Coffees were received in bean form and were ground fresh immediately before brewing in an automatic brewer with a gold filter (as opposed to paper filters). Coffees were tasted black. Each coffee was tasted on two different, but not consecutive, mornings.
We found in our tastings that our own descriptions often varied significantly from what the seller described on the website. We can attribute that to a number of factors. Professional coffee sellers use different brewing equipment than we have at home: different grinders, hotter water, charcoal-filtered water or spring water, and professional skill will produce a better cup of coffee than we lay folk can make. However, we used a good home grinder, a good coffee machine and excellent tap water—as good a set-up as most people will have at home. It may be that the professional coffee shop will get a better body from brewing its beans than we got; however, we did experience a range of light to full bodies in our brews, so we are comfortable that what we produced will mirror most people’s home experience.
Note that each company has a full line of coffees, not just the varieties shown here. The companies made their own selections about which varieties to send us. Prices and flavor availability were verified prior to publication but are subject to change. In most cases, shipping is additional.
Arbuckle’s Organic & Fair Trade
All of the Arbuckle’s coffee we reviewed are Organic and Fair Trade Certified, and some of their roasts go far beyond that. The Café Femenino Blend is the result of a venture to help poor and culturally disenfranchised women in rural Northern Peru. The project involves 464 women coffee farmers, who are involved in all farm activities, as well as in the harvesting of the coffee. They are also involved in the decisions as to how the money from the coffee sales will be used. The mission of the project is to raise self-esteem and to change the view of women’s roles in Northern Peru.
Café Femenino Blend: The cause is very special, but taste-wise the coffee is a very straightforward medium roast, which will appeal to most Americans. Some tasters likened it to Dunkin’ Donuts; overall, a very good cup of coffee.
Ariosa Coffee Blend: Nothing too fancy here either, but this is the Platonic form of good old-fashioned strong coffee. Not too complex, but a very fine cup.
Ariosa Coffee Blend, right, and Café Femenino,
Arbuckle’s Organic Coffee
$14.15 to 15.95
Of all the companies we reviewed, Dean’s Beans seems to be the most committed to making their coffee as ethically and ecologically responsible as possible. A founding member of Cooperative Coffees, not only is all of their coffee Fair Trade and Organic Certified, but they also demand it to be doubly Fair Trade certified by a third-party inspector. Their reason for this diligence is to pressure larger coffee companies, who are less transparent about their practices, to do the same. In addition, Dean’s Beans is working to become a 100 percent Carbon Neutral business (attained when a company’s net carbon emissions are zero)—which is extremely impressive considering that it imports beans from Africa and South America. All their coffee is shade grown, and kosher certified too (by the Vaad Hakashruth of Springfield, Mass.).
Marrakesh Express: While listed as one of Dean’s dark roasts, this mixture of Ethiopian Harrar and Timor beans produces a moderate French Roast with a medium body, and a taste that, despite this roast’s name, is familiar and homey. It’s not the ultimate French Roast for those who like a dark-roasted coffee, but it’s satisfying from the first sip through the finish. It would work especially well as an after-dinner coffee.
Moka Sumatra: With barely any bitterness, this is an extremely easy-to- drink coffee. There’s an innate sweetness and smoothness. It finishes softly on the palate. A blend of Nicaraguan and Indonesian Sumatran, it’s Dean’s best seller.
Rattlesnake Gutter Brew: An unappealing name, but this was our favorite of the Dean’s Beans selections we tried. A full-bodied cup that combines sweet Peruvian, smoky Guatemalan and sharp Costa Rican French Roast beans, it starts sweetly on the tongue, but then shows its nice, sharp bite.
Uprising! Breakfast Blend: A Vienna roast blending three beans: hearty Costa Rican, bold Nicaraguan and sweet Peruvian. The overall effect is a bit light for those of us who have been trained on Starbucks, but if you like a mild coffee, this might be your cup.
There are many other options on the website, including decafs and the ability to design your own custom blend (and custom-label it for gifts and party favors, too!).
Don Francisco’s is a retail brand of F. Gavina & Sons, a company more than 130 years old that is now one of the largest coffee businesses in the western United States. The Don Francisco’s coffee we tried is 100 percent organic, but not Fair Trade. The company also sells coffee that is not organic.
Organic French Roast: This is a perfect example of a great French Roast. A little smoky, a little tart and fruity, and very masculine tasting, this roast is a definite keeper. 10-Ounce Bag
Organic Mayan Blend: The flavors in this coffee are huge and playful. There is a definite taste of chocolate, and the style is feminine and elegant—but rich and wonderful. 12-Ounce Bag
Organic Mayan Blend, at left, and Organic French Roast, at right.
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Organic & Fair Trade
A large specialty coffee company, Green Mountain carries a wide variety of Free Trade and Certified Organic coffees, though is not a 100 percent organic company. The company co-brands for other food companies, as you can see in the photo at the right with the Wild Oats Organic French Roast, and the Newman’s Own blend we tasted.
Organic House Blend: A nutty and earthy flavor with medium body. A solid, simple coffee that would do very well iced.
Newman’s Own Organic Blend: Stylistically like a thin French Roast, this is a mild coffee with good flavor but not much body. Sales of this coffee help support a variety of educational and charitable non-profit organizations through the Newman’s Own Organics organization.
Organic French Roast: A lighter-body coffee with very smoky flavors and charming aromas of bananas.
Organic Sumatran Reserve: A distinctively musty and earthy taste, not at all what one would expect of a Sumatran, which is typically heavy, almost syrupy, in body and concentrated in flavor. Perhaps warehouse problems with this batch?
Left, French Roast; right, Sumatran Reserve.
Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe: An especially wonderful fragrant and flowery aroma, typical of this bean, with bright flavors. Lively, lemony notes and a light acidity. Not as strong as a French Roast, but it would appeal to those who like French Roast as well as those who like a medium roast. One of our favorites.
Green Mountain Organic Coffee
$7.29 to $8.69
Jim’s is a 100% organic coffee company that has imported directly from small farmers for the past seventeen years. Jim’s was one of the first companies to deal exclusively in Certified Organic coffees. That the coffee isn’t Fair Trade Certified is a political choice Jim’s has made, because they don’t think that Fair Trade helps enough. Jim pays above Fair Trade minimums for all his coffee, and remains committed to the long-term best interests of the farmers and to the organic coffee industry as a whole. In terms of taste, Jim’s coffees were across-the-board the best, including two of our favorites in the entire tasting.
Guatemalan Atitlan: A lot of big flavors here, and a rich, even taste on the palate. A truly great all-around cup of coffee. Definitely one of our favorites!
JoJo’s Java: A light and lemony cup of coffee with high acidity. It reminds us of a Chardonnay, both in taste and as a probable crowd pleaser.
At left, Jo-Jo’s Java; at right, Guatemalan Atitlan.
Blend X a.k.a. Witch’s Brew: Another favorite, Blend X has a clean finish and a spicy aftertaste reminiscent of Mexican food. Going down, the coffee is slightly bitter, and has notes of woodiness in it too. If you like strong roasts, you’ll want to check this out.