We love coffee. Seeing as you’re here, most likely you do too. The rich, irresistible aroma; the tempting way the crema swirls like molten lava on an espresso- not to mention the caffeine kick. Across all timezones, it’s the preferred way of starting the day.
Of course, there are plenty of high-quality coffee brands out there to quench our thirst for a hot cup of java. However, shopping for the best coffee brands might have you staring vacuously down a whole aisle packed top-to-bottom with fragrant bags of coffee beans, often hailing from far-off, exotic climes.
Costa Rican, Guatemalan or Kenyan? Arabica or Robusta? Fine grind, or coarse? If all these options leave you (quite understandably) perplexed, fear no more. With different brewing methods requiring different approaches, we’ve demystified the vast world of coffee, so you don’t have to.
With our guide to the best coffee beans of the year, you can shop with poise and certainty. You can learn more about how to choose a good coffee at the end of this article.
The 15 best coffee beans of 2021
- Atlas Coffee Club: Best gourmet
- Stone Street: Best tasting coffee brand
- Death Wish Coffee Company: Best dark roast
- Spirit Animal Coffee: Best organic coffee brand
- Real Good Coffee Co.: Best budget
- Volcanica Coffee: Best Arabica
- Nescafe Azera Intenso: Best instant coffee
- Trade Coffee: Best USA coffee brand
- Bizzy Organic: Best cold brew
- Cardiology Coffee: Best low acid
- Fresh Roasted Coffee: Best Mexican
- Sea Island: Best Hawaiian
- Lavazza: Best Italian
- Don Francisco’s: Best-flavoured
- Caribou Coffee: Best light roast
Atlas Coffee Club: Best gourmet
While “gourmet” has become a little ambiguous over the years— it still generally refers to a superior product created from the highest grade ingredients. In the case of gourmet, or speciality coffee, you’ll typically expect 100% Arabica beans, culminating from a faultless process from cultivation through to roasting.
Atlas Coffee Club beans encompass that premium quality, with their multi-award winning small-batched roasts. We like their coffee so much that we wrote an in-depth Atlas Coffee Club review to help you decide if they’re the right brand for you.
Atlas Coffee Club prepares an espresso blend of premium quality Arabica beans sourced from all around the world. The small-batch method enables a level of control that is harder to achieve by mass-production, so this is always a plus when it comes to choosing coffee beans.
Although particularly tasty when made in a French press, the blend can be used in normal coffee makers with the correct grind. Check our round-up of the best coffee grinders if you need the proper equipment to upgrade your coffee game.
For its versatility, premium quality and attention to detail, we’ve rated Atlas Coffee Club as the best gourmet coffee on the market.
Stone Street: Best tasting coffee brand
‘Micro-roastery’ Stone Street, nestled in the heart of Brooklyn, NYC, has been roasting cut-above coffee since 2009. Their crown jewel is the Tanzanian Peaberry ‘Mount Kilimanjaro’ whole bean coffee.
Displaying the quintessential characteristics of Kenyan coffee beans but with a milder acidity, the light-medium roast possesses a unique flavour. This is achieved by using the comparatively rare peaberry bean.
Never heard of it? That’s because only 10% of coffee is considered peaberry, making it highly desirable. The smaller beans deliver a distinguished flavour that is less overpowering than their conventional counterparts.
The full-bodied blend works happily with all the best coffee makers, although light-medium roasts tend to fare better in French press or drip coffee machines.
Perfect for bringing a fresh, fruity flavour to your palate, we’ve rated Stone Street as the best tasting coffee brand.
Death Wish Coffee: Best dark roast coffee brand
Touted as ‘The World’s Strongest Coffee’, the Death Wish whole bean coffee is also (perhaps surprisingly) Fair Trade and certified organic. For die-hard caffeine addicts for whom one is never enough, this super-strong coffee bean might just blow your head clean off (not literally, despite the name).
The human equivalent of putting rocket fuel in your car (don’t do that), the Death Wish whole bean coffee has double the caffeine of your average coffee. That’s around 600mg of caffeine in one cup. If that doesn’t wake you up, we don’t know what will.
Again, it’s a whole bean so will require home grinding before you give your coffee machine the fright of its life. However, ground beans are available, in a slightly different blend of Black Insomnia.
Grown using organic methods and with sustainability principles at heart, the blend comprises both Arabica and Robusta beans. The smooth aftertaste embodies hints of chocolate, almond and blueberries.
