Coffee is the most popular stimulant and flavored beverage in the world. Coffee is beloved by literally billions of people for its myriad benefits, which include better attentiveness, superior athletic performance, improvements in long-term health, a decreased risk of chronic disease, and even weight loss.
How could the lowly coffee bean be responsible for so many different benefits, and what are the top sources of coffee beans on the market?
Our researchers have ranked and reviewed the ten best coffee beans available, plus taken a close look at the very best research on the health and performance benefits of coffee.
1. Kicking Horse Coffee Kick Ass
Kicking Horse Coffee Kick Ass is a dark roasted coffee that’s both organically certified and fair trade certified. It’s a blend of beans from Indonesia and South America and has a rich, chocolate-like taste and smoothness to it that’s rare among dark roasts.
Keep these beans sealed until you’re ready to use them, and freeze a portion of your beans if you aren’t going to go through this 2.2 pound bag too quickly to preserve the flavor.
2. Freshly Roasted Coffee Congo Kivu
Freshly Roasted Coffee delivers exactly what the company name promises. Their Congo Kivu is one of the best light roast coffees on the market: it’s from a single source in Africa, and the taste is light, citrusy, and airy.
Those looking for darkers roasts or specialty blends should look elsewhere, but if light roasts are your favorite, there’s no better option than Freshly Roasted Coffee.
3. Ethical Bean Coffee Classic
Ethical Bean Coffee Classic is a fantastic single-source medium roast coffee. It’s organic and fair trade, and comes in 12 ounce bags that are great for occasional coffee drinkers who don’t want to let a bigger bag go bad.
If you want a medium roast coffee that’s from a single locale, Ethical Bean Coffee Classic is definitely the way to go.
4. Stumptown Coffee Roasters French Roast
For those looking for a very dark and rich coffee bean, give Stumptown Coffee Roasters French Roast a try.
It’s certified organic and stays fresh for quite a while thanks to the sealed 12 ounce packages.
Stumptown is well-known throughout the Pacific Northwest, and its rich, complex taste is highly regarded among coffee aficionados.
5. Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic
When it comes to espresso, there’s no better coffee than Intelligencia. This coffee roasting company is based out of Chicago, Illinois, and boasts some of the highest-rated coffee in the country, year after year.
Their Black Cat Classic espresso bean is shipped right after being roasted, so you’re guaranteed a fresh coffee bean.
You’ll need to grind these beans into a fine powder just like any whole bean espresso coffee, but for the highest quality cup of espresso, the extra effort and equipment is worth it.
6. Illy Caffe Coffee
If you’re too busy to bother grinding your own beans, but still want coffee that’s as fresh as possible, Illy is the way to go.
This medium roast pre-ground coffee is sealed in 8.8 ounce canisters with non-oxidizing nitrogen gas that ensure that the beans stay fresh until being opened.
Since each individual cannister is small, even occasional coffee drinkers won’t have to deal with stale beans.
7. Stone Street Cold Brew
A good cold brew coffee is hard to find, but Stone Street makes one of the best. The beans are dark roasted and come pre-ground into exactly the kind of coarse grain that’s ideal for making cold brew coffee.
The high-quality package means that the coffee stays fresh for several weeks, even though it’s been ground already. When it comes to making cold brews, Stone Street is definitely the way to go.
8. Two Volcanoes Single Origin Gourmet Coffee
Two Volcanoes makes a very solid medium roast coffee that’s sourced exclusively from Guatemala. It’s an even-handed flavor that’s neither sharp and tart like a light roast, nor dark and smokey like a dark roast.
Those who gravitate towards extremes in coffee flavor might be disappointed by the lack of boldness, but if you want a smooth and unobjectionable cup of coffee to offer to a guest, Two Volcanoes is a good choice.
9. Cafe Bustelo
Cafe Bustelo makes a great pre-ground espresso coffee. It may not look like your typical artisanal coffee blend, but users rave about the smooth and reliable taste made from this pre-ground coffee.
A large container of pre-ground coffee like this is never going to be as fresh as vacuum-sealed whole beans, but that’s the tradeoff that you need to make for convenience.
Many people find this tradeoff worth it for espresso, since a good cup requires extra finely ground beans, which you get Cafe Bustelo.
10. Lavazza Super Crema
Lavazza Super Crema is a true Italian espresso bean—these 2.2 pound packages contain whole beans that are roasted and blended in Italy for an authentic cup of espresso.
However, the advantage of authenticity is counterbalanced by the necessary fact that these beans won’t be as fresh as something that’s roasted closer to home and shipped soon after being roasted.
Coffee benefits and side effects
Coffee is an ancient beverage and also happens to be one of the most popular stimulants in the world.
Coffee has developed an entire culture of preparation, serving, and consumption that’s incredibly geographically and culturally diverse, but moreover, coffee has been associated with numerous short and long-term benefits.
Coffee, and its primary active ingredient of caffeine, are together some of the most robust and versatile supplements for everything from cognitive and athletic performance to weight loss and long-term health.
