“Generally speaking, a good pound of coffee should cost $10–20,” says professional coffee buyer Chad Trewick. Roasted beans are categorized on a spectrum, ranging from a light roast like cinnamon to a dark one like French roast. Contrary to what many coffee snobs believe—that dark roasts are all inherently inferior (though Trewick warns that darker roasts can be “a great way to camouflage terrible beans”)—the roast itself has no bearing on quality. It merely indicates the color, flavor, and strength of the resulting brew. In other words, there are good light roasts and good dark roasts. “A skilled roaster will find the sweet spot at which each coffee best presents its flavor,” says Trewick. You can do some experimenting yourself; some machines come with settings, like Krups’ “aroma” mode, to tweak flavor.
Among the mass-market brands, Trewick singles out Allegro as an especially top-notch coffee. The Colorado-based company, he says, uses consistently high quality beans across the whole spectrum of roasts. Though French roast fans, he says, might prefer Peet’s, which has a similar emphasis on principled sourcing combined with decades of perfecting their darker roasts. Whichever roast you prefer, remember to crack the lid in-store and examine the contents yourself. Grade-A beans should shine like lacquered wood, their brown color a by-product of caramelizing sugar, the surface glistening with oils.
The two major regions of mass-market coffee production are Africa and South America. Broadly speaking, the latter’s coffee tends to be richer, with a chocolatey edge, while the former provides a fruity flavor and a tart, acidic kick. If you’re a middle-of-the-road guy, consider Colombian beans, which are widely regarded as the reliable Swiss Army knife of coffees—a decent, consistent brew, regardless of the preparation. Insiders agree that the best Colombian beans hail from the southern state of Nariño. So if you see that listed on the label, snap it up. And remember: Never store your coffee cold, as it allows the porous beans to soak up odors. Instead, buy an airtight jar and store in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.