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 eight of our top picks for the best ground coffee this year.
How to Choose the Best Ground Coffee
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’ll tell you that in order to get the best flavor, it’s important to grind your beans right before you brew your coffee. 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, meaning it will go stale more quickly. (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 the best coffee grinders, as opposed to the cheap blade grinders many homebrewers use. 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, particularly in blends. (3).
A little touch of robusta can really round out a fine blend, adding to its quality, its complexity, and its depth.
Some ground coffees feature robusta-arabica blends, with the fruity and acidic arabicas balanced by the rich and dark robustas. If you’re looking for a more bitter tasting coffee or a higher caffeine fix, you should look for a coffee that brings robusta beans into the blend.
Look for a grind size to match the brewer you plan to use. 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. Our handy chart below has everything you need.
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. As you can see, how your ground coffee is roasted will have a huge effect on how you can expect it to taste.
The 8 Best Ground Coffee Brands in 2020
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.
1. Kauai Coffee Medium Roast – Best Overall
- Certifications: Kosher, GMO-Free
- Grind: Medium
- Good for: Filter coffee
Kauai Coffee’s signature medium roast is our overall favorite 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. Kauai Coffee definitely offers one of the best tasting ground coffee there is.
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.
3. Eight O’Clock Coffee, The Original – Best Ground Coffee for Your Budget
- Certifications: Kosher, Rainforest Alliance
- Grind: Medium
- Good for: Filter coffee
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.
4. Death Wish – Strongest Flavor
- Certifications: Organic, Fair Trade, Kosher
- Grind: Medium
- Good for: Filter coffee
Death Wish bills itself as the strongest coffee in the world, making it a no-brainer as our pick for the strongest flavored ground coffee beans. Death Wish Coffee Co. is relatively new on the scene, founded in 2012 when owner Mike Brown couldn’t find a strong enough commercial coffee to satisfy his needs. As it turned out, many others were facing the same problem and have come to love Death Wish.
The intense flavor and solid caffeine kick come from a unique blend of dark roasted arabica and robusta beans from India and Peru.
It features a bold, toasty flavor with subtle notes of cherry and chocolate, a rich mouthfeel, and low acidity. The inclusion of robusta beans not only deepens the flavor but boosts the caffeine in this coffee to twice that of an average cup.
5. Peak Performance High Altitude Organic – Best Single Origin
Roast: Medium or Dark
- Certifications: Organic, Fair Trade, Kosher, GMO-Free
- Grind: Medium or Medium-Coarse for Cold Brew
- Good for: Filter coffee or French Press
Peak Performance promotes itself as being the coffee for high-performance individuals. While this statement might be hyperbole, their single-origin (4), 100% arabica beans, grown organically at altitude in the highlands of Guatemala, make for a fine brew. High altitude beans grow slowly, allowing more time for the development of complex flavors and acidity (5). The result is smooth and clean-tasting, without a trace of bitterness. They’re so confident you’ll enjoy it that they offer a 100% money-back guarantee.
As an added benefit, Peak Performance has a charitable side, donating a portion of its proceeds to provide vitamins to children suffering from malnutrition. This is in concert with their commitment to pesticide- and herbicide-free farming and support of the Fair Trade network.
Black Rifle Coffee Company’s Just Black is their signature blend, and it was created, as the name suggests, to be drunk black. This stands as a testament to the quality of their brew, which needs no additives to be delicious.
Colombian supremo beans are blended with others sourced from across Central America to yield coffee with cocoa and vanilla aromas and a smooth, buttery finish. The beans are roasted in small batches to ensure your bag is as fresh as possible.
Black Rifle was founded in 2014 by Evan Hafer, a U.S. military veteran, to combine his dual passions of making great coffee and employing veterans in need, and he has succeeded on both fronts. He spent nearly a decade researching coffee before opening up to rave reviews, and the company features a 50% hire ratio for vets.
7. Lavazza Crema e Gusto – Best Ground Coffee for Espresso
- Certifications: Kosher, Rainforest Alliance
- Grind: Fine
- Good for: Espresso machine, Moka Pot
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).
Despite what the coffee snobs might insist, there are both good reasons to buy ground coffee and great ground coffees to buy — eight of which can be found in this list.
Our overall top pick is the Kauai Coffee Medium Roast. Cultivated in Hawaii’s rich volcanic soils, the bright floral aromas and smooth finish are sure to satisfy your taste buds, while their sustainable farming practices soothe your conscience.
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.
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. You can learn more about fair trade coffee here.
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. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/06/arabica-vs-robusta-no-contest/19780/
- (2016, September 13). Why is Robusta such a dirty word? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.greenbeanroasters.com/robusta-coffee-beans/
- Pipunic, A., Schrock, T. (2015, September 14). Everything You Need To Know About Single Origin Coffees. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2015/09/everything-you-need-to-know-about-single-origin-coffees/
- Daggett, Z. (2015, June 29). How Does Altitude Affect Coffee And Its Taste In The Cup? Retrieved From https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2015/06/how-does-elevation-affect-coffee-and-its-taste-in-the-cup/
- The 2020 World’s Most Ethical Companies Honorees List. (2020). Retrieved From https://www.worldsmostethicalcompanies.com/honorees/
- Newton, T. (2018, January 22). Coffee Wars: Should You Drink Instant or Whole Bean? Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/01/coffee-wars-buy-instant-whole-bean/