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No matter how sophisticated the brewing device, no matter how refined the brewing technique, a good cup of coffee begins and ends with good coffee beans. And we’ve rounded up our favorite ones below.
Some of the brands we included are household names, others are cult favorites, but all of them are delicious. We describe each coffee’s flavor notes, sourcing regions, and availability, while also breaking down pros and cons to ensure you get value for your money. Products are sorted into distinct categories to suit everyone from dark roast lovers to decaf drinkers.
Fresh, tasty, and waiting to be brewed, here are the best coffee beans to buy.
Best Overall: Kicking Horse Coffee Kick Ass Whole Bean
Easy to find
Tasting notes vary and are described well
Only one light roast option
Bags are 10 ounces, not 12
It’s impossible to truly choose the best coffee. Some people prefer dark roasts, others prefer light. Some focus on the cultivation process while others pick based on price. But Kicking Horse Coffee is an all-around favorite. Each of its 12 blends is organic, fair trade, and downright tasty. Light-roast lovers should check out the tropical Hola blend, while those who prefer dark roast can choose between flavors like the chocolaty Grizzly Claw or the smoky Kick Ass blend.
Kicking Horse is a small company hailing from the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The care put into each bag of beans has made it one of the highest-rated coffee brands online, with the vast majority of customers awarding five stars, no matter the flavor.
Roast: Dark | Size: 10 ounces or 2.2 pounds | Available In: Whole bean and ground | Origin: Indonesia and South America
"Kicking Horse packs a lot of flavor into its coffee. The company also does a great job of differentiating its various blends, which makes it easy for customers to choose the one best suited for their taste buds."
Best for Espresso: Lavazza Super Crema Espresso
Works for drip too (recommended for espresso)
Only available in 2.2-pound bag
Occasional complaints of stale beans
No one does espresso quite like Italy. The country invented it, then perfected it. And Lavazza has been part of the process from the start. Established in 1895, this Italian coffee company is nearly as old as espresso itself, and its Super Crema roast is specially crafted for a delicious jolt of espresso.
Available in both whole bean and ground, this medium-dark roast is buzzing with notes of honey, almond, and dried fruit. Lavazza comes at a great price and can be found at multiple retailers. It’s smooth, it’s hot, and every cup will transport you to the piazzas, canals, and lush countryside of Italy.
Roast: Medium | Size: 2.2 pounds | Available In: Whole bean | Origin: Brazil, India, Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam
"Espresso is a brewing method, not its own type of bean. Any coffee can be espresso if you prepare it as espresso. When people call them 'espresso beans,' they’re basically telling you it’s a dark roast and that it has a solubility targeted toward espresso preparation." — Selina Ullrich, Director of Coffee at East One Coffee Roasters
Best Flavored: SF Bay Coffee Hazelnut Crème, Whole Bean
Unique blend of flavors
Available in ground and K-Cup form
Not the easiest to find
Contains some artificial flavors
All kinds of flavored coffees are available today. There’s the seasonal pumpkin spice craze or the always reliable French vanilla route. Another popular flavored variety is hazelnut, which SF Bay Coffee puts a delicious spin on here with its Hazelnut Crème.
Just hearing the tasting notes is mouth watering: toasted hazelnut, cinnamon, and Madagascar vanilla. This roast is labeled as medium-light, so the flavors are subtle yet noticeable in every sip. There are a couple drawbacks to note though. First, that the coffee is typically sold in one size (2 pounds) and, second, that it contains some artificial flavoring. Overall, however, it is one of the best flavored coffees you can find. The Hazelnut Crème is available in ground coffee and K-Cup form, and SF Bay Coffee also makes a number of other flavored varieties should this one spark an interest for more.
How is flavored coffee produced? Selina Ullrich of East One Coffee Roasters told us that flavored coffee is usually made by adding flavor oils to the beans while they are cooling. "During that process, they spray the coffee when it’s hot with the oils so it locks into the cell structure."
Roast: Medium | Size: 2 pounds | Available In: Whole bean, ground, and K-Cup | Origin: Central America and South America
Best Decaf: Kicking Horse Decaf Dark Roast Coffee
Strong flavor for decaf
Organic and fair trade
Better for dark roast lovers
Some say it tastes slightly burnt
A good cup of decaf can be hard to find. When coffee beans go through the decaffeination process, they lose certain chemicals that create the tastes and aromas you love. Luckily, there’s Kicking Horse. The brand makes a second appearance on our list with a decaf blend that still manages to be delicious.
