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Why does coffee taste burnt

6 Secrets Big Coffee Brands Won't Tell You


  • They're Selling You Stale Coffee
  • They're Selling You The Wrong Expiration/Best-By Date
  • They're Selling You Hotdogs
  • They're Selling You Burned Beans
  • They're Selling You Flavors That Do You No Favors
  • They're Selling You $40/Pound Coffee Without You Realizing It



Not everything is as it seems in the world of big coffee brands. Below are six examples, and they may have you second-guessing what you put into your coffee cup each morning. 

Yes, these examples are all heavily generalized. No, this isn't meant to be a polarizing list. If you enjoy or can only purchase certain coffees, you won't get the guilt trip from us. These are here for your consideration.

Now let's spill the beans.

#1 - They're Selling You Stale Coffee

Carbon dioxide coffee stale

Supply chains are long and complicated, and that's doubly true for big brands that move a lot of coffee. Every step along the way adds more time. Big brand coffee is likely months past its roast date by the time you take a sip.

In coffee terms, that's a long time to be sitting around. Coffee beans start to lose their freshness a few days after roasting. There's no way around the science behind why. Roasting coffee beans releases carbon dioxide (CO2). That CO2 starts its exit, stage left, in the days after roasting, wrapping up its departure in two to three weeks. 

This matters because CO2 is what gives fresh coffee its bounce. When you taste fresh coffee, you're tasting CO2. Think of it like the difference between bubbly and flat soda pop.

CO2 is also why coffee bags come with gas release valves. Without them, the bag might fail or pop when you open it. What does that say about bulk coffee that comes sealed airtight in cans?

A good way to test whether your coffee beans are fresh is to prepare them in a French press. If a head of foam, courtesy of that CO2, forms as the hot water hits the grounds, you've got fresh coffee. If not, your coffee might be eligible for a driver's license.

But Wait! It Gets Worse

Grinding coffee hurries the degassing process, which is why the pros recommend grinding your beans just before brewing. However, big brands charge the same or more for pre-ground beans as whole beans. That means you're paying a premium for even staler coffee.

This is why buying pre-ground beans from a roast-to-order operation, like Writer's Block Coffee, is so important to your coffee cup: it gives that CO2 less time to escape despite the grind.

Of course, big coffee brands' marketing strategies count on you not knowing any of this. They'd rather charge you more for less.

You're getting played.

How Writer's Block Coffee® is different: We ship directly to you from the roaster after you place your order. We don't warehouse our coffee. It leaves the roaster, goes in a bag, and ships out. Most orders are received within three business days of shipping. That's about 95% less time compared to big coffee brands. It makes a difference.

#2 - They're Selling You The Wrong Expiration/Best-By Date

When does coffee go bad

Expiration dates or best-by dates on big brands' coffee bags miss the point completely. Coffee may still be safe or "best" (whatever that means) to drink three months from now, but CO2 doesn't care about dates stamped on bags. It's going to leave those roasted coffee beans whenever it wants to, and it's in a hurry.

The only date to know is when the beans were roasted. That's when the flavor time bomb starts ticking.

But Wait! It Gets Worse

The average consumer is conditioned to look for expiration dates on other food products, and big coffee brands exploit this to their advantage. They want you looking at expiration dates to distract from the roast dates that took place months ago. If these big coffee brands had to admit when they roasted their coffee, they'd lose business. 

You're getting played.

How Writer's Block Coffee is different: We write on the label by hand when our Writer's Block Coffee is roasted. All of our coffees are roasted to order, no matter what's on the label. No expiration dates. No nonsense.

#3 - They're Selling You Hotdogs

What is a coffee blend

Speaking of nonsense, let's talk about blends, the hotdogs of the coffee world.

Big coffee brands love their blends. They dress them up in worldly names and packaging to convince you that only their expert curation and fine-tuned craftsmanship could combine 10 types of beans in one bag.

However, the more types of beans inside the bag, the easier it is to hide low-quality coffees that couldn't make it on their own. You know, sort of like the "meats" that go into hot dogs.

As with any business, the trick is to game the difference between the price point and the cost of the product. Blends grant this margin more wiggle room.

But Wait! It Gets Worse

Seasonal or limited-edition blends are marketed as being special, but that's often not the case. A buyer at a coffee company may have stumbled on a great deal on low-quality beans, which triggered the release of a new blend.

Big brands don't pass the savings on to you, though. They're too busy trying to convince you that their hotdogs are filet mignon.

You're getting played.

How Writer's Block Coffee is different: We only sell specialty-grade coffee beans, even if they're in a six-bean blend like Deadline Dark Roast. That means our beans are graded in the high 80s on a standardized scale of 1-100. You can read more about that scale from the Specialty Coffee Association here. Our beans are in the top 5% in terms of quality in the world. No hotdogs allowed.

