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I'm in search of a great new (commercially-available) brand of coffee for home-use in making both espresso and drip coffee. I used to frequent a local roaster, but I'm a poor grad student and I have to start finding something less artisanal that fits better in my budget.

I know what coffees I like in terms of taste, but I thought I would ask the foodie experts what some "rules of thumb" or properties are of a good whole bean coffee.

  • You are unlikely to get good answers to your question as much of this depends on the region you live in, and it's opinion based. In any case, you get what you pay for most of the time. – GdD Jan 20 '15 at 15:01
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    As for the quality of the finished product, a lot relies on the beans you use, but it also depends on how you brew it. Even mediocre coffee beans can be enjoyable if brewed properly. Generally speaking. The better your beans, the more leeway you have to "mistreat" them. I personally only use a French press or a pour-over. These tend to produce the best results. For espresso, use high-quality beans or you'll end up with swill. – Che Travis Rutherford Jan 20 '15 at 21:58
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    I'm not going to say the brand, I'll just mention that it's a store brand French Roast. I really can't speak to the actual quality because I am such a non-connoisseur that I truly know nothing. But I really like this coffee. I have purchased other coffees since I have discovered this one, and I am always happy to be done with the other coffee, because I want to get back to the coffee I like. That it is always on sale so it's also the cheapest option is just a bonus. I make the point to say this because what <insert commodity here> is best is always subjective. – Jolenealaska Jan 21 '15 at 0:26
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    @pocketlizard: this might be of interest to you... coffeereview.com I've no affiliation and have actually never seen it before today. I just found them through a random google and they have a pretty decent sized list, including many of trader joe's beans. I would take some of their reviews with a grain of salt as taste is very personal. It's also far from complete. But it might be interesting to get a rough idea of what your options are as this site also lists prices. – talon8 Jan 22 '15 at 18:58
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    I've removed the iffy parts of the question; without doing so I think we'd have to close it immediately. We really don't want this to turn into a poll with 100 people saying "my favorite is X". – Cascabel Jan 22 '15 at 19:02
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Roast Date

Coffee starts to degrade fairly quickly. If you can find someone who roasts locally, that's ideal. The closer you are to the roaster, the less shipping and handling and the more likely you are to get quality coffee. If a company is roasting something to be shipped nation wide, they have to make certain sacrifices. So like @Max said, look for a Roast Date. Within the last week or two is ideal, a couple months is decent.

Origin

For places like Tim Hortons (Canada), McDonalds or Starbucks, they are looking for a very consistent taste every time. This is easier to do with a Darker Roast as you hide some of the nuances of specific crops. Often these will be from multiple origins to "blend" to a consistent taste. There are still many acceptable coffees that are blended like this. However, if you look at many of the Artisianal Coffee Places, they often tend to go for a light or medium Roast. They'll also tend to advertise a specifc farm and country. The reason for this is that with a lighter roast you can taste more of those specific notes in the bean. Some places in my opinion go to far and under roast it. I find in this case it actually comes across as overly sour. So this is entirely up to you what you prefer or are used to.

Packaging

You want something that was vacuum sealed at the roaster. Coffee reacts with oxygen and degrades as soon as it's roasted. Vacuum sealing it immediately, slows down that process. So this means avoid anything in a bulk bin in a coffee shop or grocery store. You also want to buy something that is a whole bean. As soon as you grind it, it also starts to degrade (within minutes). You can find a ceramic burr hand grinder for about $30.

Personal Notes...

For me, I have a few local roasters that I really like, but for my daily cup I can't afford to buy them regularly either. So basically, I look semi-local (for me it's anything in western Canada) for a medium roast from a company that can tell me where they got their bean. I look for words like "single origin" and "fair trade" and yes, even "organic". I don't actually care if it's Organic, but I've found these companies often care about their product more. When I get the coffee I like to be able to taste something unique in it. I'm not sitting here looking for "hmmm this tastes of elderberries and caramel by the ocean in the fall..." that's a little too much for me. That said, if it just tastes like generic "coffee", then I'm not really interested. Not to say that any of this guarantees their quality... so buyer beware.

I don't think specific brands fits with this site, as it's too specialized/localized, but hopefully that gives you something to look out for.

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I think a good rule of thumb when looking for good coffee is to look for the "Roast Date".

The more recent the roast date, the better the coffee will be.

Most artisan/boutique coffee should have it available, either when you buy the coffee or directly on the bags.

For commercial coffee, it might be there, but not always.

If you buy commercial coffee and you cannot see the roast date, try to find vacuum sealed bags (either whole grains or ground).

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Do you have specific roasts that you prefer? Light, Medium or Dark?

Ultimately you want to get the freshest roast possible. Buying local is a good way to ensure that, but overall there are a lot of great roasts out there worth trying. Get risky with it and start trying stuff.

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    I've edited out the "contact me" part since it's not actually an answer to the question (it also comes across as borderline advertisement). The rest does answer the question ("fresh roasts are good") but would be more helpful if it were a little more in depth! – Cascabel Jan 22 '15 at 19:25

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