The cheapest coffees—are they any good?

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It’s no secret. I love good coffee. The higher the quality, the better. At the same time, however, I have no time for coffee elitism—you know, the way some people frown at the idea of drinking the same stuff as the hoi polloi. I personally want to learn as much about coffee as I possibly can, whether you’re talking about top quality beans hand roasted by the local master, or the mass produced blends you can find in bulk on supermarket shelves.

So, I wanted to try this: get some of the cheapest coffee beans you can possibly find, and see what they are about. The most inexpensive ones I found were the following three products from Lidl, the German supermarket chain:

Bellarom Bio Organic 100% Arabica

Bellarom Crema

Italiamo Caffè Tradizionale 100% Arabica

All of these blends are really cheap. When I got them, the Italiamo was the most expensive at around 6 euros/kilogram, and the Crema went for 4 e/kg (!). Usually the prices seem to be a little bit higher, but even then you can get these blends for less than 10 e/kg. In 2019 Finland, that’s really cheap.

Also, all of these blends are straight Arabicas, roasted medium (around 3–4/10 in my estimation). There is no further description on any of the bags.

So what were these three blends like? Let’s look at them, one by one.

Bellarom Bio Organic 100% Arabica

As I ground this, I got a sharp and sweet, marzipan-like smell that made me think of many Paulig blends. After a minute or two, however, the sharp smell dissipated a bit, and I was left with a very basic Arabica aroma.

The bouquet was very similar. It was sweet, with a tiny hint of vanilla in the background. Pleasant enough, but nothing stunning. There were no obvious nuances to speak of, just your regular grocery store Arabica smell.

The blend tasted a lot drier than expected, somewhat bitter and acidic even. Nothing to write home about, really.

While I understand that taste is highly subjective, I don’t see why anyone would want to buy Bio Organic for anything other than the low price. In case you just want to ”get a cup of coffee” in the morning but don’t really care about what it tastes like, this could probably work for you. Is it bad? Not really. It’s just not very delicious, either. I don’t think I’ll buy it again.

Bellarom Crema

In the bag Crema smelled almost exactly like Bio Organic, with the Paulig-ish Arabica smell, only a little ”higher” or sharper. As I ground the beans, the basic aroma stayed the same, but I also got a faint hint of something that could be described as ”high” grassiness, with a citrusy feel. Sounds strange, perhaps, but it was quite pleasant, actually. A lot more interesting than Bio Organic.

In the cup, the aroma was sweet, with hints of vanilla and something almost floral here and there.

The mouthfeel was not particularly full, but rather kind of hollow, yet a little rough around the edges. After a couple of seconds, though, the taste came together nicely, and I got this familiar straight Arabica taste, with a nice vanilla-like sweetness.

While Crema is not a top quality coffee blend, I found it quite enjoyable for what it is. If this had been a blindfold test, I would never had imagined that this cost 4 e/kg. Would I buy it again? Maybe not. But if Crema was all I had, I could certainly live with it.

Italiamo Caffè Tradizionale 100% Arabica

This blend is made for Lidl in Italy. While the company doesn’t offer any further information about its origin, you can easily tell Caffè Tradizionale is different than the blends under the Bellarom brand name.

As you open the bag, you are greeted by the familiar aroma of an Italian espresso blend: dark, bitter chocolate, some almonds, even an amaretto-like aroma in the background. Very nice.

The bouquet feels pretty much the same. Only the dark chocolate has turned into milk chocolate by now.

The taste is much more uniform than in Crema, yet not super full by any means. Caffè Tradizionale is very much a medium blend, both in terms of body and strength. It’s not too sweet, but not too bitter either. You get a nice flavor of milk chocolate and almonds.

Caffè Tradizionale does exactly what you expect from it. It may not be top-notch artesan coffee, but a perfectly enjoyable Italian medium espresso, right up there with your Lavazzas of Segafredos. Only the price is cheaper.

The conclusion?

So, what do you make of all this? Here’s what I think: Even if you prefer really good coffee, hand blended and roasted by your local master, you should not underestimate the cheaper blends you can find in a supermarket. Granted, some of them are not very good, but others can be worth every cent.

Italiamo Caffè Tradizionale 100% Arabica