We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup – Jerry Seinfeld, US comedian and presenter.
Seinfeld makes a great point, coffee is the saviour, and best friend of many. The drink is popular the world over – whether you drag yourself from your bed and can’t move without it, prefer to enjoy a leisurely cup with friends, or sup it during a busy afternoon at work, coffee is a joy! If you fancy a cup of Joe, you could grab a jar of instant, or a packet of ground, but if you’re a fan of real flavour, you can’t beat whole coffee beans and this buyers guide looks to bring you the best coffee beans available to purchase in the UK.
Before we get in to the nitty gritty though, let’s start with a look at what coffee beans are – and be sure to check out more information about the types of coffee beans after our top 11 coffee bean list.
What Are Coffee Beans?
You might be surprised to learn that your beloved coffee beans are not actually beans at all, but seeds.
The seeds are found in small fruits known as coffee cherries, which grow on coffee trees. The little stone fruits contain caffeine and vary in appearance, but most often they are red, yellow or purple.
How To Choose The Best Coffee Beans
With so many coffee beans available it’s little wonder there’s some confusion over on how to choose the best of the bunch. Where coffee beans are concerned fresh is best. Thankfully that doesn’t mean you have to throw away the pack of beans every time you use a scoop. Coffee beans do keep, but not indefinitely! Remember we are talking about a coffee cherry (which is a fruit) and we all know that fruit doesn’t stay ripe forever.
Take a look at the packaging and see if there is a roast date printed on it, this will give you an idea as to how fresh the coffee is. As a rule of thumb coffee beans are at their best at around one to two weeks past their roast date. After two weeks you might start to find the flavour and quality dwindle a little, and after three weeks you will probably see a significant difference.
The Top 11 Coffee Beans
With so many coffee beans available, it’s difficult to choose the best brand to suit your tastes, here’s our comprehensive guide to 11 of the best coffee beans we found in our testing – and we tested a lot,
Spiller & Tait Signature Blend Coffee Beans
As the winner of two awards – The Prestigious Great Taste Award 2017 and Taste of the West Awards 2014 Spiller & Tait Signature Blend has a lot to live up to. Suitably impressed by the accolades, I closed my eyes and took a sip. Did this coffee deliver the high street coffee buzz I craved? I’m pleased to say it did!
Spiller & Tait source their arabica beans from areas known for quality coffee production – India, Ethiopa, Brazi, Kenya and Columbia. I learned that the coffee is roasted in small batches (on a weekly basis) here in the UK which provides optimal freshness.
This care and attention pays off, as the espresso blend is reassuringly fresh, and has a real depth of flavour. Best described as rich and robust, this coffee has a real zing of reviving bitterness, but still managed to feel smooth and velvety on my tongue. The aroma is alluring too, and I would like to have this brewing as friends arrived – very inviting.
We should give a mention to the versatility of this blend too. It’s a medium/high roast and you can drink it morning, noon and night, but for me it really hit the spot at breakfast time. The beans are suitable for all sorts of coffee making methods. Be that via a percolator, siphon, espresso machine or by filter, and if you’re a fan of using a cafetiere, the beans are spot on for that too.
All in all, the Spiller & Tait Signature Blend was one of the best coffee bean blends I tested.
Pelican Rouge Concerto Coffee Blend
A medium organic roast, Pelican Rouge Concerto Coffee Blend is a good value buy, with lots of flavour. A robusta blend (with added arabica) this promised to be a stimulating blend, but would it be too bracing? My worries are unfounded – both the spice and bitterness are delivered with delicacy rather than a knockout punch! I appreciated the mellow tones and enjoyed the silky smoothness.
Pelican Rouge have been in the coffee game for a long time and even have their own roaster in Holland. Beans are sourced from over 20 countries and the company has a commitment to ethical sourcing (currently 50% of beans are from sustainable sources).
