NEW YORK (MainStreet) — If you make a habit of reading personal finance articles, you'll probably find the age-old trope: "If only you gave up that daily coffee . . ."
As we settle in for a winter of cold, the temptation to buy a warm, happy drink grows stronger. At most coffee shops, a decent cup costs at least a few dollars, while even the nicest teas and coffees cost less than $1 to make at home. And that includes blends from the tea purveyor for 5-star hotels like the Mandarin Oriental and the Ritz-Carlton.
I reached out to a bunch of prominent tea and coffee companies to see if they could provide samples for a taste test. All brands sent the coffee or tea varieties they most wanted to showcase, and we gladly tried the motley assortment. My husband, Boris, was the coffee expert, and I took the lead on tasting teas. We're not professional taste-testers, but we did our best to follow good practices (new habits I've developed: warming my teapot in advance and being more precise about steeping times).
Because we received an insane number of samples and no human can possibly be that caffeinated, we tried them at a fast clip, but not all back-to-back. (Except for that time we made eight different Earl Grey varieties and compared them all.) Anyway, if you make tea or coffee at home, you're probably more likely to follow your moods, use humble equipment and drink from mismatched mugs, like us, than you are to brew your drink in a double-blinded laboratory environment.
We chose winners in different categories; there are more tea categories for the simple reason that we received greater and more diverse quantities of tea. There's no decaf coffee category, because we only received a couple samples of decaf and didn't really like them. Same with instant.
The coffee purveyors who sent samples: Stumptown, 49th Parallel, Kickapoo, Chock Full O' Nuts, Archer Farms and Starbucks.
Tea participants: Stash, Davidson's Organics, Teavana, Art of Tea, Tealeaves, Ahmad Tea, Murchie's, Mighty Leaf, Republic of Tea, Argo.
These are two people's humble opinions on what we liked best. They're all under $1 per cup, and many are even under 20 cents per cup. Find out if you agree with the below results?
Stumptown Hair Bender
This is a dark, rich blend that's both complex and yet clean. In Boris's words, "I can't really tell you why, but I can't stop drinking it."
Cost: $0.58 per cup (based on 0.5oz of beans per cup)
49th Parallel Honduras La Benedicion
We first learned about this brand at one of our local cafes. One of its strongest features is the fantastic aftertaste. This is another dark, strong coffee.
Cost: about $0.75 per cup
Kickapoo Organic Ethiopian Sidama
This one was even deeper and darker relative to the others we tried. Boris described it as "aristocratic."
Cost: $0.66 per cup
Best Budget Brand
Chock Full O' Nuts
This was a solid choice from a less artisanal brand. It was relatively standard but had a nice finish. We were surprised at how much we enjoyed it.
Cost: $0.23 per cup ($5.22 for 11.3-oz can, based on Amazon, because the Chock website sells only in bulk)
Best Flavored Coffee
Archer Farms Pecan Pie Coffee
O.K., this flavored variety from Target's brand has surely got some synthetic ingredients in there, but this coffee was fun and enjoyable.
Cost: $0.25 per cup
Best Loose Leaf Tea Tealeaves Garden Party
This tea is a special blend of Yunnan black tea and floral jasmine, and it is probably the most light, delicate and sippable of the teas we tried.
Cost: $0.46 per cup if you buy the 100g tin
Runner Up: Best Loose Leaf Tea
Murchie's Diamond Jubilee
This blend of black teas was created in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's 60th anniversary of accession to the throne. It's also available in a bagged version but it pales in comparison to the loose variety.
Cost: $0.44 per cup if you buy the 4oz package
Best Bagged Tea
Tealeaves Organic Breakfast Whole Leaf
I only received one bag of this tea as part of a sample pack, and I mourned that fact. This tea was incredible, and I couldn't stop drinking it. It was malty, full-bodied and rich. I drank it with almond milk.
Cost: $0.77 per cup
Runner Up: Best Bagged Tea
Mighty Leaf Vanilla Bean
This tea is light and delightful, and I happen to love vanilla flavors. Even after I first tried it for the taste test, I kept reaching for it in my kitchen anyway. It's especially good with milk.
Cost: $0.53 per cup
Davidson's Organics Caramel Peach With Coconut (bag)
This must be the perfect dessert tea. As much as the name touts the caramel and peach, I think I actually responded the most to the coconut aftertaste. Fantastic alone and with milk.
Cost: $0.22 per cup if you buy a pack of 25 bags
Runner Up: Best Decaf
Murchie's Pomegranate Rooibos (loose)
This was a fragrant, fruity tea with the nice earthiness of red tea. As a note, they sent both the bagged and loose leaf version of this. The bagged version disappointed, so I recommend this only in loose leaf.
Cost: $0.38 per cup if you buy the 4oz package, assuming 5g per cup
Best Earl Grey
Murchie's Earl Grey (loose)
Boris and I tried about eight different Earl Greys in a back-to-back taste test, and this was by far the most well-rounded and balanced of them. This was a solid all-around refined British tea. All the teas of this brand were markedly better in loose leaf than in the bagged versions.
Cost: $0.38 per cup if you buy the 4oz package, assuming 5g per cup
Runner Up: Best Earl Grey
Tealeaves Smoke Earl Grey (loose)
These were hard to compare apples-to-apples, because this version was so unique. It is bona fide smoked tea, and it would go great with a savory breakfast. The smoke flavor was stronger than the Earl Grey taste. Boris: "I'm confused by this tea . . . but I can't put it down."
Cost: $0.50 per cup if you buy the 80g package
Best Breakfast Tea
Ahmad English Tea No.1 (bag)
We had another (smaller) head-to-head over the different English/Irish/etc. "breakfast teas." This tea wasn't startlingly original, but it was a solid all-around. Setting aside the Tealeaves breakfast tea that came in first for top bagged tea overall, this merits a mention.
Cost: about $0.14 per cup
Runner Up: Best Breakfast Tea
Stash Breakfast in Paris (bag)
This is a delightful tea with some hints of lavender and some vanilla. Admittedly it has some bergamot, so it might better be categorized as a sort of Earl Grey. Yet it says "breakfast" in its name so we'll go with it.
Cost: $0.18 per cup
Te Tiempo Canela (bag)
This sweet cinnamon tea is from a Latin American line made by Republic of Tea. It's sweetened but all the ingredients are natural, like stevia leaf. Something about it was addictive.
Cost: $0.28 per cup
Runner Up: Best Herbal
Davidson's Organics Herbal Cranberry Orange (loose)
I don't like hibiscus in my tea, but Boris liked this one quite a bit. The tea has whole chamomile blossoms, dried cranberries and orange peel. I will admit I ate a cranberry from the raw tea.
Cost: about $0.12 per cup if you buy the 8oz bag
Best Dessert Tea
Davidson's Organics Spiced Pear (bag)
This is a beautiful, calming tea. It has an autumn sort of flavor with the spiciness, and it's sweet but not too sweet.
Cost: $0.22 per cup if you buy 25-pack
Runner Up: Best Dessert Tea
Teavana Pumpkin Spice Brulee Oolong (loose)
From pumpkin seeds to chocolate and carob chunks, you could basically eat this tea. It's very chunky and nutty and is almost like eating a pumpkin pastry.
Cost: $0.52 per cup if you buy 4oz pack
Best Iced Tea
Art of Tea Green Pomegranate Iced Tea (bag)
There was no competition for this category, but this iced tea was really good and deserves a mention. You put one of the giant bags into a pitcher of cold water overnight and presto, iced tea.
Cost: $0.30 per cup
—Written by Allison Kade for MainStreet