We love a fancy, artisanal cup of coffee as much as the next person, but we also don’t really have the budget to spend $5 every morning on our caffeine habit. That’s why most mornings, you’ll find us brewing a (very large) pot of coffee at home—it saves us money and we don’t have to leave our couch.
But choosing which coffee beans to buy and brew at home can be super overwhelming. Step into any grocery store coffee aisle and you’ll find a plethora of options, from dirt-cheap to way expensive. And then there’s the whole, um, quality issue. Let’s just face it: Some grocery store coffee beans are totally delicious, while others can taste really—how do we put this lightly?—bad.
So, how’s a coffee-lover supposed to discern the good from the bitter, sludgy and bland? With our definitive guide to the best grocery store coffee, of course. Here are our six picks for the best coffee you can buy at most national grocery stores (or online)—in whole bean, pre-ground and canned forms.
Whole Bean Coffee
More often than not, you’ll find whole bean coffee sold in 10- to 12-ounce bags at the grocery store, but some places (such as Whole Foods) also offer them in the bulk section. This is our preferred form of grocery store coffee, for a few key reasons. One, coffee beans rapidly start to lose flavor and freshness the minute you grind them, so buying them in their whole form means they’ll last a little longer and are more likely to taste fresh when you buy them. Two, that also means you have the freedom to grind them to your preference and tailor the grounds to your brewing method.
1. The Best Whole Bean Grocery Store Coffee: Peet’s Café Domingo Whole Bean Coffee
Price: $9.99 per 12-ounce bag ($0.83 per ounce)
Where to buy it: Online and in most national grocery stores (i.e., Target, Whole Foods or Kroger)
To be honest, most of the Peet’s coffee beans you’ll find at the grocery store are solid contenders (the brand has a lot of options). But the Café Domingo blend, made from three Latin American beans, stands out as a great middle-of-the-road, medium-roast coffee, especially if you like your medium roast to taste kind of like a dark roast. By that we mean, it’s very smooth and medium-bodied, with nutty, chocolatey vibes and an overall balanced taste, but might be too bitter or dark if you prefer a lighter roast. We’d happily take a cup of this over our bougie $5 latte any day.
2. The Second-Best Whole Bean Grocery Store Coffee: Starbucks Veranda Blend Whole Bean Coffee
Price: $7.99 for a 12-ounce bag ($0.66 per ounce)
Where to buy it: Online, in most national grocery stores and at Starbucks stores
If you prefer your coffee on the bright, fruity side (as opposed to nutty or chocolatey), Starbucks’ blonde roast fits the bill. It’s flavorful without being too bold, with soft notes of citrus and no bitterness at all. According to the brand, the coffee beans are sourced from Latin America and it gets its mellow profile from a shorter roasting process. Considering the coffee chain is known for its burnt-tasting beans—to be honest, we find most of its medium- and dark-roast coffees far too bitter to be enjoyable—this light-roast option is a refreshing change of pace. It’s also readily available in almost all national grocery stores, as well as online through Starbucks and Amazon. (And FYI, both this and the Peet’s coffee are available pre-ground as well as whole, but we prefer the whole variety in both.)
Pre-ground coffee, like whole-bean coffee, is also most commonly sold in 10- to 12-ounce bags (unless it’s sold in a plastic tub or can; more on that later), but it has the added convenience of being ready for brewing straight out of the bag. But with that convenience comes a few downsides: For starters, you can’t customize the grind based on your coffee machine or brewing method…and because it’s already been ground (and, let’s be honest, most likely sitting on your store’s shelf for a while), this type of grocery store coffee doesn’t last long. Ideally, it should be consumed within a week for the best flavor.
1. The Best Pre-Ground Grocery Store Coffee: illy Drip Ground Forte Extra Bold Roast 100% Arabica Coffee
Roast: Extra Dark
Price: $12.99 for an 8.8-ounce tin ($1.48 per ounce)
Where to buy it: Online (Amazon) and in most national grocery stores
We admit that at almost $13 for just eight ounces of coffee grounds, this option is kind of a splurge for grocery store coffee. But hear us out: The Italian brand makes a damn fine cup of coffee. According to the brand, the blend is sourced from nine different beans “worldwide” (it doesn’t specify the country of origin). While this one is definitely a much darker, bolder roast than our other choices on this list, it’s not bitter or overly acidic. We think even cream-drinkers would enjoy this coffee black. It brews up caramel-y and roasty with a full body, and the air-free packaging ensures that it’s fresh when you buy it, unlike most bagged coffee grounds, which allow air to degrade the beans. (Note that we don’t classify this coffee as “canned” even though it *technically* comes in a can, because it’s a much higher quality than most supermarket canned coffee brands.)