It’s heartening to hear that Pelican Rouge has an interest in looking after the planet. The company gets involved with sustainability projects, such as investing in educational programmes for the children of farmers in Guatemala. I like to think of coffee as a pleasure, but it seems to taste even nicer when you know the producer has a conscience!
Solimo Coffee Beans
You might not associate the mighty Amazon brand with coffee production, but these Solimo Coffee Beans are worth a go. Roasted in Belgium, the 100% arabica beans are sugar-free, and offer a balanced and mellow taste.
I like the evenness of the flavour, but there’s a hint of something else too. A distinctive nutty, chocolate taste – stirring things up and adding to the taste of the blend.
Price wise, I have to say, the Solimo coffee beans are good value.
It’s fair to say you won’t be getting an exotic, complex burst of flavour, but you do get a very pleasant, very drinkable, coffee for your money.
I’m a fan of green credentials, and I’m pleased to note that these beans are Rainforest Alliance Certified. Purchase a product with this type of certification and you are not only topping up your coffee stocks, you are also helping to protect the rainforests, and looking after coffee farmers (and their families too).
Starbucks Pike Place Roast Medium Roast
Roasted in Portugal, and sporting the brand of a powerhouse Coffee giant, I had high hopes for Starbucks Pike Place Roast Medium Roast Coffee Beans. After all, the company is arguably the most popular coffeehouse on the planet!
Starbucks has a clear vision they like to press upon their customers. They are quick to point out that every bean should be well-cared for to ensure it possesses aroma, acidity, body and flavour. I can’t vouch for every bean, but the ones I sampled certainly hit the mark.
So, what can I say about this Latin American coffee blend? Well for a start it’s smooth and well-balanced. As a medium-roast it has little kick too, in the delicious form of cocoa, chocolate and toasted nuts. The Starbucks Pike Place Roast proved to be rich and very agreeable, it might not provide an identical coffee shop experience, but it left me with a smile on my face.
As a global company, Starbucks has one eye trained firmly on customer satisfaction, and they realise the importance of sustainability and a commitment to give back to the world. The company has partnered with Conservation International and are committed to 100% Ethical Coffee Sourcing with means you can drink easy and safe in the knowledge that this is a sustainable drink.
Spiller & Tait Super Crema Blend Espresso
If you’re a fan of chocolate, step this way. Spiller & Tait Super Crema Blend Espresso Coffee Beans are creamy and rich. I really enjoyed the dark chocolate flavour, it proved to be satisfyingly intense and was followed by a smoky smack of taste (pepper and cedar to be more precise).
Evocative of southern Italy’s Naples, this blend proved to be rich and strong. The espresso brings together both arabica and robusta beans, sourced from coffee hot-spot Brazil. I have to say, the crema was pretty impressive too. You might think the ‘Guinness-effect’ is overrated, but to me, that frothy addition indicates high-quality, enhances flavour and provides a pleasant aftertaste.
Despite its strength, this medium dark roast is suitable to enjoy at any time, and its versatile too – coffee makers, espresso machines, filters, percolators, Aeropress and siphons can all be used to make yourself a steaming cup of coffee.
We should also give a nod to the freshness of these beans. Spiller & Tate roast the beans here in the UK, and the process involves roasting small batches on a regular basis. This provides not only longer-lasting freshness, but also oodles of aroma and flavour.
These beans are a joy for any coffee enthusiast who also has a penchant for rich chocolate flavours and the crema does not disappoint – a top buy!
Coffee Masters Peruvian Coffee Beans
The 100% arabica beans are ideal for pour over, espresso machines, cafetieres, and making cold brew coffee, and they boast an impressive accolade. The beans were crowned Great Taste Award Winner 2018. The question is, does this product live up to its hype?
Warm and smooth are the first two adjectives that spring to mind, quickly followed by sweet and subtle. I also relished the tang of citrus, which provided welcome zest and body. So that’s a tick in the box for taste.