So, if the skull-and-bones packaging doesn’t scare you off, and you’re looking for a considerable pick-me-up to energise your day, this whole bean blend could be perfect.
Spirit Animal Coffee: Best organic coffee brand
From Honduras, at the heart of Central America, the Spirit Animal Coffee blend is crafted from beans grown on farms located at high-altitudes where trees’ slower maturation allows more time for their fruit to reach optimal sweetness. The team then carefully selects the top 1% of beans, measuring their sweetness with a refractometer and hand-plucking only the fruits that qualify to create amazing coffee blends.
Known for their sweet and slightly acidic cherries, the result of the fusion is quite delicious. And, they’re organic. Never underestimate the power of organically-grown coffee beans. So, that’s a win-win if we ever saw one.
Spirit Animal Coffee roasts their beans to order which maximises the freshness. They come in whole beans, so check which grind is best for your coffee maker. The coffee maker also makes sure to fairly pay their farmers so they can focus on what they do best: diligently and meticulously growing high-quality organic coffee beans.
The bittersweet aroma, medium-body and organic production mean Spirit Animal Coffee blend proves itself as the best organic coffee to boot.
Real Good Coffee Co.: Best budget
The folks behind US-based Real Good Coffee Co are on a mission to make the best possible coffee at a price that’s fair for you. And they’ve succeeded! But cutting down on marketing costs and fancy packaging, Real Good Coffee Co. is the best budget coffee you can get.
You can expect freshly roasted high-quality beans with a reliable taste for your morning cup of coffee. Ideal if you’re in a rush and just want to head out the door with your travel coffee mug.
The brand offers 100% Arabica whole bean coffee but also Nespresso pods and Keurig cups to suit whichever brewing method you prefer. Their price is on average 20% cheaper than the competition. No wonder they have over a thousand positive reviews online and are our preferred choice as the best budget coffee brand this year.
Volcanica Coffee: Best Arabica coffee brand
If you love to experiment and want the opportunity to sample different coffees every month, Volcanica Coffee might well be the best news you’ll get all week.
Although each one is completely unique, all of Volcanica coffees are ‘third-wave’ coffee. Aside from just sounding, well, ultra-hip, ‘third-wave’ in coffee-speak means made from 100% light to medium roasted Arabica beans. Refined and complex, the flavours are delicate and demand careful appreciation.
Volcanica Coffee has an impressive total of 123 different blends in its repertoire. You won’t get bored, that’s for sure. They also offer flavoured coffee and decaf options.
Based on the ease of ordering, the pure variety and quality of the 100% Arabica beans, we’ve rated Volcanica Coffee as the best Arabica coffee brand.
Nescafé Azera Intenso: Best instant coffee brand
Ah, Nescafé. Far from their standard freeze-dried instant coffee found perched on the kitchen counters of 99%* of homes across the globe, the Azera Intenso is in a different league.
A combination of Nescafé granulated coffee and finely ground coffee beans, the Azera Americano is a minimalist dream. All you need is a kettle. Seriously. Upon pouring the hot water in your mug, you’ll find an agreeably golden crema begin to form on top of your coffee. Add milk. Or don’t.
Medium roasted and with a fruity, rich flavour profile, this back-to-basics approach could be a winner for unwavering fans of instant coffee. It’s also one of the best tasting coffees out there. No joke.
The crema really is the deal-breaker here, plus the simplicity of preparation and quality of flavour. Thus, Nescafé Azera Intenso has cemented its position as the best instant coffee brand available.
*An educated guess. Prove us wrong.
Trade Coffee: Best USA coffee brand
While coffee houses existed and were somewhat popular in the New World from the mid 17th Century, it wasn’t until the Boston Tea Party of 1773 that coffee truly made its mark. You could say the US was a little late to the party. Well, the colonists had to drink something. It goes without saying, tea was off the menu…
We’ve gone a long way since. Launched in 2018, Trade Coffee unites the nation’s top roasters directly with drinkers, offering over 400 roasted-to-order coffees. Their team works with the best roasters in the country to offer a curated selection of the best coffee beans. You just need to answer a few simple questions to get started and they’ll hand-pick the best options for you.
Freshly roasted bags will then arrive at your door from the top roasters in the US, while supporting small businesses and ethical sourcing at the same time. What more could we ask for?
P.S. If you want something more traditional and consistent every week, you can always count on Folgers Classic Roast, the archetypal American cuppa ‘joe’. With packaging reminiscent of the 50’s boomer years, Folgers offer a truly American, straight-to-the-point coffee experience. No frills, just 100% medium-roasted ground coffee, suitable for all coffee makers.
