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Joe for less dough: The best inexpensive coffee

March 28, 2012 at 11:31 AM ET

For some consumers, coffee ranks right up there with the mortgage payment and the electric bill as a vital expense. Of course, the surest way to shrink that slice of your budget is to forgo any trips to the coffee shop. It’s the infamous “latte factor,” a term originated (and trademarked) by David Bach and perpetuated by other personal finance gurus to illustrate the big savings that can result from resisting small, repeated purchases.

If you’ve already bought into this idea and started brewing at home, as do 86 percent of Americans (although not necessarily exclusively), according to the National Coffee Association, you can still cut down on your coffee expenditures without sacrificing taste.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable coffee, ranging from about 11 to 22 cents a cup.

  • Folgers Black Silk (starting at $7.64 for a 27.8-ounce canister) is the best-selling brand’s darkest roast. Coffee drinkers posting reviews online note the strong, bold flavor, which may be too much for consumers used to milder brews but stands up well to the addition of milk and sugar. (Where to buy)
  • Eight O’Clock Original (starting at $4.98 for 12 ounces of whole beans) has been around for more than 150 years and continues to appeal to coffee drinkers with its mellow medium roast. It’s also available as ground coffee, but experts recommend grinding whole beans yourself just before brewing for optimal taste. (Where to buy)
  • Café Bustelo (starting at $3.79 for a 10-ounce can) is Cuban-style coffee intended for coladas, café con leche, and other drinks that incorporate milk and sugar. Dark roast drinkers have embraced it as a way to get bold flavor on a budget. (Where to buy)
  • Melitta coffee (starting at $5.99 for an 11-ounce can) is more expensive but requires less coffee per cup, because it’s finely ground for use in the company’s manual, pour-over coffee makers (but also can be made with an automatic-drip machine). Consumers posting reviews find the 100 percent Colombian medium roast a smooth, affordable approximation of a pricier premium blend. (Where to buy)

Americans traditionally favor lighter roasts, but Starbucks and other specialty coffeehouses have popularized darker coffee in recent decades. The longer roasting process yields a richer, more intense brew -- but not necessarily a better one. Plenty of consumers, particularly those who drink their coffee black, prefer the more nuanced flavor and aroma of a light or medium roast.

Both medium roasts on our list are made from 100 percent arabica beans, which are prized for their delicate flavor. They are typically expensive because they come from finicky plants that thrive only in particular conditions. Many cheap blends incorporate robusta beans, which don’t require as much care to cultivate. They also contain more caffeine.

If you’re wondering about the price difference between beans and ground coffee, Daily Finance did the math and found that whole beans are only marginally more expensive -- if you already own a coffee grinder. The question is whether you consider a superior brew worth the extra step of grinding the beans.

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