We should also mention that this product is both organic and fairtrade (fair pay and conditions for those working on coffee farms), so that’s another plus point – so far so good.
The brand itself, Coffee Masters is best described as independent – they supply numerous businesses such as bistros and coffee shops. The coffee is considered high quality and the price competitive. If you’re keen on purchasing tasty, good value coffee from a small, but perfectly formed brand, this one could be for you.
Taylors of Harrogate Rich Italian
Some days are harried and you just need to grab a cup of coffee and go. Other days are for more leisurely pursuits and for the likes of Taylors of Harrogate Rich Italian Coffee Beans. Rather refined, and with an air of elegance, I felt it wise to pull off my slippers and pull on a pair of chic heels for a date with this one.
The rich flavour of the 100% arabica beans flooded through and I felt myself transported to Northern Italy (or rather I wished I could be)! I savoured the dark, rich chocolate and the almond flavour too. I enjoyed this one mid-afternoon, but couldn’t help thinking the coffee would be perfect as an after-dinner finale.
Taylors of Harrogate are recognised as a company that has a passion for tea. A family-run independent company – it’s pleasing to hear that they are also connoisseurs of coffee! Taylors possess their own traditional drum roaster, which they use to great effect and this is a real winner and just had to make our top 11.
Lavazza Qualita Rossa – Arabica and Robusta Medium Roast
Good value and good taste – not always two things that go hand in hand when it comes to coffee beans. It seems there’s plenty to like about Lavazza Qualita Rossa, Arabica and Robusta Medium Roast coffee beans as they have managed to nail both taste and value for money.
Offering a combination of delicacy and intensity, the arabica and robusta beans provided a rich aroma, and the taste didn’t disappoint either. The coffee was smooth and proffered hints of dried fruit and chocolate. Very moorish!
The beans themselves are sourced from Africa and Brazil in the main, and they are ideal for filter coffee machines, a moka pot or a French press. I didn’t add milk to my brew, but I am told (on good authority by a coffee-loving friend) that the blend tastes good with a drop of the white stuff too.
We should give a nod to the packaging on this one too. The product gets bonus points for being made from recyclable material and we like the fact that the bag is resealable too (ensuring your coffee beans stay fresh for longer).
Origeen’s Organic Arabica Whole Beans
This is artisan coffee with a complexity of flavour – delicious and perfect for those with a discerning pallet. You might find these organic coffee beans slightly pricier than some, but if you’re looking for a nice gift for a special friend (or fancy treating yourself) this could be the perfect buy.
This Latin American coffee hamper has a lot to offer: 100% arabica coffee beans, mono origin coffees (Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico) and a blend featuring the three origins too. This one is definitely for coffee lovers, and the packaging looks pretty – but does it deliver on taste?
Origeen use an Italian slow roast method to make sure aroma and flavour really shine through. As the coffee beans included come from different places, you get to enjoy a variety of flavours – some more intense than others. There’s an international buffet of tastes, from Mexico we have hazelnut, toasted bread and malt, Columbia brings spice and dried fruits. Let’s not forget Brazil – showcasing vanilla, pepper and dark chocolate.
Although the flavours differ, the coffees do have a few key things in common. For a start they are all organic. The beans are farmed naturally, and it’s comforting to know that no chemicals are used.
The beans are also versatile and are ideal for cafetieres, automatic machines, espresso machines etc. They are also high-quality and tasty, packaged in resealable bags too for maximum freshness. If you love great artisan coffee then you will love this bean selection.
Consuelo Organic Fairtrade
Made from 100% arabica beans, Consuelo Organic Fairtrade coffee beans offers a balanced flavour and a sophisticated smoothness. The beans are roasted and packed in Italy, but are sourced from Colombia, Brazil, and Ethiopia.
