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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.
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. Taste buds vary. Some people focus on a coffee’s health benefits, some the cultivation process, some the 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—home to roughly 120 employees—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.
"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." — Derek Rose, Coffee and Tea Expert for The Spruce Eats
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 ten 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, and you choose between a 12-ounce bag or, for the true coffeeholic, a 20-ounce bag.
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.
Great flavor, low acidity
High caffeine for alertness and productivity
Available in whole bean, ground, and K-cup
Caffeine content isn't for everyone
Instructions recommend a lot of scoops per brew
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.
"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." — Derek Rose, Coffee and Tea Expert for The Spruce Eats
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: more antioxidants, 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.
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.
Traditional French roast taste
Available in multiple sizes
A little pricey
Not easy to find in stores
With glowing customer reviews and a variety of tasty blends, this is one cult you want to join. 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.
Unique blend of flavors
Available in ground and K-Cup form
Not the easiest to find
Contains some artificial flavors
Flavored coffee is produced by adding spices or natural extracts (and, sometimes, artificial flavors) to coffee beans. Today, there are flavored options for all kinds of taste buds. There’s the seasonal pumpkin spice craze, of course, and the always reliable French vanilla route. Hazelnut is also one of the most popular flavored varieties, 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.
Strong flavor for decaf
Organic and fair trade
Better for dark roast lovers
Some say it tastes slightly burnt
A good cup of decaf is 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.
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
From the time the coffee is planted to the moment it’s poured into your cup, organic coffee avoids all artificial substances. No additives, no pesticides. This means that, on top of being delicious and reasonably priced, Café Don Pablo’s Subtle Earth Organic Coffee is clean and healthy.
These beans hail from the Marcala region of Honduras, where the high altitude infuses them with a deep, natural flavor. And you’re guaranteed to find a blend that perfectly fits your taste, as Café Don Pablo offers this organic line in a light roast, a medium-dark roast, and a dark roast.
In selecting the best whole bean coffee, we considered price, availability, variety, and (most importantly) flavor. Kicking Horse (view at Amazon) scores highly in all areas, making it a must-try on your next trip to the grocery store. For those interested in a cheaper option, Seattle's Best (view at Amazon) is one of the tastier bargain coffees on the market.
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.
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.