Best Ground Coffee: 9 Great Tasting Brands to Try
You may have been told that buying whole coffee beans to grind right before brewing will yield the most delicious coffee, and that advice is not wrong.
But if you lack a high-end grinder at home, buying pre-ground beans can be an excellent option. Here are nine of our top picks for the best tasting ground coffee this year.
At A Glance: The Best Ground Coffee
The 9 Best Ground Coffee Brands in 2021
Our picks for the 8 best coffee grounds feature something for everyone. Whether you’re a casual drinker, a caffeine addict, or an espresso enthusiast, we’ve got a great suggestion for you.
||Koa Private Reserve Medium Reserve||
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||Lifeboost Coffee Medium Roast||
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||Atlas Coffee Subscription||
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||Lifeboost Flavored Range||
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||Seattle’s Best Coffee 6th Avenue Bistro||
||Eight O’Clock Coffee, The Original||
||Lavazza Crema E Gusto||
||Illy Classico Roast Espresso Preparation||
Founded in 1997, award-winning Koa Coffee is one of the best purveyors of premium Kona coffee. Grown in the rich volcanic soils on the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, Kona coffee is world renowned.
While many coffees advertised as Kona are actually sub-par blends featuring as little as 10% true Kona beans, this is not the case with Koa Coffee’s top-of-the-line beans. Their Private Reserve Kona Coffee is a proprietary blend of 100% Kona beans.
Made from only hand-picked Extra Fancy grade beans, this house blend was crafted to highlight the subtle flavors of these legendary beans.
Expect flavors of brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey, and a hint of fruit, accompanied by a smooth syrupy body and a crisp and clean acidity. The medium roast perfectly accentuates the sweet flavor notes without any bitter aftertaste. The result is a coffee that was named “Best in America” by Forbes Magazine (4).
Founded by nutrition expert Dr. Charles Livingston, Lifeboost coffee is known for their commitment to sourcing only the best quality beans, and the result is evident in the cup. Only 0.5% of beans grown worldwide meet their stringent standards, which include not just the quality of the beans but also fair treatment and pay for workers and environmental preservation.
This medium roast is made up of single origin specialty beans from a small plantation in Nicaragua located at 5,700 feet on the slopes of Mt. Kilambe. The beans are grown in the shade of guava trees without the use of any pesticides, after which they are hand picked, sun dried, and washed in spring water. The purity of the coffee is preserved throughout this process.
The result is an extremely low acidity coffee, suitable even for those with acid sensitivity. The beans are also certified free from mycotoxins (5), a toxin present in low quantities in most coffee beans, particular lower quality ones. Expect a smooth, balanced flavor, with notes of nuts and chocolate accompanied by a subtle strawberry sweetness.
Atlas is a high-end coffee subscription service, and you can think of them as your personal coffee tour guides. Their coffee of the month club offers some of the best single origin beans from around the world, often from small producers that you wouldn’t hear of otherwise.
Atlas employees travel the world looking for the latest and greatest coffee beans, which they then buy at well above market price, ensuring ethically sustainable farming practices and the highest quality coffee. Once they source the best beans, they work tirelessly to determine the optimal roast profile to showcase each single origin’s unique and complex flavor.
Each subscription box arrives with a curated collection of the finest single origin beans, along with an informative postcard from every country represented. Accompanying documents offer tasting notes and ideas for the best brewing method for each bean.
One of Atlas’s guiding principles is getting beans from their roaster to your doorstep as quickly as possible, so you can rest assured that you will enjoy a fresh coffee experience, even when opting for pre-ground beans.
Many companies use flavored coffees as a way to mask low quality or inexpensive beans, but Lifeboost still uses their impeccably sourced single origin beans as a foundation for their flavored range, which features natural flavors and no added sugars or calories.
Each of Lifeboost’s flavored coffees starts with specialty grade organic and GMO-free coffee beans that are shade-grown at high altitude in the mountains of Nicaragua. The beans are also third-party certified to be free of mycotoxins, which can negatively affect both your health and the coffee’s taste.
Their flavored coffee range includes many enticing options. There is a creamy toasted hazelnut and a caramel macchiato, which pairs sweet caramel with just a hint of vanilla. The French vanilla is a bright, cheery coffee that will bring to mind the fresh vanilla pods of Zanzibar.
The ever-popular pumpkin spice, with its notes of pumpkin pie and cinnamon, is a perennial fall favorite, while the unusual Highlander Grogg combines rich butter, sweet caramel, subtle vanilla, and rum flavors.
The smoky butterscotch uses butter flavor extracted from the highest quality Irish cream butters and pairs it with notes of brown sugar and the natural smokiness of the medium roast.
