Trader Joe’s Coffees, Ranked by Coffee Snobs

Out of the 30 coffees we tried from Trader Joe's, which is the best? We drank them all to find out.

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Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Whether you think Trader Joe's is a quirky wonderland of delicious snack foods or the seventh circle of hell, you have to respect the staggering amount of coffee they're peddling. We counted 30 varieties on a trip, which made us wonder which were drinkable and which were nothing more than gussied up Folgers in goofy, colorful tins. There are a lot of options. But which belongs in your coffee maker?

To determine the best of the best, we rounded up a small klatch of baristas in Portland, Oregon and hosted a proper cupping based on guidelines we've learned from the fine roasters over at Coava. We acquired irregular heartbeats and weird cravings for cheap cigarettes in the process, but we're confident we did the good work of sorting the gold from the chaff so you'll never have to suffer through another burnt, flavorless cup of grocery store coffee again. Without further ado, here's every variety of Trader Joe's coffee, ranked from worst to best.

Editor's note: Trader Joe's changes its offerings seemingly every five minutes. If you don't see your preferred beans, it's likely they weren't on offer at the time of this experiment.

bay blend dark roast coffee trader joe's
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30. Bay Blend

You're better off steeping some pennies in a cup of hot water than brewing a cup of this "ultra dark roast." It is simultaneously deeply metallic while also being watery. Skip this one.

fair trade guatemalan coffee organic trader joe's roast
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29. Fair Trade Organic Guatemalan

This bitter "extra dark" roast is so organic has overwhelming notes of bug spray, which isn't typically an organic thing to have. Also you enjoy the aroma of DEET, we'd suggest skipping this cannister.

joe's dark coffee roast grocery store ranking
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28. Joe's Dark

We haven't heard much from Trader Joe's founder Joe Coulombe since his retirement from the company in 1988. The red wine-and-cigarette ash flavor of his signature dark roast leads us to assume he's since locked himself in a study somewhere, chain-smoking Dorals and downing bottles of Two Buck Chuck.

joe coffee trader joe's
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27. Joe

Unlike its darker counterpart, Joe's signature medium roast allows more subtle notes of burnt coffee and bum wine to join the party. And what a party it is!

organic french roast trader joe's coffee
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26. Organic Fair Trade French Roast

The initial aroma had strong notes of bowling alley couch, while the actual flavor had an acrid tang that goes down just right when you chase it with a drag from a loosely rolled American Spirit.

french roast coffee trader joe's
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25. French Roast

A lifetime supply of this no-bullshit French roast, which is as bitter and sassy as its namesake, would be a great gift for the estranged aunt of yours who calls a bottle of Diet Pepsi, a Virginia Slim, and a fistful of lottery tickets "breakfast."

tarrazu costa rica rican coffee trader joe's medium roast
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24. Costa Rica Tarrazu

The experts in our tasting klatch were able to find a slight trace of nuttiness to the finish of this mostly dull cup of Costa Rican coffee, but a lingering taste of copper quickly ruined whatever joy was to be found in this cup. But there is at least some joy.

shade grown espresso blend coffee ground trader joe's ranking
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23. Shade Grown

The bird-friendly growing method of this espresso blend is admirable, but the burnt-toast finish it left in our mouth was too bitter for comfort.

house blend coffee
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22. House Blend Colombia & Sumatra

Anyone who's spent hours nervously chugging coffee in the waiting room of an auto-repair shop will feel right at home with this understated dark roast, which is defined by a pleasant flavor void with subtle enough burnt bottom-of-the-pot taste to remind you you're actually drinking coffee.

french vanilla coffee trader joe's
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21. French Vanilla

The overwhelming vanilla scent of this roast's aroma was enjoyable in small doses, but the sour chemical finish tasted more like cheap lotion you can buy at a drug store. Trader Joe's flavored coffee game is respectable, but you can definitely do a lot better than this.

zambia aa small lot coffee
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20. Zambia AA Small Lot

Trader Joe's approach of over-roasting beans in hopes of evoking heady flavors—in this case it's a "heavy body with a sweet, round finish"—has never been more apparent than it is with Zambia AA. Like a regal Victorian home ruined by an unforgivable paint job, we know there's a good bean hiding under this roast's underwhelming notes of toasted dust and sour candy.

