Is the best Trader Joe’s coffee better then most specialty coffees?

Can the best Trader Joe’s Coffee compete with speciality coffee and, more importantly, should you purchase a can of their beans?

 

Kenneth Davids and editors at Coffee Review did a cool article cupping 38 supermarket coffees. After reading the article, one coffee stood out for being cheap and high scoring. That best budget coffee is the Trader Joe’s Kenya AA coffee, which scored a 92 and tied for second but costs just $7.99 for 13 ounces. (In the grocery store, 13 ounces looks like you are being shortchanged 3 ounces but in the speciality coffee world, where 12 ounce bags are the norm, you are getting a free ounce of beans here.)

 

The Coffee Review scale indicates that an 85-86 coffee is the best whole been coffee you will find in a grocery store, i.e., solid but exceptional. On the other hand, a 91-92 coffee is described as being exceptional or super-exceptional with minor drawbacks.

 

Seeing the Coffee Review endorsement we thought, at under $10 a pound, the Trader Joe’s Kenya AA has to be the budget coffee of 2016! Or is it? We had to find out.

 

In the Coffee Review supermarket coffee ratings, the small number of Kenyan coffees really dominated the field. While this is a small dataset, it matches the high scores for the Kenyan coffees at Counter Culture Coffee based on their own internal cupping in 2014.

 

Here is the Trader Joe’s Kenya AA

$7.99 for 13 ounces or just under $10 a pound. The packaging indicates that the coffee is flushed in nitrogen before closing and the expiration date on the bottom of the can was 12/7/16. Maybe the nitrogen does wonders but 9 months from now seems like an eternity for coffee that has already been roasted and is sitting at room temperature.

Best Trader Joe's Coffee - on the shelfBest Trader Joe's Coffee - Kenya AA - front of can Best Trader Joe's Coffee - Kenya AA - back/bottom of can Best Trader Joe's Coffee - Kenya AA - back text Best Trader Joe's Coffee - Kenya AA - bottom of can

 

How did it taste?

Lots of hype but at the end of the day it came up short of our hopes. We drank it — almost got through the whole mugs — and more than one day in a row — without milk or any additives. That says something positive, I think!

 

Their were some nice undercurrents of a fruity full-bodied Kenyan coffee but the the flavor clarity was lacking and the darker-than-normal (for specialty coffee) roast further masked any flavors with a burnt caramel overlay.

 

We tried drinking the coffee multiple times using a Hario V60 along with the Bonavita variable temperature kettle because we have used this setup for drinking and taking notes on nearly 100 coffees. In an attempt to decrease the bitterness from the darker roast, we decreased the temperature from 207→205→200 and set the EK43 grinder to a coarser grind.

 

One of the bigger taste hurdles for us was that with a medium roast, the Kenya AA was still a reasonable amount darker than every speciality coffee we have purchased in the past year (outside of the Kaldi’s house decaf – no fans here). Doesn’t look too different in the images but it was apparent in the taste.

Best Trader Joe's Coffee - Kenya AA - medium roast - still too dark

Trader Joe’s second from the right. Four speciality coffees that tasted great on the left. Some others for comparison.

Overall it was a decent coffee and a year or two ago we would would have been excited to drink this at home. In many ways this coffee bridges the lower quality supermarket coffee and the speciality coffee world. It can make a decent drink while at the same time hinting at so much more.

 

After making this a few mornings in a row, the first comment I got this morning was, “please tell me this isn’t the Trader Joe’s Coffee again”. This very well could be the best Trader Joe’s coffee but we will not purchase it again (we’ll be back for the orange chicken and New Zealand cheddar though).

 

Headed by Trader Joe’s in DC 14th street area? Stop next door at Wydown. Sure, a bag of coffee at Wydown will likely cost twice that $7.99, but you get a free pour-over with the bag purchase and… great tasting coffee!

Other reviews of the Best Trader Joe’s Coffees

Thrillist on 5/29/2015 published a tasting report finding the Kenya AA coffee the best in the store.

In 2014 Serious Eats published a taste test of Trader Joe’s Coffees but did not review the Kenya AA. Their top pick was a $19.99 Jamaica Blue Mountain. Spending $20 at Trader Joe’s for coffee is like spending $50 for a bottle of wine at the gas station.

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