I found the beans to be just right in terms of strength and flavour. The coffee was rich and had plenty of body, and there was no prolonged aftertaste or bitterness. I decided to give this one a try during a busy morning of work calls and I found it very easy on the palate. I picked up a welcome hint of chocolate, hazelnut and vanilla, all of which gave the coffee a palatable taste.
It’s an added bonus that these beans are organic, and ethically sourced. Fair trade ensures farmers in the Southern Hemisphere are supported, by being paid a fair price for growing coffee. If I can enjoy a good cup of coffee and feel I am doing something worthwhile at the same time, then even better!
Union Hand Roasted Coffee Revelation Espresso Coffee Beans
As the name suggests, these beans are roasted by hand. The espresso beans are processed in small batches to assure they receive the attention they deserve.
This coffee certainly stands out for its personal touch. The bags display the date of the roast and even the name of the person who roasted your coffee! In fact, the ‘roastmasters’ are so good, they have won the award of ‘Best European Speciality Roaster,’ no less than three times.
Flavour wise this hits the mark too. Union bill this as their signature coffee, stating that Revelation is spot on for espresso. I certainly appreciated the depth and boldness. I also relished the caramel edge and tang of berries and citrus.
Union cares about how beans are sourced too. The company obtains beans direct from smallholders, paying an amount that’s sustainable and fair. But you don’t have to take my word for that, in 2017 Union achieved the Queen’s Award for their sustainable trading model making this one of the best tasting and most ethical coffee beans you can buy.
Still not sure which coffee beans to try? Read on for more tips on choosing the best beans as well as our handy guide explaining the subtle differences between the different types of coffee bean.
Coffee Beans Explained
There are more than 100 species of coffee bean, but by far the two most popular are arabica and robusta, these are followed by liberica and excelsa. Let’s take a closer look at what each has to offer:
The popular North American arabica bean is generally farmed in land that’s high above sea level, where rainfall is plentiful. With its abundant rainforests, Brazil is a prime spot for the arabica bean, and the country exports huge amounts every year.
The farmers work hard to ensure the coffee crops grow well. They tend to their plants with care and attention, constantly pruning and trying to ward off disease. Due to the delicate nature of the plants, arabica beans can be pricy, but coffee lovers seem addicted to the delicate, sweet flavour – regardless of the cost!
Coffee connoisseurs typically prefer to sip their arabica blends without milk or creamer – they don’t like to add anything that will water down the taste of their coffee. However, it’s your coffee – drink it however you choose!
Robusta beans are also popular, especially in Europe and Africa. Celebrated for its strength and intensity, the robusta bean packs a real caffeine punch. Farmers like to grow the robusta species – the plants are hardy and more robust than the arabica variety. They can survive and thrive in a variety of climates, and as they encompass lots of caffeine, the plants naturally repel pesky insects and disease.
Robusta beans are an acquired taste, with a potency that’s not for everyone. The beans are sometimes used to complement darker roasts and mixed with more refined arabica beans. However, high-quality robusta beans do hold their own in shops and stores, particularly when they are produced in small batches and are single origin.
Liberica beans are less common and only grown in certain climates. With limited growing opportunities, farmers have turned their attention to other species. That said, liberica beans are considered tasty, with a pleasingly fruity and floral aroma and an earthy taste.
Excelsa coffee beans are also part of the liberica family, but the plants are very rare. They are typically grown in Southeast Asia and make up a very small percentage of global coffee production. The beans have plenty of flavour, likened to light and dark roasts and described by coffee lovers as biting and tangy.
Coffee Beans to Make You Smile
We can talk about the characteristics of single origin, discuss the differences between arabica and robusta and consider the merits of favouring coffee with hints of chocolate or spice. However, the key element of choosing your favourite coffee beans is to find a drink you enjoy.
Arabica and robusta are widely available, and both have notable qualities (and plenty of flavour). Finding great tasting beans might involve an element of research, and a degree of trial and error, but we can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon than to sip your way through a variety of coffee blends! Enjoy!