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19. Organic FT Café Pajaro Blend

Whereas the Zambia was sullied by a heavy hand with the roasting, the smoky finish and heavy body of Café Pajaro tasted like Trader Joe's finally figuring out how to make the aggressive boldness of their darker roasts work for the greater good of the bean.

breakfast blend organic fair trade coffee
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18. Organic Fair Trade Breakfast Blend

An incredibly average brew in the grand scheme of things, but the light notes of caramelized sugar and campfire dirt that lingered on the tongue were nice deviations from the tastes of ash and oil we experienced with the bottom of the Trader Joe's proverbial barrel.

bolivian blend coffee organic fair trade bolivia trader joe's tjoes
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17. Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend

Notes of roasted cauliflower and wood-fired pizza aren't exactly what one looks for in a coffee, but the mysteriously savory finish of this otherwise dull medium roast turned out to be one of the most unexpected delights in our entire tasting. It's not a roast we'd recommend for breakfast, but the fact that it would pair wonderfully with cold pizza may be exactly the info a hungover college student would need to invest in a canister of this.

italian roast coffee
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16. Italian Roast

Our panel unanimously agreed this one tasted like menthol cigarettes, yet no one was the least bit ashamed of actually enjoying it.

ethiopian fair trade organic shade grown coffee medium dark roast trader joe's
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15. Organic Fair Trade Shade Grown Ethiopian

Synthetic floral flavors and a ham-like finish are strange bedfellows in a bean grown organically in one of the world's most celebrated regions, and it's even stranger that we found this one oddly satisfying after a few sips.

sumatra medium dark roast coffee organic trader joe's
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14. Organic Fair Trade Sumatra

Anyone who loves the aroma of leather will feel right at home with this Sumatran bean, which was one of the few non-flavored beans on the list that actually maintained tasting notes common to its region rather than, say, the plastic-bag-full-of-ham flavors in the previous entry.

bourbon barrel aged coffee
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13. Bourbon Barrel Aged

As an avid lover of bourbon barrel-aged beers, I've tasted more than enough cloyingly sweet clunkers to make wonder whether Trader Joe's could pull this one off. Balance is key when you're throwing a lot of flavors at a coffee drinker's palette, and thankfully the subtle notes of boozy sweetness and a muted sourness to the finish do more good than harm for a bean we assume was destined to become French vanilla in another lifetime.

wake up blend medium roast smooth coffee trader joe's
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12. Organic Fair Trade Wake Up Blend

Joe is back with the "coffee-flavored coffee," this time in the form of a bold cup that may as well be a scratch and sniff advertisement for the factory in which it was roasted. There's nothing smooth about this one, but sometimes a hot, wet slap in the face is exactly what you need in the morning.

kona coffee hawaii trader joe's
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11. 100% Kona

Anyone who knows anything about this rare Hawaiian bean knows that if you're paying less than $30 per pound, it's probably bullshit—either it's been stepped on and blended with cheaper beans, sourced from the dregs of this robust region, or it's just plain old.

That being said, TJ's offering is without a doubt the best grocery store variety of Kona, with a smooth, low acidity up front and a very faint tang on the finish that's just enough of a tease to trick your brain into thinking it's the real thing. Add an ugly hibiscus print shirt and the dulcet tones of dormcore superstar Jack Johnson to the mix and it'll be almost like you never left the Big Island after your honeymoon was over!

low acid french roast coffee blend trader joes
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10. Low Acid French Roast

A noticeable theme among TJ's dark roasts is their uncanny resemblance to cigarettes, but even those terrible cancer sticks have a way of worming some amount of flavor that triggers a pleasure center or two into your psyche. The low acid French roast tasted more like a re-lit spliff than a drag off a smoke, which is a compliment of the highest order that brought back fond memories of learning how to hand-roll your own from a surly kid while studying abroad in France.

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9. New Mexico Piñon Coffee

Sort of like the chicory coffee of New Orleans, the Land of Enchantment has quietly upped its coffee game by spiking it with ground up piñon nuts. The result is a delicate balance of sweet and buttery notes that offers a fantastic flavored alternative to more mainstream flavors like hazelnut or Irish cream. New Mexico itself is tragically underrated as far as states go, but until you muster the courage for that sojourn to a place locals half-jokingly refer to as "The Land of Entrapment," perhaps a cup of their finest export aside from cheap sarapes and Hatch chiles will convince you it's worth your while.

select harvest coffee
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8. Select Harvest

No real purist would agree to the slog of tasting all these coffees, but even the least pretentious members of our panel had a hard time wondering why Trader Joe's would blend two beans from such distinct growing regions into one cup.

Regardless, it resulted in a taste we could only describe as "upgraded blandness," which consisted of an ultra-smooth flavor up front that lingered ever so slightly with notes of molasses and an enjoyable metallic tingle.