Bizzy Organic: Best cold brew coffee brand
Using ethically-sourced beans from Guatemala, Peru and Nicaragua, Bizzy Organic’s Cold Brew Coffee is a triumphant formula. For those who favour a cold brew (of the coffee variety, of course!), they’ve assembled a blend specifically for cold brewing.
The 100% Arabica beans are a pleasing mix of light, medium and dark roasts. The union of the three blends perfectly to deliver a smooth, sweet flavour profile.
Even better, the coffee beans come already ground to the perfect coarseness for cold brewing. For cold brew coffee, a coarser grind is desirable as it makes the filtration process easier, and will eliminate any bitterness. All you need is a little patience, and you’ll be rewarded with a sufficiently mouthwatering coffee experience.
Cold brew coffee has never been easier, thanks to Bizzy Organic. For that reason, we’ve rated them the best cold brew coffee brand.
Cardiology Coffee: Best low acid coffee brand
Why choose low acid coffee beans? The acid in coffee which is responsible for the rich, layered flavours can also, unfortunately, cause acid reflux and heartburn in some people.
However, there is good news. Thankfully, coffee producers identified the issue and began to create coffees with lower acidity, thereby eradicating the problems. Phew.
That’s where Cardiology Coffee comes in. Their coffee is medium-dark roast, with all the flavour but much less of that irksome acid. Cardiology Coffee is a doctor-led company making great tasting organic coffee that’s healthy for your heart.
100% Arabica beans, 100% certified organic and non-GMO, the blend is truly pure in both content and intent. The brand only uses beans that are free of pesticides, mold, mycotoxins, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and other contaminants. The result is a profound depth of flavour, with notes of honey, caramel and cocoa. Simply angelic.
For being refreshingly kind to our bodies without sacrificing any flavour, we’ve rated Cardiology Coffee as the best low acid coffee brand.
Fresh Roasted Coffee: Best Mexican coffee brand
If Vandana Shiva drinks coffee, it’s probably from Fresh Roasted Coffee. 100% USDA Organic, reduced carbon-footprint and sustainable sourcing make for one environmentally friendly company.
Their Organic Mexican Chiapas blend promises a mild, yet flavourful body with pear, brown sugar and nutty undertones. The careful roasting process brings the hidden flavours of the single-origin coffee bean to the surface, making for a complex, sophisticated flavour.
This quality coffee brand scores very highly in the rich flavours and ethical principles. Henceforth, we’ve rated Fresh Roasted Coffee as the best Mexican coffee on the market.
Sea Island: Best Hawaiian coffee brand
Aloha! Did you know Hawaii is the only US state which grows coffee commercially? The volcanic soil is jam-packed with minerals, making it an ideal environment for coffee trees to grow and prosper. Hawaiian coffee tends to be milder in taste and acidity, due to its lower altitude farms.
So if you prefer a more gentle flavour, Sea Island’s Greenwell Estate Kona coffee beans could be ideal. Kona is a region of Hawaii which is particularly revered for its coffee. The Greenwell Estate coffee is grown on 60 hectares at 335m above sea-level, with the fortuitous micro-climate resulting in a tangy citrus flavour with milk chocolate undertones.
Kona coffee is not typically sold in your average coffee shop—the farmers tend to sell their wares to tourists visiting the island and of course, online.
Due to its single-origin, small-scale production and depth of flavour, we’ve rated Sea Island as the best Hawaiian coffee brand, bringing you an authentic taste of the Pacific.
Lavazza: Best Italian coffee brand
You can’t turn a corner in Italy without seeing the recognisable Lavazza logo splashed across cafe windows, or adorning the cups of enthusiastic coffee drinkers. Born in a nation where busy cafes whose tables and chairs spill onto the pavements are heavily frequented, Lavazza are true connoisseurs of coffee.
With coffee expertise dating back over 120 years, Lavazza has refined their art. The Lavazza Qualita Rossa— a blend of Robusta and Arabica beans (more about that later) is a great, versatile choice of bean which can be used in all coffee makers.
You can’t really go wrong with Italian coffee, and Lavazza is one of the best brands the country has to offer. Promising an aromatic, well-rounded flavour and hints of chocolate and dried fruit, the Qualita Rossa blend could be your new favourite wake up call.
Sold as a whole bean (which of course requires grinding at home) we’ve rated the Lavazza Qualita Rossa as the best Italian coffee brand of the year.
