In this report
September 2010 Ratings
Coffee lingo

Which coffee?

We'll spill the beans

Last reviewed: September 2010
Assortment of coffee and coffee beans
The morning pour
We ground beans for 15 seconds, brewed, and tasted coffee at 150°F.

Looking for a break from your usual coffee? The Kenyan and Sumatran brews we recently tested are not your average supermarket blend. To use wine-speak, Kenyan coffee is generally fruity and brightly acidic; Sumatran coffee has subtle, sweet flavors and aromas such as those of caramel or pastries, combined with a fresh potting-soil scent. (That's actually a good thing.)

After sipping from more than 400 cups of coffee made from whole beans and served piping hot in heated china cups, our expert tasters found one Excellent and two Very Good Kenyan brews. All have complex flavors and are tasty enough without milk or sugar. The top-rated Allegro Kenya Grand Cru is a cup to savor, with a well-balanced flavor that combines slight bitterness with citrus aromas. The Very Good Green Mountain Kenyan Highland Cooperatives and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Kenya AA have a milder aroma and are notably fruity.

All of the Sumatran coffees were rated Good by our pros, who called them "earthy" (think potato skins) and a little fruity. Adding cream or milk and sugar can help mask small flaws such as excessive bitterness.

Green Mountain scored relatively high in both categories; Starbucks, relatively low.

Most of the coffees are sold in coffee houses, health-food stores, or online, rather than in supermarkets; and most come in a 1-pound package.

Kenyan coffee tended to cost more than Sumatran. Overall, prices range from about $11 to $17 per pound, or 24 cents to 67 cents per 6-ounce cup, though the per-cup price varies with the amount of coffee used. (We brew our test coffee and calculate costs based on the manufacturer's directions, making changes only if instructions suggest adjusting "to taste.")

Price didn't predict quality: Two of the lower-rated Kenyan coffees cost a hefty $16.99 per pound.

Bottom line

Taste both types to see whether you like their distinct flavors. Best of all are the top three Kenyan coffees. For a Sumatran brew, consider Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf Sumatra Mandheling, which costs less than most others.