Coffee Review reviews supermarket coffees

by JulieCraves on January 6, 2007

The latest at Coffee Review is a look at mainstream supermarket coffees.  Reviewing prepackaged, pre-ground coffees is a departure for Kenneth Davids’ site, which is the best source on the web for reviews of specialty coffees. Davids was honest, perhaps even courageous, giving a couple of coffees fair scores. However, his overview states that “the mainstream supermarket coffees reviewed here offered mainly mediocrity, bracketed by a couple of excursions into pretty good and more than a couple into sheer repulsiveness.”

Just because a few coffees scored “pretty good” should not encourage people to stick with these cheap beans, for reasons described below. He reviews 14 coffees available in major supermarkets, which include a couple I’ve never heard of (regional?) and some “crossover” products such as Peet’s and Starbucks.  You should certainly read the whole article, but I’d like to mention two points he makes about the big corporate coffees. He reviews Maxwell House and two Yubans (all owned by Kraft); four by Folgers (owned by Procter & Gamble); and MJB Premium (owned by Sara Lee).

All of these commodity brands share a similar heritage.  Davids writes:

Most of the robustas in the cans appeared to have been steamed to remove the sewery taints these coffees acquire through being dried inside the fruit in rotting heaps. The result is a neutral, cloyingly sweet, woody, vaguely nut-like cup, usually with a slight residual hint of rot. All of the standard branded, canned blends shared a similar steamed-robusta-heavy profile, with only minor differences.

Aside from the lousy taste, the corporate (and public) thirst for cheap robusta beans is what precipitated the coffee crisis, driving thousands of small farmers who grew quality arabica beans out of business. This is most often framed as a serious humanitarian crisis — and it is — but it has also been an ecological disaster. Plummeting prices led farmers to sell their farms, or convert them to less environmentally-friendly crops (including drugs) or to sun coffee. Please read more here.

Davids discusses what inexpensive coffees mean to farmers, even the theoretically beneficial types like the Rainforest Alliance certified Yuban blend (which I discussed in depth here). He notes, “mainstream supermarket coffees generally fail to provide much option for those of us who want to recognize and reward coffee growers as our colleagues rather than exploit them as unacknowledged drones in the vast global commodity hive.”

One coffee he reviewed, which got a decent score, was Wal-Mart’s Great Value 100% Arabica, which was also incredibly cheap (“someone got the coffee-tree end of the supply chain.”) The importance of a retail giant like Wal-Mart in the coffee business deserves a post of its own, which will be forthcoming.

Revised on December 21, 2018

Posted in Coffee reviews,Corporate coffee

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