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Organic Coffee, Dark Roast Coffee, Fair Trade Coffee Taste Test

If you look at a selection of coffee beans, it's easy to spot the dark roasts. They're darker, of course, and long roasting makes them appear oily, by bringing volatile oils in the beans to the surface.

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Dark roasting is sometimes used to mask the flavor of inferior beans, because many of the individual nuances of flavor get lost. However, good beans processed by an artful roaster produce a rich dark roast. The most popular dark roasts are Vienna, French and Italian. Vienna roast is slightly darker than the medium roasts that many Americans enjoy. It's usually smooth, full-bodied and caramelly. French roast, often used in espresso, is very dark and oily, without any nuanced top notes, but has a hearty flavor. Italian roast is too dark for many people to drink black. It can be finely ground for espresso, mixed with milk and sugar, or mixed with a lighter roast for drinking as regular coffee. People who take their coffee with milk and sugar may prefer these darker roasts, so the coffee flavor comes through.

Our winner for best cheap dark roast is Folgers' Black Silk (starting at $7.64 for a 27.8-ounce canister). Consumer reviews on Viewpoints call this coffee bold and strong but not bitter, although our tasters found that drinking it without milk left a bitter aftertaste. One online reviewer tried Folgers Black Silk in tough economic times and doesn't miss the pricey French roast she used to drink. She admires the full flavor and lack of acidity. A consumer who used to roast beans at home also turned to this budget brand for financial reasons and recommends using it in a French press in a review on Amazon. Just as Folgers has its adherents, so does Maxwell House. The brand's Dark Roast (starting at $9.89 for 33 ounces) appeals to reviewers with its low price. Coffee drinkers who have posted reviews on Amazon praise its robust taste and full body.

Cafe Bustelo (starting at $3.79 for a 10-ounce can), our pick for a good, cheap dark roast, initially earned a following among college students who wanted the cheapest dark-roasted coffee they could get. It's still one of the lowest-priced dark roasts and a favorite in the Hispanic market. Cafe Bustelo is Cuban-style espresso -- dark and heavy, and a bit much if you drink it black, some reviewers say. Our tasting panel certainly found that to be the case, with one comparing it to gas station coffee that's spent an entire day on a burner. It's a good choice for consumers who take their coffee with milk and sugar, because it's meant to be prepared with sugar and used in cafe con leche.

Fair Trade and Organic Coffee.

While Fair Trade and organic coffee is usually on the expensive side, Seattle's Best Coffee Organic Fair Trade blends cost the same at some retailers as the regular blends. The Starbucks-owned brand recently redid its packaging, assigning each coffee a level from 1 to 5. Seattle's Best Coffee Organic Fair Trade Level 4 (starting at $6.59 for 12 ounces) is the second-darkest roast. The few reviews we found at Amazon and Drugstore.com are divided between coffee drinkers who admire its bold flavor and Fair Trade/organic coffee cred and others who pan its taste and aroma, essentially declaring it undrinkable.

If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, the specialty grocery store's dark roasts include cheap Fair Trade-certified and organic coffee. One option is the Cafe Pajaro Blend (starting at $7.49 for 13 ounces), which earns praise for its robust flavor and intense aroma among consumers posting reviews at Viewpoints and SustainLane. Coffee drinkers commenting on Chowhound prefer Trader Joe's Bay Blend for its deep, rich taste, although it's not organic coffee.

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In this review:
  1. Cheap Coffee
  2. Coffee Reviews
  3. Organic Coffee, Dark Roast Coffee, Fair Trade Coffee
  4. Flavored Coffee, Decaf Coffee
  5. Cheap Coffee Pods Comparison
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