Cheap Beans, Rich Flavor.
June 1, 2008 6:29 PM   Subscribe

What's a good whole bean coffee I can buy in bulk online on a college student budget?

I'm a college student with limited money. However, I do like good coffee and keep a coffee grinder and an aeropress in my dorm. What brands should I go for? I'm a big fan of pacific coffees and blends of them. I would say the two best varieties that I've sampled would be Dean's Beans Moka Summatra and the Summatra blend from Starbucks. Starbucks is widely available, but it is, of course, really expensive, about $11 a bag here, for a bag that isn't even a whole lb. Dean's Beans is more reasonably priced, but the shipping makes small amounts not worth paying for if I'm not also ordering something else, which I only do around other coffee-lover's birthdays.

Is there any supermarket brand or internet brand that ship affordably? I'd like to be able to pay about $4-6 a lb after shipping, in quantities that vary from 2-5 lbs. I know ordering that much at once risks the coffee going stale, but I can deal with slightly stale coffee on my budget. Fair trade, organic, and shade grown would be nice touches, but I know it's a bit much to ask on my budget.

Also, my school is near Trenton, NJ. I'm a bit scared to go into the city, but it's worth it if there's a cheap wholesaler of beans in there.
posted by mccarty.tim to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Dunkin' Donuts does online order and is $32.99 before shipping, or $25.39 if you do their subscription service, for 5 pounds of whole beans. Plus, since you're in the Northeast-ish, you can just go try it at the local Dunkie's before you commit.

(I don't drink coffee any more, but I never minded Dunkin' Donuts coffee when I did. As for all the fancy shade-grown/ fair-trade/ etc., I can't really speak to that.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:42 PM on June 1, 2008

Best answer: The coffee snobs here will laugh, but Eight O'Clock 100% Columbian whole bean is a smooth, well balanced cup of coffee, that's affordable, and very consistent. It's also broadly distributed in retail grocery stores throughout the U.S., can be ordered online, and comes in 12 and 36 oz vacuum bags.
posted by paulsc at 6:42 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Eight O'Clock. Cook's Illustrated's tests on Eight O'Clock had it outperforming many fancier brands, in both the taste test and the more objective "number of icky-tasting light unroasted beans per bag" (there's a technical term for these, but I can't remember what).
posted by Dr.Enormous at 6:47 PM on June 1, 2008

Best answer: Sweet Maria's sells most of its green beans for $5-6/lb. Consider that your price floor. If you can find somewhere to do your own roasting with a $15 eBay popcorn popper -- there will be smoke -- then you can buy in bulk.

If not -- and dorms don't really lend themselves to home roasting -- Porto Rico's weekly sales bring the price close to your range, though their Sumatra coffees are $8/lb.
posted by holgate at 6:51 PM on June 1, 2008

If you have a membership at Costco, Sams, or other big warehouse place, you should check their Web site. Their prices are low and they sell in big quantity. I know Costco has their own brand which runs about $12 for a 3 pound bag. They have a Web site, so I'd guess you could buy it online.
posted by amfea at 6:59 PM on June 1, 2008

Response by poster: They're called quakers, the beans that don't roast right and taste bitter. I'll have to try 8 O'Clock, even though based only on price and packaging, I always assumed they were on the same rung as Folgers and Maxwell House in terms of quality.

I'd love to get into home roasting, and that sounds like a great price, but I don't think that'd go down well with housing. I guess I could do it outside if I could find an outlet, or out a window. I don't want to incriminate anyone I know, but I could try roasting it at home and then bringing in a big batch to school, then stopping back at the house every few weeks. Thanks for the suggestions!
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:01 PM on June 1, 2008

I liked eight o clock just fine. If you want a little step up, try papa nicolas. I think that you're supposed to pick out the icky white beans.