2. The Second-Best Pre-Ground Grocery Store Coffee: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Breakfast Blend Light Roast Ground Coffee
Price: $7.48 for a 12-ounce bag ($0.62 per ounce)
Where to buy it: Online and in most national grocery stores
This Vermont-based coffee company is best known for dominating the coffee pod market, but we prefer its bagged coffee grounds instead (better for the environment, right?). This light-roast coffee is clean, bright and easy-drinking, not to mention surprisingly good even after a quick warm-up in the microwave. It’s not going to blow you away with nuanced flavor notes or anything innovative on the palate, but it performs well in the “standard cup of coffee” category, which is exactly what we need when our alarm sounds.
Crack open a can of coffee grounds and…are you feeling nostalgic yet? This is definitely the stuff our parents used to buy in the ’80s and, despite its not-so-great reputation as being bitter, gas-station-y and only appropriate for camping trips, there are actually some totally viable canned options for brewing coffee at home. A major bonus: Canned grocery store coffee tends to be the most cost-effective of the bunch, with some brands costing just $5 for a bulk-size 30-ounce can.
1. The Best Canned Grocery Store Coffee: Maxwell House Original Roast
Price: $4.88 for a 30.6-ounce can ($0.16 per ounce)
Where to buy it: Online (Amazon) and in any national grocery store
Look, we’re not saying this stuff is gourmet by any means—it’s in a plastic tub, what do you expect? But if you’re looking for something really, really budget-friendly that also actually tastes like coffee, it’s definitely your best bet. It’s dark and rich without being too bitter (it’s definitely a little bitter, though) and with a splash of cream, you wouldn’t even know it came from a plastic tub. Look at it this way: When a 30-ounce package costs the same as that gourmet cup we bought from the café down the street this morning, we can’t really complain. Our own PureWow food editor says she often stocks up on this blue can when she’s being budget-conscious, telling us, “I brewed it in my fancy coffee machine at home and, you know what? Not bad. I didn’t hate it.” You heard it here first.
2. The Second-Best Canned Grocery Store Coffee: Folgers Classic Roast
Price: $8.80 for a 38.4-ounce can ($0.23 per ounce)
Where to buy it: Online (Amazon) and in any national grocery store
If you’re less concerned about nuanced flavors and more about getting caffeine in your body, stat, then Folgers is a good second option in the canned coffee category. It’s mild, relatively uncomplicated and overall inoffensive, a lot like an average cup of diner coffee. But it’s a little more expensive than Maxwell House, not to mention less flavorful—some might describe it as watery, which isn’t exactly how we prefer to take our cup of joe.
Some Final Advice on Buying and Storing Grocery Store Coffee
No matter what type of coffee beans you choose, whether they’re whole, pre-ground or in a brightly colored plastic tub at an impossibly low price, you’ll get the best flavor if the coffee is fresh. Some brands print a “roasted on” date on the packaging, but not all do. If you can’t find out when the coffee you’re buying was roasted, another good way to check the freshness is by looking at the expiration date.
And when you go to store your coffee at home, there are a few important things to keep in mind. For starters, whole beans and grounds alike will stay fresh and tasty the longest if they’re stored in an air-tight vessel (we like the POP containers from OXO), so transfer bagged beans to a designated coffee container. Psst: If you’ve ever been told that storing your coffee in the refrigerator or freezer will keep it fresh for months, we hate to be the bearers of bad news but, unfortunately, it’s just a myth. The fridge and freezer will actually make your coffee go stale faster, because they draw out all of the coffee’s moisture. The best way to ensure a great-tasting cup of joe? Buy fresh beans or grounds, use them up within a week or two and buy more when they’re gone.