and it’s fair trade certified, so your health and your conscience are both in good hands.
Komodo Dragon Coffee
Komodo Dragon Coffee is a dark roasted Indonesian blend that’s grown on the island of Flores. It’s a medium roast, and it’s available in coarse, medium, and fine grinds, as well as whole bean. These beans are only partially de-hulled before being fermented. When combined with dark roasting, this gives them a low acidity that’s great for anyone who suffers from heartburn.
This blend has a delicious, sweet flavor with a hint of chocolate. It’s grown in volcanic soil, which gives it a rich body that feels thick when you drink it.
Bizzy Organic Cold Brew Coffee
Bizzy Organic Cold Brew Coffee comes in an extra coarse grind that makes it perfect for leaving in your cold brew machine for a full day. It’s a combination of Central and South American beans, which produces a balanced, slightly sweet flavor profile that’s neither weak nor exceptionally bold.
In addition to Bizzy’s basic blend, there are two other blends available: the Light & Bright, which is higher caffeine, and the Cold & Bold, which is a richer dark roast. All blends are USDA certified organic, grown without the use of artificial chemicals.
Grande Domaine is a rare American coffee, grown in the Kona Coffee Belt on the big island of Hawaii. Mauna Loa’s volcanic soil gives it exceptional richness, and it comes in a medium grind, which is ideal for your typical, everyday drip-style coffee maker.
This is a Kona coffee and has a slightly nuttier flavor profile than the Arabica beans Americans are more familiar with. It’s a medium-dark roast, not quite as “burnt” as a dark roast, but slightly bolder. Grande Domaine is hand picked by American farmers and roasted in Hawaii. You can buy a single bag, or subscribe to receive one periodically.
Bolivia Peaberry Coffee
Bolivia Peaberry Coffee is grown in volcanic soil in the Bolivian highlands. Like most South American coffees, it has a sweet flavor profile, with an overtone of chocolate. It’s available as a whole bean, or in medium, coarse, and fine blends. The medium roast is a good balance between flavor and caffeine level.
This coffee is fair trade certified, certified organic, and certified by the Rainforest Alliance. This means it’s good for the farmers, good for your health, and good for the environment. That’s a win-win-win, and all at a price that won’t break the bank.
Lacas Coffee Company
Lacas Coffee is a 100 percent Colombian blend, which has the rich, balanced flavor profile you expect from a high-quality Colombian coffee. The aroma is surprisingly bold, enough to wake you up all on its own. This is another medium roast, with medium acidity and enough caffeine to kick off your day.
The default blend is medium fine, which works well in a drip-style coffee maker but not at all in a French press. If you prefer another grind, you can buy their whole bean version instead. This coffee is available in 5-pound and 12-ounce bags, as well as in a box of 96 2.5-ounce single-serving packs.
Peak Performance coffee is grown in the Guatemalan highlands. Because it’s grown at high altitudes, the beans are denser then low-altitude beans, giving it a bold, powerful flavor that’s as thick as any dark roast, all without the “burnt” taste. They offer a true dark roast if you prefer less caffeine and more flavor, as well as a cold brew grind for cold brews and French presses.
This coffee is certified fair trade and certified organic. So fill your mug with delicious Guatemalan coffee, not the tears of workers or Mother Earth.
Seattle’s Best Coffee
Seattle’s Best Coffee is sourced from a combination of South and Central American growers. Like most Arabica blends from this region, it has a balanced flavor profile, neither too tart nor too sweet, with a hint of cocoa. It’s a medium grind, made for standard drip-style coffee makers.
The standard version is their Portside Blend, which is just a re-branding of the regular Signature Blend you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever had a cup of Seattle’s Best. They also offer a dark roast or a 3-bag deal with a dark roast and two specialty blends.
Peet’s Coffee is a blend of a variety of coffees that are sourced from throughout the world. This gives it a well-balanced flavor profile. It’s roasted in small batches, with the date stamped on the side to guarantee freshness. The grind is medium, for a drip-style coffee maker.
Peet’s offers three distinct blends: Major Dickason’s, which is their standard blend, a decaf version of Major Dickason’s, and a dark roast. All of them ship in a box with 18 individually packaged, 2.5-ounce servings. Since you won’t have to break the seal until it’s time to brew, it stays fresher than most coffees.
Ground Coffee Buying Guide
Now, before you go and buy anything, let’s take a minute to understand what makes each of these coffees unique. The grind, the place of origin, and the type of production will all have an impact on the end product, so let’s dive in!
Start With the Grind
When you’re choosing a ground coffee, perhaps nothing matters more than the grind itself.