We’ll take a look at the latest science behind the benefits of coffee and the potential drawbacks that can come along with it.
Coffee is rich in antioxidants and contributes substantially to overall antioxidant levels in the blood. Like many healthy foods and beverages that have a rich, dark color, coffee has high concentrations of antioxidants.
Though the specific compounds are different, foods and drinks like coffee, dark chocolate, red wine, and goji berries all derive their taste and color from the free radical scavenging and inflammation-fighting structure of their key molecular components.
One scientific study published in 2004 in the Journal of Nutrition sought to examine the contribution of coffee consumption to overall antioxidant levels in the body (1).
The study looked at almost 2,700 Norwegian adults who filled out a detailed questionnaire on their dietary intake of various foods and beverages. The researchers also took blood samples from the same people and measured the levels of several biomarkers of antioxidant levels.
As predicted, greater dietary consumption of foods high in antioxidants, like coffee, wine, and vegetables, was associated with greater levels of antioxidants in the blood.
When the researchers parsed out the relative contributions of different types of food and drink to overall antioxidant intake, they found that the biggest contributor was coffee—typical levels of coffee consumption in these Norwegian adults added more free-radical scavenging capabilities to the body than fruits or vegetables!
While this might just be because fruit and vegetable intake was low in this cohort of study participants, this study nevertheless makes a strong case for coffee as an excellent source of powerful antioxidants.
Regular coffee consumption can help you live longer. Coffee is a continual source of research in epidemiology, given how many people drink it and how many biologically active compounds are contained in coffee.
Early research into coffee consumption and risk for diseases like cancer and heart disease produced some troubling findings—people who drink a lot of coffee appear to be at a greater risk for both of these diseases.
However, public health researchers quickly discovered that these findings were actually the result of smoking. Cigarette smokers are far more likely to drink coffee (and drink large amounts of coffee) than nonsmokers, hence the increased risk for cancer and heart disease among coffee drinkers.
Once researchers controlled for cigarette smoking, these trends reversed—coffee is actually beneficial for long-term health. Some of the latest findings on coffee and longevity were published in 2016 in the European Journal of Epidemiology by a team of international researchers (2).
This study examined the coffee consumption habits of over 1.6 million people, and tracked data on almost 200,000 deaths.
Based on previous research, the scientists carefully controlled for cigarette smoking and other potential confounding variables like gender, geographical area, and age.
They found that coffee consumption led to a significant decrease in “all-cause mortality”—death for any reason—among nonsmokers, with no observed upper limit on benefits.
Smoking mediated the benefits of coffee: smokers are still actually better off if they drink coffee, compared to smokers who do not drink coffee, but only up to about four cups of coffee per day. Thereafter, the benefits no longer accrue with greater amounts of coffee consumption.
Coffee is a powerful athletic performance enhancer. The use of coffee to boost performance is hundreds of years old, but research continues on the various physical benefits of coffee for athletes.
A review article published in the journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism by Louise M. Burke at the Australian Institute of Sport summarized the current state of the scientific literature when it comes to the most potent performance enhancer in coffee, which is caffeine (3).
Caffeine, even in modest amounts, is a potent performance enhancer in a wide range of athletic endeavours, from endurance events to team sports and intermittent high-intensity interval sports like soccer or tennis.
The benefits for a single sprint or for weight lifting are less clear. The optimal amount of caffeine for physical performance can be garnered from about 16 ounces of coffee, so it doesn’t take a whole lot to boost your performance.
There’s less research on whether the other biologically active compounds in coffee create athletic benefits, so for now, decaf coffee is not a good idea if you want to improve your physical performance (it does, however, seem to grant many of the same long-term health benefits).
Coffee can boost your mental performance. Coffee is one of the oldest and strongest nootropics—a category of supplements that augment your natural cognitive abilities to make your memory, attention, and overall mental performance better.
The ability of coffee to enhance reaction time and acuity are well-known.A study published in 2018 in the journal Nutrients demonstrated that coffee increase alertness, improves reaction time, and decreases feelings of tiredness among both younger and older people (4).
Interestingly, even decaffeinated coffee appeared to increase alertness compared to a true placebo, which raises the possibility that the short-term cognitive benefits of coffee are not limited to the effects of its caffeine content.
Some research also suggests that long-term coffee consumption may protect your brain against cognitive decline later in life, though studies are conflicting.
According to a review article published in 2015 that pooled the results of multiple studies, some research has found that coffee consumers are at a decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life, while other research has not found this association (5). More research is underway, which should provide a more definitive answer.
Coffee consumption is quite beneficial, but also has the potential to cause a number of side effects. As many people have experienced first-hand, abruptly reducing coffee consumption can cause symptoms of withdrawal.
However, much of this effect may be psychological, so it can be difficult to identify exactly which symptoms are due to the removal of coffee, per se.
