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Gourmet Coffee Hidden In A Lower Price Store Brand!

May 1, 2012

The picture of this can of store brand mid-range coffee is misleading – causing one to believe there is anomaly hidden within the confines of it’s container!  Before you jump to conclusions let me explain!  If you appreciate good coffee then you will understand where I am coming from.  Until recently I worked for one of the largest retailers in the world.  Several years ago I saw the change of  the company that produced their snack line.  If Frito Lay is not the producer now I would be very surprised because they taste exactly like their products, where before they did not.  Not even close!

US Navy 100526-N-9520G-001 Sailors look over a...

US Navy 100526-N-9520G-001 Sailors look over a list of grocery items during a healthy choices scavenger hunt supporting Commissary Awareness Month (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grocery stores and other retail stores are jostling for position in these economic times.  There are four big grocery retail chains within a four mile stretch of the main highway that runs through my community.   Generic brands made by big brand name companies is now the norm.   Large retailers understand  that quality needs to be found at all price points to keep customers coming back.

I  recently bought the coffee in the blue can pictured above from Kroger Stores.  They are the second largest grocery retailer in the US with Walmart being number one (there’s a good chance one of their stores is in your neighborhood too!).   It’s their mid-range store brand with the name of “Premium” and comes in four roasts.  The price is around $8.00 for 2 lbs. 2.5 oz.  I tried the medium roast because the woman beside me in the coffee isle picked that one.  When I asked her if she liked it (why I asked this question when the answer was obvious, I’m not sure)  her not surprising response was “It’s very good.”  I like coffee that is somewhat strong but with no bitter overtones.  Without the recommendation I would have probably chosen the medium dark or dark roast to get the rich flavor I like.  When I bought the coffee my expectation was not very high, I had completely run out of coffee and just wanted something drinkable.  I sometimes buy the more expensive “gourmet” coffee to supplement my stock.

Probat coffee roaster located at Dillanos Coff...

When a day or so later I made some coffee I was not expecting to find it had a deep, rich flavor, without a hint of bitterness and a wonderful aroma that lingered even when there was only a small amount left in my cup.  This indicates to me the coffee beans are very fresh.  I don’t believe I’m being generous by putting it on the taste level of most gourmet coffees I’ve tried, maybe even better!  OK, maybe not  the same as Kona coffee (from Hawaii, an exceptional coffee), although it’s been a while since I had a cup.  I was at a company party at work when I tried it and still fondly remember how good it was, although I may have elevated it in my mind somehow.  I have looked for Kona coffee since, but the two grocery stores I frequent the most don’t carry it.  Maybe Kroger’s Premium is as good…if not, it comes close!

Please understand, all of the stores in my neighborhood have their low-price quality items which I am grateful for and enjoy very much.   You will read about some of the other products on my blog in the near future!  Sometimes you find an item of a very high quality and low price and it really makes you want to Sing!  You want to tell EVERYONE ABOUT IT!  The other products also make me want to Sing!…Dance…Yodel!…YESYODEL! (It’s a cultural thing!)

Vail Coffee and Tea Company

I went on the Internet to try to discover why their coffee tastes the way it does.  I landed on Vail Mountain Coffee and Tea Company’s website Vailcoffee.com and found out Kroger partnered with this small company a couple of years ago to produce their “Gourmet” store brand.  I haven’t tried it yet but eagerly look forward to it.  If it is better than their Premium coffee that would be awesome!  Although I can’t imagine it being much better.   In addition to producing some very good coffee they also support a lot of good causes, some of them being sustainability, fair trade cooperatives and micro estates.  You can read more about them on their website above.

North side of Vail Mountain, and Vail Valley.

North side of Vail Mountain, and Vail Valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some additional background on the company; it was started by two guys in a storefront in Vail CO in 1989, called The Daily Grind, catering to the world’s élite skiers and snowboarders who stopped by for coffee on their way to the slopes.  Their explanation of why their coffee tastes the way it does has to do with the 8,000 ft. altitude, which allows a lower temperature to roast the coffee beans (altitude causes lower baking temperatures also), eliminating scorched and baked flavors that can occur in lower altitudes (so that’s where those bitter harsh flavors come from!).  The sugars and carbohydrates in the bean carmalize at lower temperatures, creating complex, deep rich favors.  I believe this is true because I have experienced better flavor roasting foods at lower temperatures.  The drier air at high altitudes also helps eliminate moisture to keep freshness before packaging.

Coffee berries Polski: Owoce kawy

Coffee berries Polski: Owoce kawy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also produce their coffee in small batches – I say “AMEN” to that!  It’s hard to believe that companies produce packaged food items with shelf expiration dates often three to six months or even a year and consumers buy them!  That means the food in the package is only in production two to four times a year!   Ever notice the dates say on snack items?   The larger bags (not the smaller ones you pay a lot more for) have different dates – don’t believe it! The bigger bags are only produced four times a year!  That’s why the smaller bags are more flavorful (you pay for those smaller batches) unless they have been sitting in a snack machine longer than a week or two.  Have you ever eaten a potato chip that is tasteless, leaving you unsatisfied?  It’s probably because that yummy “fresh from the fryer” oozing with oil and flavor, only lasts about a week, after that the oil dries up and so does the flavor!  Think about it, if you baked something and put it even in an airtight bag, would the flavor be the same after seven days?  It doesn’t take “rocket science” to figure it out!  It becomes obvious after some years of tasting.  That’s why I rarely buy chips anymore unless I can catch them the week of production and that’s hard to do!   I don’t want to sound too fanatical, some foods are still OK for longer but for most items (unless it’s sugar or pickles) are not the same after even one month and that also includes canned goods!

potato chips photographed by stu spivack

potato chips photographed by stu spivack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kroger appears to be sensitive to quality with their own gourmet coffee store brand and have apparently incorporated some of these same qualities or always have, in their coffee production plant in Cincinnati for their Premium brand, judging from its superior flavor.  Producing their own coffee gives them more control over quality.  Not all coffee beans are created equal.  Freshness of a bean also depends on how long it has been sitting in a warehouse or grocery shelf.   Even if the bean is ground at the store or at home, it may not be at it’s peak flavor if it has been sitting in storage for very long!

Why would Kroger have gone to the trouble to find a small high quality coffee company in Vail CO to produce it’s gourmet coffee if there wasn’t some kind of commitment to quality and an understanding of what makes a good cup of coffee?  As the saying goes “The proof is in the tasting!”

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