The finer the grind, the more surface area is exposed. This causes the flavor to extract more quickly. Finer grinds also increase the time of exposure, since it takes longer for water to drip through the grounds, which gives you a stronger coffee than using a coarser grind for the same style of brewing.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of grind: coarse, medium, and fine. These are generalizations, but widely-used terms, so we’ll roll with them.
Coarse grinds are best for applications where there’s going to be extended exposure. A good example of this is a cold brew, where the cold water can remain in contact with the coffee grounds for as long as 24 hours. Since there’s plenty of time for extraction, there’s no need for a fine grind.
Coarse grinds are also useful in a French press, for more practical reasons. You have to filter them out using a screen that has relatively large openings. Use anything else, and you’ll end up with a lot of coffee grounds in the bottom of your mug.
Medium grinds are what most Americans are familiar with. Folgers, Maxwell House, and other grocery store brands are almost always a medium grind. This isn’t because medium grounds are of low quality. On the contrary, a lot of high-end coffees are also medium ground.
The reason for medium grinds’ popularity is that it’s the ideal coarseness for standard drip-style coffee makers. It’s fine enough to expose plenty of surface area to hot water, but it’s coarse enough that the water will flow through the filter smoothly instead of pooling up on top of the grounds.
Fine grinds are most commonly used in espresso machines. Because they have so much surface area exposed, they yield maximum extraction, which is part of what gives espresso its bold flavor. Since espresso machines are pressurized, they actually force the water through the grounds, which prevents the water from pooling up.
Labels on the Package
Like other companies, coffee producers like to advertise when their products are healthy, and when they’re ethically produced. There are four labels that you’ll frequently see, which indicate third-party certifications. Here’s a quick overview.
- C.A.F.E. stands for Coffee And Farmer Equity. The C.A.F.E. label indicates that the coffee was sourced from an environmentally sustainable farm and that the farmers were paid at or above market rates for their products.
- Fair Trade Certified. Fairtrade – as opposed to free trade – means that farmers were paid fairly for their product. Free trade rates fluctuate wildly, and can sometimes be less than it costs to produce the coffee in the first place. Fairtrade guarantees that farmers are paid at least $1.26 a pound for their coffee. If the free trade price is higher than $1.26, fair trade prices will always be at least $0.05 higher per pound than the free trade rate.
- Certified organic. This means that there were no artificial fertilizers or pesticides used in production. Note that this doesn’t mean “no fertilizers or pesticides”. It just means that fertilizers and pesticides are made of natural ingredients.
- Rainforest Alliance. This is an organization which certifies products that are farmed in a sustainable manner. Basically, if your coffee is Rainforest Alliance certified, you’re not contributing to deforestation by buying it.
The flavor in coffee comes from natural oils that are present in coffee beans. The more oil, the more flavor. However, this oil evaporates over time, particularly once the coffee has been ground, exposing more surface area to the air. When this happens, the beans lose their flavor and end up tasting “flat” or bland.
The easiest way to tell if your coffee grounds are fresh is to smell them. If you smell a nice, strong aroma, you’re good to go. If the grounds smell weak, they probably are.
Fortunately, you can help your grounds last longer by keeping them sealed in an airtight container. If you go through your grounds quickly, storing them in a plastic bin is good enough. If you take more than a few weeks to go through a bag, consider storing your grounds in the freezer instead. This will dramatically slow the evaporation of oils, and keep them fresh for months.
Coffee Regions and Expectations
Finally, you’ll want to consider where the coffee is grown. Soil type, temperature, humidity, altitude, and daily sunshine all vary from place to place, so it should come as no surprise that coffee from different regions tastes different.
- Central America (including the Caribbean) produces coffee that most Americans would consider “balanced” since most of our coffee has traditionally come from this region. Relatively low altitudes and high humidity produce coffees that are equally sweet, nutty, and chocolaty.
- South America has slightly more acidic soil, producing a sweeter coffee that has a slight bite. You’ll find that Guatemalan and Colombian roasts tend to be on the sharper side, while Peruvian and Brazilian roasts tend to be a bit sweeter and nuttier.
- African coffee is usually grown in regions where coffee plants are the tallest ones around. This gets them a lot more sunshine than South and Central American blends, which results in a savory-sweet flavor that’s very distinctive.
- Ethiopian coffee, while technically grown in Africa, has its own characteristics. There’s more diversity between coffee species in Ethiopia than anywhere else in the world. As a result, their blends tend to be richer and sweeter than you’ll find anywhere else.
- Indonesian coffee, which includes Sumatran coffee, tend to be darker than other varieties. This is due to a combination of local species that are naturally richer, and a longstanding regional tradition of producing dark roast coffee. These blends tend to have herbal overtones and have rich, complex flavor profiles.
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.