One innovative study published in 1992 in the New England Journal of Medicine used a clever approach: the researchers recruited regular coffee drinkers, then told them to cease drinking coffee (6).
Half the subjects were given a caffeine pill, while half the subjects were given a placebo, but the subjects were blinded to which treatment they received. All of the subjects completed a battery of mental tests to assess what symptoms could be attributed to coffee withdrawal.
The researchers found a statistically significant increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms, plus worse performance on a reaction time test.
These results indicate that withdrawal from coffee consumption could have many of the opposite results of drinking coffee: your mood gets worse, you feel anxious, and your reaction time is degraded.
Conversely, caffeine in high amounts can cause acute side effects like jitteriness, anxiety, and nausea.
If you drink a lot of coffee, or if you are particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine, you may experience these acute symptoms due to the high dosage of caffeine you get after drinking several large cups of coffee.
Fortunately, it appears that at least some of the health benefits of coffee can be gained with decaf coffee. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reviewed the evidence, and concluded that even decaffeinated coffee appears to decrease the risk of type two diabetes (7).
As we’ve seen above, many of the benefits of coffee can be attributed to the antioxidant content, which is not substantially reduced by the decaffeination process
Is there anyone who should not drink coffee? Some research suggests that particular kind of coffee could raise your blood cholesterol levels.
Specifically, coffee that does not pass through a filter (like a French press coffee or an espresso) contains compounds called diterpenes which are associated with higher levels of blood cholesterol.
A study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry tested the same coffee beans in different styles of coffee preparation to determine how diterpene levels are affected by coffee filtration (8).
The researchers found that any type of coffee preparation that involved a filter created a brew with practically no diterpenes, but non-filtered coffee did have significant levels of diterpenes.
Does this translate into an actual increase in blood cholesterol levels? One study in the New England Journal of Medicine pegged the increase in total cholesterol levels after nine weeks of drinking unfiltered coffee (boiled, in this case) at 10% (9).
If you know that high cholesterol is a condition that you have, or a condition that you are at risk for, it makes sense to restrict yourself to coffee brewed using a paper filter, like a Chemex or drip coffee.
One final side effect to keep in mind with regards to coffee is all of the other ingredients that you might add to your cup of coffee.
While drinking five cups of coffee per day appears to be healthy, that effect might change if you add a heaping spoonful of sugar and a large helping of cream to every cup of coffee that you drink.
All of that sugar and fat could counteract many of the cardiovascular benefits of coffee. For health, it’s probably best to drink your coffee black.
As we reviewed above, careful analysis of the dose-response relationship of coffee consumption and all-cause mortality shows no upper limit on coffee consumption and health, but the outcome of this analysis is limited by the relatively small number of people who drink extreme amounts of coffee on a daily basis.
Research that has focused exclusively on cardiovascular disease has pegged the optimal amount of coffee for heart health at about three to five cups per day (10).
A 2013 study published in the journal Circulation by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at risk of cardiovascular disease among 1.2 million subjects across several prospective studies.
The researchers found that three to five cups of coffee per day was the optimal amount of coffee consumption for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease among the subjects in their meta-analysis.
Keep in mind, though that a “cup” of coffee in the context of epidemiological studies is usually eight fluid ounces. A “small” coffee from a coffee shop is usually 12 ounces, or 1.5 “cups.”
There’s clearly some uncertainty associated with the optimal amount of coffee, because all of this research is based on self-reported coffee consumption.
Food frequency questionnaires represent an aggregated average—so someone who drinks “1 cup of coffee per day” in a study might have reported three cups on Monday, three cups on Friday and one cup on Sunday during the week covered by the food frequency questionnaire, which averages out to one cup per day.
The weight of the best scientific evidence suggests that coffee is very beneficial for both your health and performance.
In the short run, coffee boosts your mental acuity, improves your reaction time, and decrease feelings of tiredness.
Some (though definitely not all) of these benefits may even extend to decaf coffee too. Coffee also boost aerobic endurance and performance in high-intensity intermittent exercises and team sports.
Over the long run, coffee drinkers live longer than coffee abstainers, after controlling for the effects of smoking.
These longevity benefits are increased for people who consume more coffee, though for heart health, the optimal amount of coffee consumption appears to be around three to five cups per day.
Coffee is an extremely rich source of antioxidants, which likely contributes to its longevity-boosting effects.
Due to its caffeine content, coffee does have the potential for some side effects, like jitteriness, nausea, and sleeplessness (though many people use coffee precisely for this “side effect”).
A sudden stoppage or decrease in coffee consumption can also cause caffeine withdrawal, which is associated with an increase in feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as worse mental alertness and a slower reaction time.
Coffee that’s prepared in a method that does not involve filtering, such as French press or boiled coffee, can also raise your cholesterol levels. Using a paper filter alleviates this concern.
When used correctly, regular coffee consumption (even quite high levels of daily intake) is beneficial for both short term physical and mental performance as well as long-term health and longevity.