Finally, the unique blueberry cinnamon crumble is like a coffee and pastry wrapped into one, with tones of cinnamon and juicy blueberry. If you’re into flavored coffee, here’s where we rated some great tasting brands.
Kauai Coffee’s signature medium roast is one of our favorites thanks to an unbeatable combination of taste, value, and sustainable farming practices. These single-origin, 100% arabica beans feature a bright aroma and smooth finish with light floral notes. Beans are cupped at three different stages to ensure high quality and are small-batch roasted for optimal freshness.
Kauai Coffee is grown on Hawaii’s Kauai Island in one of the largest coffee farms in the U.S., where the warm Pacific sun and rich volcanic soils ensure productive, high-quality crops. The estate has a rigorous sustainability program, including being one of the largest drip irrigation coffee farms in the world and using cover crops and composting programs to create healthier soils.
Because the beans are grown in America, they don’t feature a Fair Trade certification, but the company offers workers wages and benefits well above industry standards.
It’s rare to find a brand of coffee that balances low cost, great taste, and social responsibility, but Seattle’s Best has managed to pull it off. Stewart Brothers Coffee started in the ‘70s using a 12-pound peanut roaster to roast the beans. When they entered and won a competition in search of Seattle’s best cup of coffee, they changed their name and grew their company.
The popular and widely-available 6th Avenue Bistro Dark Roast, which is certified Fair Trade and organic, uses a blend of 100% arabica beans sourced from Latin America. It has a bold and roasty flavor, with notes of bittersweet chocolate. It’s low acidity and velvety smoothness make it widely popular.
Eight O’Clock is a budget brand that hasn’t sacrificed flavor to cut costs. They hold the distinction of being America’s best selling whole bean coffee, thanks to affordable prices, wide availability, and crowd-pleasing flavors.
Their original roast is their oldest and most iconic, made up of a globally sourced blend of 100% arabica beans. It offers sweet and fruity notes with a well-balanced finish.
Eight O’Clock was founded in 1859 as the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. but changed their name in 1919 when a survey revealed that 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. were the most popular times to drink coffee. That they’re still around 150 years later is a testament to their quality products.
When looking for a great espresso roast, it only makes sense to turn to Italians, and Lavazza, founded in 1895, is known as Italy’s favorite coffee. Its founder, Luigi Lavazza, invented the art of sourcing coffee from different regions to combine in blends, and the company has spent 125 years perfecting it.
Our pick for the best ground espresso is the popular Crema e Gusto blend. It’s full-bodied, with a fragrant chocolate flavor and rich, spiced aftertaste. It’s intense but well balanced, combining Brazilian arabicas with robustas from Africa and Indonesia.
Lavazza is also focused on sustainability, both environmental and economic. They work directly with projects that support local communities in Central and South America, Africa and Asia, helping small coffee producers to improve community life.
Another Italian company you can rely on for great espresso is Illy. Founded in 1933 and still family-run, Illy now has a global reach, with products and cafes spread around the world.
Their Classico medium roast coffee, available in a fine espresso grind, is a blend of nine different Arabica beans, giving a rich and balanced drink with notes of chocolate and caramel. It’s shipped in a unique air-free pressurized can, which ensures that even finely ground beans will be fresh when they reach you. Though a bit more expensive than some, they are a far cry from the world’s most expensive coffee, and the tin is reusable.
As a global corporation, Illy is committed to sustainability initiatives and was recently named to Ethisphere’s list of the world’s most ethical companies for the seventh consecutive year, one of few in the beverage industry (6).
How to Choose Ground Coffee (that doesn’t suck)
Which type of coffee is right for you is a subjective choice that only you can make. There are some important discerning characteristics, however, that make objective differences between the different types of coffee that are available. Let’s go through these now:
Ground Coffee or Whole Beans
Ask any coffee geek and they will be quick to tell you why fresh ground coffee is better. They’re not wrong, but there are times when buying ground coffee is the right choice.
When coffee is ground, it’s surface area is increased, allowing for better extraction. But once the beans are ground, they start to degass, releasing their characteristic flavors and aromas. The larger surface area also makes the grounds more susceptible to degradation from moisture in the air, and the finer the grind, the faster it will go stale.
In the words of the 2018 winner of the U.S. Cup Tasters Competition(1):
The experiential difference that you’re going to find [using pre-ground coffee] is two things. Aroma and acidity will be very minimized compared to if it was ground fresh.
So why buy pre-ground? It comes down to the grinder. Most roasters have access to top-of-the-line burr grinders, as opposed to the cheap blade grinders many home brewers use.