While these beans might not be as robust as Kicking Horse’s other products, customers laud the blend’s rich combination of toasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate. Some say they don’t even notice a difference in taste between this and Kicking Horse’s regular coffee.
Kicking Horse is certainly on the pricier end, but all of its coffee is organic, fair trade, and roasted right at home in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Roast: Dark | Size: 10 ounces or 2.2 pounds | Available In: Whole bean | Origin: Central America and South America
Best Dark Roast: Death Wish Coffee Co. Whole Bean Coffee
High caffeine for alertness and productivity
Available in whole bean, ground, and K-cup
Caffeine content isn't for everyone
Death Wish’s slogan is, “The World’s Strongest Coffee,” and with two to four times the amount of caffeine as a regular cup of coffee, the company makes a compelling case. But these beans shouldn’t scare you. Death Wish is one of the most reviewed and highly rated coffee brands online.
While customers do love the increase in energy and concentration that comes with Death Wish, they keep buying it because of the taste. For such a high caffeine content, the flavor is surprisingly smooth, teeming with hints of dark chocolate and cherry.
This product is on the more expensive end, but considering you only need one cup to get through the day the price balances out. On top of that, Death Wish is organic, fair trade, and doesn’t use any artificial ingredients or additives.
Roast: Dark | Size: 1 and 5 pounds | Available In: Whole bean, ground, and K-Cup | Origin: India and Peru
"I was initially hesitant to try Death Wish, thinking its caffeine claims were a gimmick that would lead to some bad coffee, but it turned out to be one of the best dark roasts I've ever had."
Best for French Press: Koffee Kult Thunder Bolt Dark Roast
Traditional French roast taste
Available in multiple sizes
Not easy to find in stores
Koffee Kult's Thunder Bolt is an intensely dark French roast made from 100 percent Arabica beans. The primary notes are earthy and smoky, but there's a slightly sweet aftertaste; this coffee also has a robust body, meaning the flavors will stay in your mouth for a long time, almost like a good wine.
Koffee Kult is a pretty pricey brand, but you typically have the option to buy larger, more cost-effective bags. Thunder Bolt, for instance, is available in 12, 32, and 80 ounces. You can also purchase the blend in a pre-ground variety, but that's not recommended for French presses. To maximize flavor and avoid a gritty texture, always use coarse-ground beans with your French press.
Roast: French | Size: 12, 32, and 80 ounces | Available In: Whole bean and ground | Origin: Colombia and Brazil
Best Budget: Seattle's Best Coffee Portside Blend
Value for money
Easy to find
Sold in whole bean, ground, and K-cup
Not the strongest flavor
No light roast option
Flavor descriptions are vague
The only thing better than coffee is a lot of coffee, and Seattle’s Best makes it easy to load up on java with its unbeatable prices. While its beans aren’t as cheap as those of Folgers and Maxwell House—brands that are known for weaker, watery coffee—the combination of affordability and high quality is what sets Seattle’s Best apart.
The company offers 10 delicious blends, from delicate light roasts like Very Vanilla and Toasted Hazelnut to robust dark roasts like Post Alley Blend. You can find your favorite flavor in whole bean, ground, or K-Cups. Bags are sold in 12 and 20 ounces.
Roast: Medium | Size: Whole bean, ground, and K-Cup | Available In: 12 ounces | Origin: Latin America
Best Light Roast: Intelligentsia House Blend
Value for money
Occasional complaints of stale beans when shipped
Hard to find in-store depending on location
Intelligentsia's House Blend is the kind of coffee that gets you out of bed in the morning. It combines crisp notes of apple and citrus with the sweetness of cane sugar and milk chocolate for one delectable brew. The Chicago-born company offers a number of terrific light roasts, like the El Gallo Breakfast Blend and several single-origin coffees, but this one is our favorite.
Intelligentsia is one of the most beloved and influential roasters of the past few decades, focusing on craftsmanship and progressing the direct-trade coffee model. While its products range in price, House Blend is typically quite affordable and, when compared to competitors in a similar price range, much more flavorful. A bag can be purchased in two sizes: 12 ounces or 5 pounds.