You might want to reconsider the bulk. The stuff does go bad after a while. Depends on how fast you're using it; you'll have to try it and see. Another point of experimentation is the exact quantity of bean that you must have to make the quantity of coffee that you want at the strength you like. Finding this number out can save you big.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:22 PM on June 1, 2008

Deans Beans is a little more than you wanted to spend, but I think they do a great job. I'm a happy online customer, buying 5lbs. of their espresso roast fairly often. It seems like you've already had some of their stuff too!
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 7:51 PM on June 1, 2008


Starbucks employees get a free pound of coffee a week. Some of them stock up and sell it on ebay (which is against the rules. I happen to work there, and do not do this, for any Starbucks loss reduction folks reading this). Or it could be that some of these beans were acquired legitimately. Anyway. You're doing nothing wrong buying them.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 8:28 PM on June 1, 2008

Yeah, you wouldn't want to roast with a hot air popper indoors -- there's a lot of chaff and enough oily smoke to cause a stink. I run an extension cord out the back door myself -- if you can make a similar arrangement work, then roasting your own is a great way to get really good coffee dirt cheap. And all of this reminds me that I have to go roast some for tomorrow...
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:19 PM on June 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding (thirding?) the roast your own advice. You're just not gonna find good quality, roasted Indonesian coffee in your price range without a) buying in serious bulk, in which case the coffee will stale before you brew it, or b) buying crap coffee. (While Consumer Reports may have good advice on vacuum cleaners and other things that they can measure objectively, they aren't very good arbiters of taste and quality when it comes to things like coffee.)

By buying 10 or more pounds at a time from, say, Sweet Marias, or The Coffee Project, you can get your green coffee price down to about $4.00/lb (if you like Sumatra, consider Sulawesi, Papua New Guinea, Bali, Java and Timor as alternatives) and save on shipping with a USPS flat rate box. Then you're just a decent popcorn roaster away from exploring the world of fresh-roasted coffee. [Hit your local thrift store, and look for poppers that create an air current that swirls the beans rather than trying to blow them straight up.]

Sure you can roast indoors... just vent the smoke and chaff *outdoors*. It's amazing what you can do with flexible dryer venting and duct-tape.

You never know... by roasting your own coffee a few ounces at a time, you may just kindle a love for roasting that leads you to become a mover and shaker in the specialty coffee industry. Trust me... it wouldn't be the first time it's happened. ;)
posted by deCadmus at 9:54 PM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

The beans sold at the Starbucks (and at Barnes and Noble Cafe) are a whole pound for about the same price, if I'm not mistaken, while the bags you buy at the grocery store are smaller (12oz?).
posted by Cricket at 11:15 PM on June 1, 2008

I like getting coffee from Amazon. That bag of organic, free trade Ethiopian coffee is $40 for 5lbs, has free shipping and is 15% less with a "subscription" (comes to $6.87/lbs). It stays fresh in a freezer, taste great and doesn't break my grad student budget.
posted by mostly_impossible at 11:33 PM on June 1, 2008

I think you should stick with Dean's beans. Organic and fair trade are not just a nice touch, but very important. The shipping is not that much, and you like one of their coffees. Buy larger amounts, I don't think coffee goes stale that fast.
posted by starfish at 6:12 AM on June 2, 2008

If you have a membership at Costco...

...avoid their very shiny displays of Mayorga coffee, which is awful.

I'm a fan of Peet's. Their coffees is roasted to order and it appears their Pacific-area beans hover around $12-13 per pound, if that's in your affordable range.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:09 AM on June 2, 2008

Response by poster: Well, I ordered a popcorn popper on ebay which comes with a sample of green coffee for a mere $22 with shipping. Cheap enough to give it a try. Thanks for your tips everyone! And yes, when I can afford it, I try to get fair trade and organic.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:04 AM on June 2, 2008

Target sells coffee for much cheaper than supermarkets, in my estimation; you can get whole bean Starbucks roasts for between $6 - $10 / 12 oz (some are more expensive than others; Sumatra might be on the higher end, but Gold Coast is on the cheaper side). When coffee goes on sale there, it's really affordable.

But your closest Targets are in Princeton and Langhorne, I have no idea how convenient that is.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:16 PM on June 2, 2008

Good for you on the popper purchase! Let us know how it works out, will ya?
posted by deCadmus at 11:07 PM on June 2, 2008

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