And experts agree that the best pre-ground coffee from a burr grinder is superior to freshly ground beans from a blade grinder.
If you buy pre-ground coffee, follow a few rules to keep it as fresh as possible. Store coffee in an airtight container in a dark, dry cupboard, and don’t keep it in the fridge or freezer. Buy smaller quantities at a time, and look for roasters that grind fresh to order.
If you do have a burr grinder and would prefer to buy whole beans, check out our list of the best coffee beans.
Arabica or Robusta
There are two commercially grown coffee varietals, arabica and robusta, each with unique characteristics (2).
Long regarded as the higher-end bean, arabicas make up about three-quarters of current commercial crops. They tend to have a more pronounced acidity and a sweeter, softer taste, with tones of sugar, fruit, and berries.
Robusta beans have a harsher, grain-like taste, with a nutty finish and contain twice as much caffeine. They are much easier to grow because they can thrive at lower elevations and are more resistant to pests and weather fluctuations.
Most coffee for sale today is arabica, but some robustas are beginning to find favor.
A little touch of Robusta can really round out a fine blend, adding to its quality, its complexity and its depth. (3)
Some ground coffees feature robusta-arabica blends, with the fruity and acidic arabicas balanced by the rich and dark robustas.
Look for a grind size to match the brewer you plan to use. Our handy chart has everything you need.
If the grounds are too coarse, you won’t get enough extraction, and the coffee will be pale and taste weak and watery. If they’re too fine, you’ll end up with over-extracted coffee or grounds in your finished drink.
If you’re planning to use your pre-ground beans in an espresso machine, it’s important to look for ones specifically ground for espresso. Standard medium grounds, prepared for use in a drip coffee maker, will be too coarse and leave you with weak, flavorless espresso.
Roast and Taste Profile
Lighter roasts typically have fragrant floral and fruity notes with a mild body and higher caffeine content. They’re great for exploring the subtleties of single-origin coffee beans.
Medium roasts are the most popular, offering a bit more sweetness due to the caramelization of sugars during the roasting process. They have a lower acidity than light roasts and a slightly bitter undertone.
A good dark roast has a bittersweet taste profile and a bold and rich body. A visibly oily exterior is accompanied by a toasted taste or hints of chocolate flavor.
Speaking of roasting, if you ever decide to try roasting your own beans, watch our video on home roasting first:
Despite what the coffee snobs might insist, there are both good reasons to buy ground coffee and great ground coffees to buy — nine of which can be found in this list.
Our overall top pick is the Koa Coffee Private Reserve Medium Roast. Cultivated in Hawaii’s rich volcanic soils, this 100% premium Kona coffee blend is sure to satisfy. With smooth flavors of brown sugar, milk chocolate, honey, and hints of fruit, it’s no surprise that it has been named America’s best coffee.
Instant coffee is just ground coffee that has already been brewed and dehydrated so that all you need to do is add water (7). Coffee grounds, though they may look similar, require brewing to produce coffee. Here’s a more detailed explanation.
Yes, you can use pre-ground coffee for cold brew, but it needs to be quite coarse. Check out our guide to cold brew for everything you need to know.
Fair Trade designations ensure products are made according to a set of strict standards that encourage environmental sustainability, as well as certifying that the people involved in the production were treated and compensated fairly.
The Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit organization based in the United States with a mission to conserve biodiversity by promoting sustainability in many industries, including coffee. It certifies coffee when it is produced under standards intended to protect the environment and the rights of workers.
Espresso beans are just coffee beans that a roaster believes are well-suited to the espresso preparation. Typically, they’re roasted to medium or dark and have a bit more body and lower acidity.
- Marulanda, C. (2018, December 17). Is Pre-Ground Coffee Ever Better Than Freshly Ground? Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/12/is-pre-ground-coffee-ever-better-than-freshly-ground/
- Baldwin, J. (2009, June 22). Arabica vs. Robusta: No Contest. Retrived from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/06/arabica-vs-robusta-no-contest/19780/
- Why is Robusta such a dirty word? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.greenbeanroasters.com/robusta-coffee-beans/
- Reid, D. (2019, January 17). Forbes Called This Coffee The Best In America. Retrieved from https://www.culinarylibertarian.com/coffee/
- Bennett, J.W., Klich, M. (2003, July). Mycotoxins. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164220/
- The 2020 World’s Most Ethical Companies Honorees List. (2020). Retrived from https://www.worldsmostethicalcompanies.com/honorees/
- Newton, T. (2018, January 22). Coffee Wars: Should You Drink Instant or Whole Bean? Retrived from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/01/coffee-wars-buy-instant-whole-bean/