Don Francisco’s: Best-flavoured coffee brand
From 150 years of family coffee farming in Cuba to founding a coffee roastery in Los Angeles, Don Francisco’s passion for coffee is long-standing. Don Francisco himself worked for the Federal Reserve Bank before returning to Cuba, where he became heavily involved with the family business of coffee production.
Surviving the business through the Great Depression, his fastidious nature and penchant for perseverance earned him the sobriquet of ‘the fussiest man in coffee’. That’s the kind of moniker you want from your coffee roaster! Just as long as you’re not one of his baristas, presumably. A tough guy to please, it seems.
Aside from growing and producing A-grade coffee, Don Francisco has a fine selection of flavoured coffees, too. The Caramel Creme blend made from 100% Arabica is a favourite, although you’re spoiled for choice with combinations like Butterscotch Toffee and Vanilla Nut, to name a few.
The family business has a zero-waste policy at its Los Angeles facility and maintains a high sustainability ethos, making it a real Earth-friendly brand.
The tempting variety of complementary flavours, along with their company ethos results in our rating of Don Francisco as the best-flavoured coffee beans on the market.
Caribou Coffee: Best light roast coffee brand
Contrary to popular belief, light-roasted coffee actually has a higher caffeine content than dark roasted coffee. Furthermore, the longer the coffee bean is roasted, the more it loses its origin flavours and begins to take on the flavours from the roasting process.
So, through the light-roasting process, the Daybreak Blend from Caribou Coffee retains the caramel and cherry-floral flavours inherent in the coffee beans. The 100% Arabica beans are 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified, too.
The Daybreak Blend is truly multicultural, sourcing the best coffee beans from the Americas and East Africa to deliver absolute finesse.
The versatile whole bean requires home grinding, with the grind dependent on your preferred method. However, lighter roasts usually produce the best results when paired with a cafetiere or drip coffee maker.
Possessing a genuine passion for coffee, intertwined with expert roasting methods, we’ve rated Presto as the best light roast coffee brand.
Coffee buying guide: how to choose a great coffee
If you’re new to the world of coffee, choosing the right bean can seem like a daunting task. Look at it like this: you might have the best coffee maker in the world. But, it’s only as good as the beans you put through it.
Firstly, there is one factor that remains consistent:
Freshness: fresh is best. Always. Look for roasteries who roast-to-order. If not, select a brand which promises to roast regularly.
While sealed bags will last a few months, they will degrade in flavour as time goes on.
It may be tempting to freeze your beans. This is coffee treason. Do. Not. Freeze. Ever.
Okay, glad we’ve got that one cleared up.
Now, you may concern yourself with the details. These vary depending on your individual tastes and preferred brewing method.
The coffee belt: the best coffee-growing regions
Familiarise yourself with ‘the coffee belt’. This is a linear area of the globe whereby the conditions are optimal for growing coffee. Due to variations in climate, altitude, and even economy, ‘coffee belt’ countries will, of course, vary in their flavour and intensity output.
To make it a little easier for you, here are some of the most popular flavour profiles:
Kenya – berries, lemongrass, bergamot and grapefruit, with citrusy afternotes.
Ethiopia – blueberries, strawberries, floral and jasmine.
Rwanda – orange blossom and lemon, caramelised sugar and dates.
Costa Rica – brown sugar, apricot and tropical fruits. Often with a dark chocolate aftertaste.
Mexico – chocolate and hazelnut, resulting in a praline-like aroma.
Guatemala – mild chocolate, toffee and nutty. Sometimes with tropical fruit undertones.
Colombia – sweet nut and bittersweet chocolate.
The perfect grind to match your favourite brewing method
Once you’ve established your preferred flavours (and it’s great to experiment!), it’s time to choose the best grind for your brewing method.
You can always find the grind type on the label of any ground coffee. Whole beans will require home-grinding.
Drip coffee – medium ground. The prolonged extraction time of drip coffee makers requires a coarser grind. Too fine a grind, and the coffee risks being over-extracted, resulting in a bitter, unpleasant taste.
Pour-over coffee – medium/fine. The grind should be about as fine as sand, but slightly coarser than an espresso grind. The brewing time for pour-over coffee is typically 2-3 minutes, and with a medium-fine grind, you should achieve a pleasant, balanced cup.
Grind and brew – fine. But not too fine. The high-pressure mechanism means the extraction time of the coffee is rapid.