Roast: Medium-light | Size: 1 and 5 pounds | Available In: Whole bean and ground | Origin: Burundi and Colombia
"Arabica and Robusta are the two main species of coffee. Arabica is harder to grow than Robusta and has lower caffeine. It generally has more sweetness and acidity, too. Pretty much all specialty coffee is Arabica. Robusta is a more robust species, like the name says, because it’s easier to grow in less ideal places. It has more caffeine and is much more bitter. It's often used in Italian espresso blends to add caffeine and punch and a sense of bitterness." — Selina Ullrich
Best for Cold Brew: Stone Street Coffee Cold Brew Reserve
Specifically designed for cold brew
Intricate flavor: slightly sweet and chocolaty
Available in multiple sizes
No instructions on bag
Cold brew has skyrocketed in popularity over the past few years, and yet the process of brewing coffee beans with room-temperature water, as opposed to hot water, can be traced back to 1600’s Japan. Even centuries ago, the benefits of cold brew were evident: lower caffeine content and less acidity. Not to mention the delicious taste, which is smoother and sweeter than your average joe.
It makes sense, then, that the best cold brew comes from Stone Street—a Brooklyn-born coffee company that focuses on high-quality, artisanal blends. A one-pound bag of its Cold Brew Reserve is a little on the pricy side, but it will bring barista-worthy iced coffee to your home year-round.
Roast: Dark | Size: 1, 2, and 5 pounds | Available In: Whole bean and ground | Origin: Colombia
Best Organic: Cafe Don Pablo Subtle Earth Organic Coffee
Available in light, dark, and medium-dark
Convenient instructions on bag
Only available in 2 pounds and up
Not the easiest to find in stores
These beans hail from the Marcala region of Honduras, where the high altitude infuses them with a rich flavor. And you’re guaranteed to find a blend right for your taste, as Café Don Pablo offers this organic line in a light roast, a medium-dark roast, and a dark roast. Bags are sold in a variety of sizes too, including a five-pound option that saves money per serving. One nice touch is that the brand includes brewing instructions for an array of devices on the back of each bag, so you can make a delicious cup whether you own a drip machine, French press, espresso maker, and more.
Roast: Medium-dark | Size: 1, 2, and 5 pounds | Available In: Whole bean and ground | Origin: Honduras
In selecting the best whole bean coffee, we considered price, availability, variety, and (most importantly) flavor. Kicking Horse scores highly in all areas, making it a must-try on your next trip to the grocery store. Espresso drinkers will likely prefer Lavazza's Super Crema, a bold and slightly sweet espresso roast.
What to Look for in Whole Bean Coffee
Identifying the type of roast you like—light, medium, or dark—is a great place to start when trying a new coffee. But it can get even trickier than that. Keep an eye out for a blend's tasting notes, usually written somewhere on the bag. With a dark roast, for instance, you might like one that has notes of chocolate but not notes of smokiness, or vice versa.
Since the majority of coffee drinkers have a cup (or three) every single day, price is an important consideration. And it's worth experimenting. See if you have a preference between a $5 bag of beans and a $20 bag. Just because a coffee is more expensive doesn't mean it's the best one for your taste buds.
To get the most flavor out of your coffee beans, you want to use them before they go stale. So while those 5-pound bulk bags might be convenient, and even more cost effective, they could lead to bad coffee down the road. Consider your coffee drinking habits. A cup or two a day and you're likely best off with a standard 12-ounce bag.
"I would look out for coffee that is roasted near where you live. It could be a sign the coffee is 'fresh' or more recently roasted. You may even be able to find the roaster's shop." — Selina Ullrich
Where do coffee beans come from?
Coffee beans are actually the seeds of coffee plants. They grow inside colorful little fruits, each one about the size of a grape, called coffee cherries or coffee berries. Coffee cherries are plucked from the plant when ripe, and the beans are then extracted (usually two beans per cherry) before being roasted.
As far as the history of coffee goes, that can get a little murky because the drink has been around for so long, but it's widely believed that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia more than 1,000 years ago. Coffee drastically grew in popularity in 16th-century Yemen, from where it quickly went on to reach the rest of the world.
The top coffee exporters today are Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. Many other countries produce delicious coffee too, most of which are situated in what's known as The Bean Belt—regions near the equator with the best climate and environment for growing coffee beans.
What's the difference between Arabica and Robusta?