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7. Organic Fair Trade Five Country Espresso Blend

Relative to the staggering number of aggressively bad offerings found in the Trader Joe's portfolio by now, this toasty and nutty blend got high marks for being soft, simple, and inoffensive. If you've ever secretly longed for the unfussy pleasure of in-flight coffee on a cross-country JetBlue flight, a trip to Trader Joe's seems to be the most inexpensive and stress-free way to bring it home with you.

gingerbread coffee cinnamon clove ginger trader joe's
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6. Gingerbread

Gingerbread gets a bad rap due to the obnoxious status of its cousin, pumpkin spice, but we're here to tell you that not all seasonal flavors are created equal. Rather than gussy up a bland, meaningless flavor (seriously, do you even know what pumpkin tastes like by itself?) with sugar, spice, and everything not nice, Gingerbread creates a vibrant and tangy cup of holiday goodness that's never too sweet to turn away even the most staunch of anti-flavored-coffee crusaders.

colombia supremo coffee medium roast colombian trader joe's
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5. Colombia Supremo

From its aroma down to its finish, Colombia Supremo stood out as the first cup in our tasting that had a pure, unfettered essence that stood in defiance of Joe's obsession with roasting the smithereens out of their beans. This one could easily go toe-to-toe with more expensive offerings from heavyweights like Stumptown and Blue Bottle, although the lack of freshness was a slight knock that kept the hints of chocolate and fruity acidity from leaping out of the cup like they normally would at twice the price.

lys kaffe coffee
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4. Lys Kaffe

From the Wes Anderson-inspired packaging, right down to the thin and viscous first sip, Trader Joe's crack at a Norwegian light roast is by far the quirkiest, most uncharacteristic coffee in the lineup. Considering their love of dark roasts, it's slightly ironic the packaging itself alludes to how the roast "brings out the nuances of the brew," which is cause for concern that Joe has something to hide. As advertised, the beans' origins of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania provide gentle suggestions of wine and berries, both of which may have been lost if the roaster had left these cooking for even a small amount longer. Aside from looking cool on your shelf, this is a fantastic choice for daily consumption that won't reprogram your tongue into thinking that light coffee is weak and useless.

wintry blend coffee spices
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3. Wintry Blend

If you're a Trader Joe's shopper who's still on the fence about flavored coffee, it's time to take inventory of your cart and have a long, hard look at your life. You claim to be too good for this iconic, once-a-year offering dusted with peppermint and spices, yet you're buying enough peanut butter-filled pretzels and General Tso's chicken to survive at least three concurrent Snowpocalypses? Please. The jig is up, my friend. Just succumb to the lowbrow garbage world of flavored coffee—it's much more fun, and the cool, smooth, semi-sweet finish of Trader Joe's Wintry Blend is the perfect gateway drug. Sooner or later you'll be experimenting with peppermint mocha flavored creamer and the divine alchemy of mixing hot chocolate with coffee, but fear not: Wintry Blend moves fast, and just as soon as you're ready to hook it to your veins directly, it'll all be gone.

honduras coffee marcala region organic fair trade
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2. Organic Fair Trade Honduras

It was an absolute delight to find a central American coffee that had all of its bright, crisp, and nutty characteristics intact after worming its way through the TJ's supply chain. This bean was a tad darker than the super-light offerings we're used to from boutique roasters in the Pacific Northwest, but the beans still had that lightly buttery aroma that comes to life when you send beans from Coava or Upper Left through the grinder. This is a well-rounded cup that's mellow through and through, making it a fantastic pick for a daily drinker that'll keep the caffeine shakes at bay every morning.

kenya aa coffee medium roast
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1. Kenya AA

Some of the best beans in the world are sourced from the plateaus around Mount Kenya, but it takes a deft touch with the roaster to keep the rich flavors of cocoa, wine, and citrus that make them such a hot commodity intact. Can Joe be trusted to not torch them into a sad, smoky memory? After several cups of Kenya AA, one of the highest grades of the stuff on the market, we can say with certainty that he can.

With a bold, chocolatey body and a light tingle of citrus and red wine that coats the tongue ever so slightly, it's safe to say this is the most pure-to-form coffee you'll be able to find anywhere amongst the colorfully packaged wares of Trader Joe's. After spending some time with this excellent bean, the effort expended in grading the others felt was mentally relegated to learning the truth about The Matrix: we can go back to being happy and dumb with an inferior product, but now that we know this exists, why would we? We'll leave you now with that same knowledge of a choice so monumental you never expected it to go down in the aisle of your quirky neighborhood grocer: Do you choose the cheap and burnt beans of comfort, or the rare and classy beans that will challenge everything you thought you knew about grocery store coffee?

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Pete Cottell is a hardened coffee industry veteran who moved to Portland purely because they don't believe in dark roasts here. Follow his screeds against chain-smoking yokels who prefer to have the flavor torched out of their coffee @VanifestDestiny.