If the grind is too fine, the water will struggle to penetrate the tightly-packed coffee grounds. Too coarse, and the water will gush through without properly extracting. The result is weak, watery coffee. Not what we want.
French press – coarse. Since typical brewing time is 4 minutes (varying slightly depending on the blend, and of course personal preference), a coarse grind is ideal. A finer grind would risk pushing through, or getting stuck in the filter. No one likes a grainy coffee.
Chemex – medium/coarse. However, if the coffee is too coarse, the water will pass too quickly, weakening those delicious flavours and generally making for a diluted cup.
Beans variety: the difference between Arabica and Robusta
You will likely have come across labels such as ‘100% Arabica’ or ‘Arabica and Robusta blend’. It all sounds good, for sure. But what does it all mean?
While there are over 100 different species of coffee (ten bucks says you didn’t know that)- there are just two that dominate the coffee industry. You guessed it: Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica is the most common, accounting for 75% of our coffee consumption. Surprisingly, this is not due to ease of cultivation. Arabica beans are actually harder to grow than Robusta.
They are grown at a higher altitude and tend to be more susceptible to pests. Both of these factors contribute to more difficulty in both maintaining and harvesting the trees.
The icing on the cake is this: they also produce a lower yield.
However, that being said, Arabica beans have a smoother, more palatable flavour, noticeably superior to the more bitter Robusta bean.
Despite being easier to cultivate than Arabica beans (Robusta beans grow at lower altitudes and require less maintenance), they are still something of an underdog in the coffee world.
They have a rough, bitter flavour which makes them considerably less popular. Hence you will often see ‘100% Arabica’ flashing on labels.
Robusta beans are cheaper to buy and are generally used in instant coffees due to their higher caffeine content. Robusta beans typically have 83% more caffeine than Arabica beans, and also more antioxidants than their sought-after cousin.
It can be reasonably deduced, then, that taste is truly the overriding factor above all else when it comes to coffee! Long live the Arabica bean, but remember Robusta has its place too.
Roasting grade and degree explained
Weak (the lightest or Scandinavian) roasting: a method favoured mostly in Scandinavia, but much like ‘hygge’, is now reaching further around the world.
This method relies on the intrinsic flavour of the raw green coffee bean as opposed to using heavy roasting to draw out deeper flavours.
The result illuminates fruity, citrus flavours which are usually obscured by roasting.
Remember, light roasts tend to hold more caffeine than their darker counterparts.
Medium roast: medium roasting is a very commonplace and much-liked level of roasting.
The coffee bean possesses more ‘body’ and a more balanced, richer flavour than the lighter roasts. It also contains less caffeine.
Medium-dark roast: the medium-dark roast is when we start to achieve a fuller, aromatic taste than the lighter roasts.
At this point, the bean begins to excrete oils, and the roasting flavours become more apparent.
Dark roast: you may be familiar with French, Italian, or Espresso roasts. These are characterised by dark roasting, whereby the roasting process almost entirely takes precedence over any original flavours.
Consequently, the taste is smoky, burnt (in a good way) and bitter (also in a good way— if you’re into it).
As we’ve said, the darker the roast, the lesser the caffeine content. Don’t be fooled- stronger flavour does not always equate to more caffeine.
Coffee beans terminology
Flavoured – The ‘flavour’ in coffee refers to the endemic characteristics of the coffee bean. These are altered by the roasting process to varying degrees.
Organic – Cultivated without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers or other artificial chemicals.
Origin – Where the coffee bean was grown. Single-origin means the coffee bean has come from one country or area. It sometimes refers to a particular estate or hectare.
Acidity* – In coffee terms, acidity denotes a particular flavour palate— usually consisting of a pleasant tartness and sweet taste.
*Not to be confused with pH level— coffee is mostly of a lower acid content than other popular drinks. Low-acid coffee has been specifically engineered to be lower still to reduce acid reflux and heartburn in sensitive consumers.
Caffeine – The chemical found in coffee which acts as a stimulant on the nervous system, making you feel increased alertness and decreased tiredness.
Frequently asked questions about coffee
We’ve rated Stone Street to be the best-tasting coffee brand on the market in 2021. The elusive peaberry beans in their Tanzania Peaberry ‘Mount Kilimanjaro’ blend provide intricate flavours, resulting in a complex palate.
Depending on your tastes, we’ve rated and reviewed 15 of the best coffee brands on the market. From single-origin Mexican coffee beans to good, dependable instant, we’ve got it covered.