There are a few secrets that coffee professionals won't tell you in public: one is that you are imagining it-- your favorite barista is not flirting with you. The other is that not all big-brand coffee tastes objectively bad.
Yes, of course, coffee quality is a spectrum and there's no real accounting for taste--one person's trash is another's treasure--but when it comes to coffee, as with art, it's okay to think, "I don't know much, but I know what I like."
That's why you have expert guidance from... well, me! Because listen, I have tasted truly bad coffee: during my 21 years working in the specialty coffee industry as a barista, educator, journalist, and green (that is, raw or unroasted) coffee salesperson, I've had the opportunity to taste beans so bad I've seen them rejected for sale. (Once you've had a mouthful of coffee tainted with mold or over-ferment, your perspective on good coffee really changes.)
So, when a coffee snob turns up their nose and says Trader Joe's doesn't sell any decent coffee, I want nothing more than to say that they're wrong--and after sampling eight of the grocer's most popular offerings, I can say that they are. Here are my four favorites.
Low Acid French Roast
Dark-roast-lovers, this one's for you: it's smooth and dark-chocolaty with a nicely balanced bittersweet bite that tastes great with or without milk or cream. There's a lot of confusion about what "low acid" means in coffee; most rank between a 4 or 5 on the pH scale, which is less acidic than red wine, Coca-Cola, or orange juice. Yet some fans of this "low acid" TJ's coffee claim that it's easier on their stomachs, and studies have shown that darker-roasted coffees tend to be easier to digest, causing less heartburn and indigestion.
Fair Trade Organic Breakfast Blend
Light, bright, and juicy, this medium-roast coffee is like the caffeinated version of orange juice: the perfect breakfast bevvy. The blend comprises South American coffees and has a gentle citrus note that's balanced by brown-sugar sweetness and a satisfying but not overwhelming medium body. It's on the lighter side of medium, so be conservative with the half-and-half or you might lose the more delicate flavors.
Trader Joe's Joe - Medium Roast
If you like sweet, balanced, easy-drinking all-day coffee, TJ's Medium Roast Joe is a great option: its caramel, milk chocolate, and toasted nut flavors mingle with a creamy-smooth mouthfeel that hits every spot. No wild fruit flavors or heavy roasty undertones here: Just good, straightforward, coffee-flavored coffee to which you'll keep coming back.
Select Harvest Curated
One of TJ's "reserve" coffees, the Select Harvest is an approachable but slightly more adventurous bag of beans that manages to be crowd-pleasing while also offering connoisseurs something more elevated than the generic options. The coffee components will rotate throughout the year as beans come into and go out of season, but the profile tends to be slightly more complex than the other blends and roasts the brand sells. I'm not a coffee snob, per se, but this blend had more dynamic flavors than the rest, by far.
Still think inexpensive, big-store coffee can't taste good? Well, maybe that's the real secret of the Trader Joe's coffee scene: it's all so affordable, you may as well try a couple and see if you like them. They most likely won't break the bank, and you might find your new favorite beans in the process.
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