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Blended coffee may let you down

Coffee lovers seeking a standout cup of blended coffee may have a hard time. None of the 37 caffeinated and decaffeinated varieties Consumer Reports coffee experts recently tested earned an Excellent or Very Good rating.

However, java lovers can still find at least a few Good cups of coffee. Starbucks House Blend and Green Mountain Signature Nantucket Blend Medium Roast perked to the top of the 14 caffeinated blends that earned a Good rating from CR.

At 26 cents and 23 cents per cup respectively, both the Starbucks House Blend and Green Mountain Signature Nantucket Blend Medium Roast offer a good combination of taste and price. Both have an earthy, woody taste, but Starbucks was found to be a fairly bitter to very bitter darker roast, while the Green Mountain has green/sharp flavor.

There's slightly better news for decaf drinkers. Although none of the 13 decaf blends CR tested scored higher than Good, several performed at least as well as their caffeinated brand mates, which is quite a feat, because the decaffeination process can harm flavor. Allegro Organic Decaf Blend Medium Dark, Peet's Decaf House Blend, Caribou Daybreak Coffee Morning Blend Decaf and Bucks County Decaf Breakfast Blend were among the better scoring varieties in Consumer Reports' tests.

>Blends scored lower

Blends, the best-selling type of ground coffee, contain beans from at least two regions or countries. All coffees consist of arabica or robusta beans, or a combination. Arabica beans are more expensive and tend to make better coffee. So perhaps it's not surprising that blended coffees scored lower than several 100 percent Colombian arabica caffeinated brands CR tested in March 2009. CR rated three of those Very Good: Eight O'Clock 100 percent Colombian (a CR Best Buy), Caribou Colombia Timana and Kickapoo Organic Colombia. Ten 100 percent Colombian coffees rated only Good (though none rated Fair), so pedigree is no guarantee of quality.

In rating coffee, CR's experts look for smoothness and complexity, with no off-flavors. The beans should be neither underroasted nor charred, and the brew should have at least moderate aroma and flavor, and subtle top notes. Some sourness and bitterness are desirable, too, to keep the coffee from tasting bland.

>Taste and price

CR's advice: Coffee drinkers should look for the best combination of taste and price. Don't count on familiar brand names or expensive price tags. Some coffees from revered companies such as Maxwell House and Folgers languished near the bottom of CR's ratings.

The package price doesn't accurately reflect the cost per cup because the density of the grind varies and manufacturers recommend using different amounts of coffee for a given amount of water. CR calculated that caffeinated Green Mountain Signature Nantucket Blend Medium Roast ($11.21 a pound) costs 23 cents per cup, while the Archer Farms Breakfast Blend Decaf ($9.05 a pound) costs 34 cents per cup. The average coffee drinker consumes 3.3 cups a day, or about 1,200 cups a year, so those pennies can add up.

For coffee drinkers on a budget looking for a Good cup, CR recommends Melitta Classic Blend Medium Roast (11 cents per cup) and Seattle's Best Breakfast Blend (15 cents per cup). Decaf drinkers on a budget should consider Seattle's Best Blend Decaf Light Roast (15 cents per cup) or Sam's Choice Organic Blend Decaffeinated Medium Roast (18 cents per cup).

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