There are more than 100 coffee species in the world, but Arabica and Robusta are by far the two most popular. You can check the coffee in your cupboard right now and it’s almost guaranteed to be Arabica, Robusta, or a blend of the two. What's the difference between them? And which one should you buy? Selina Ullrich, the Director of Coffee at East One Coffee Roasters, explains:
“Arabica is harder to grow than Robusta and has lower caffeine,” Ullrich says. “It generally has more sweetness and acidity, too. Pretty much all specialty coffee is Arabica. Robusta is a more robust species like the name says because it’s easier to grow in less ideal places. It has more caffeine and is more bitter. It's often used in Italian espresso blends to add caffeine and punch and a sense of bitterness."
How should I store coffee beans?
Coffee loses freshness when exposed to oxygen, sunlight, and moisture, so it's best stored in an opaque, airtight canister. The best time to brew coffee beans is within two weeks after they are roasted. Longer than that and you may notice a loss of flavor.
Many people turn to the freezer to extend their coffee's shelf life, but it's best to avoid this. Freezing coffee for even a short period of time will lead to a less flavorful and aromatic brew, especially compared to coffee that has been stored in a canister or an airtight bag.
How do you roast coffee beans?
The process for roasting coffee beans varies slightly depending on the type of roaster you own, but there are several universal steps that we'll go through.
- First, you need raw coffee beans, also known as green coffee. Keep in mind that coffee beans lose weight as they roast; it takes about two pounds of raw coffee to produce one pound of roasted coffee.
- Second, dispense your beans into your roaster and make sure they are steadily moving during the roasting process. This is known as “agitating” coffee beans, and it’s to ensure they don’t burn by staying in one place too long.
- Listen for the “first crack” of the coffee beans to know they have entered the first stages of being a light roast; a “second crack” indicates that they are hot enough to reach medium-roast level.
- Once your beans have reached the desired roast level, the next step is to cool them down right away, otherwise they’ll continue roasting.
- Finally, allow your newly roasted coffee beans to de-gas (or release CO2) for several hours to several days—yes, there is quite a wide variance—and store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to brew.
How do you grind coffee beans
There are a few makeshift ways to grind coffee beans at home, like using a blender, food processor, or mortar and pestle, but it's best to have an actual coffee grinder. Start by figuring out how much coffee you want to grind and what grind size you should use (more on this below). With many electric grinders you can pre-select a specific portion and grind size, press a button, and you're good to go. Otherwise, you may have to use a little elbow grease and crank a manual grinder by hand. In a pinch, here's a rough way to gauge grind size: a coarse grind is close to the consistency of sea salt; a medium grind is close to sand; and a fine grind is close to powder.
What grind size should I use?
If you own a drip coffee maker, pour-over, or AeroPress use a medium grind for best results. A Chemex works with medium-ground coffee too, but a medium-coarse grind is usually better. Espresso machines and Turkish coffee makers require very finely ground coffee. Finally, French-press owners should stick with a coarse grind.
Can you eat coffee beans?
Yes, coffee beans are safe to eat. Chocolate-covered coffee beans are of course a popular sweet snack, but you can also munch on regular coffee beans if you like the taste. Just like when you're drinking coffee, keep an eye on how many coffee beans you ingest because of the caffeine content. The recommended daily maximum intake for adults is 400 milligrams of caffeine.
How much coffee should I use when brewing?
The right amount of coffee to use depends on several factors: the type of coffee maker you own, how much coffee you plan to make, what grind size you’re using, and how strong you like your coffee. But there is a general rule of thumb known as coffee’s Golden Ratio. It’s 1 gram of coffee for every 15 to 18 grams of water.
If you want to measure coffee in scoops instead of weight, a good starting point is one scoop (2 tablespoons) of coffee for every 6 ounces of water; just know that there may be more variance in coffee strength. The Golden Ratio applies to everything except espresso, which is best with a 1:2 ratio of coffee to water or roughly 1 tablespoon for every 1.5 ounces of water.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This piece was written by Derek Rose, the coffee and tea expert for The Spruce Eats. He often drinks Kicking Horse Coffee at home, especially the brand's Kick Ass blend. His cupboard is also stocked with Death Wish Coffee’s highly caffeinated and intensely dark coffee grounds for when he’s in need of an extra pick-me-up.
Selina Ullrich, the Director of Coffee at East One Coffee Roasters, was interviewed for this piece. She has worked in the coffee industry for more than 10 years. East One was founded in 2017 and has a café in Brooklyn, New York.