#4 - They're Selling You Burned Beans

Why does Starbucks coffee taste burned

Ever notice how the black coffee at some popular coffee chains tastes burnt? That's not your imagination.

In the same way blends dilute low-grade coffees, pushing the roast to higher temperatures can sandpaper over quality and consistency problems with the beans. Once again, this is a way big brands juice their margins.

But Wait! It Gets Worse

Darkening up the roast incentivizes customers at big chains to dress up their drinks with high-margin flavorings, creams, milks, and other novelties. That burnt taste isn't going to cover itself up all on its own. These upsells cost the big chains pennies to put in your cup, but they'll charge you dollars for the privilege. 

Simply put, big coffee brands' roasts skew darker. That's why when some customers try high-quality coffee for the first time, they comment that the dark roasts taste like medium roasts, and the medium roasts taste like light roasts.

That's not your imagination, either. You're tasting coffee the way it was meant to be roasted. That's what happens when the focus is on quality, not pushing out as much product as possible.

You're getting played.

How Writer's Block Coffee is different: Roasting in small batches, as we do, allows for precise temperature control. Our beans don't taste burnt because they aren't.

#5 - They're Selling You Flavors That Do You No Favors

Why flavored coffees taste bad

Flavored coffee beans can be a lot of fun. What's not to like about pumpkin pie-flavored coffee beans, or French vanilla, or cinnamon roll, or candy cane, or any of the other varieties? 

You know where this is going.

Despite the creative names and eye-catching packaging, flavored coffee beans offer big coffee brands another chance to get you to pay more for less.

Think of coffee beans the same way you might think of a steak. If the steak needs to be dressed up with cheese and bacon, it's probably not a great steak in the first place. The same is true with flavored coffee beans.

But Wait! It Gets Worse

Big brands will often market these flavored coffees as being "100% coffee." Then, in smaller print, they'll own up to the "natural and artificial flavors" they add.

Duh. Of course the coffee itself is 100% coffee, but what's in the bag is what you buy. This is an attempt to hype quality where there may be none.

You're getting played.

How Writer's Block Coffee is different: Our coffee can stand on its own. We sell 100% coffee. No additives or flavorings. Our coffees still pair well with creams, milks, and flavorings you add yourself. There's nothing wrong with personal preference, but you deserve great coffee in the first place.

#6 - They're Selling You $40/Pound Coffee Without You Realizing It

Are Keurig pods a good deal

This one is specific to Keurig cups (aka K-cups, coffee pods, K-pods, etc.). There's a cost to that convenience. It's simple math, but big coffee brands are counting on you to overlook that, just like everything else on this list.

A popular brand, one you've definitely heard of before, sells K-cups of flavored coffee at a price of $0.85 per serving. Each serving, or K-cup, weighs 0.42 ounces. It'd take 38 K-cups to equal a pound. Multiply 38 by $0.85, and you come to $32.30 for a pound of coffee.

However, a K-cup is made up of coffee plus the plastic pod itself. A quarter of the weight of a 0.42-ounce K-cup is the packaging, give or take.

Put another way, if you emptied K-cups onto your kitchen counter until you were looking at a pound of coffee, you'd have a pile worth around $40.

But Wait! It Gets Worse

Billions of single-use, plastic K-cups are sent to landfills each year (source). They're bad for your wallet, and bad for the environment.

You're getting played.

How Writer's Block Coffee is different: We don't play tricks, and we won't charge you obscene prices for a pound of coffee. No K-cups.

Does This Mean You Shouldn't Buy Coffee From Big Brands?


Want to know a little secret? This morning's brew came from a grocery store shelf. The brand wasn't Writer's Block Coffee. It was a big brand, and it was on sale at a terrific price.

Coffee is a daily ritual for many people. It'd be great if everyone had the budget to drink specialty-grade coffee each morning, but that's not the case.

However, when you're ready to push through that deadline, dominate that word count, send those queries, complete those edits, or toast a publishing contract, we're here for you. Your projects deserve to be fueled by the best. You put your heart and soul into your writing. Don't you deserve something special in your cup?

We think so.




* All image via Pexels 


Mar 06, 2024 • Posted by Donna

I am old enough to remember great coffee…..and the heavenly smell of it. I could buy almost any bag of ground coffee and the flavor was excellent. I have not had a satisfactory cup of coffee for about 20-25 yrs now. First Folgers and Maxwell house suddenly tasted awful…fillers were being added (cellulose, sawdust,etc), and it was a horrible taste…..all true coffee taste was gone. Other brands started doing the same. I have paid a lot of money for supposedly better brands, both beans and ground, and all are hugely disappointing. I do think all store sold grinds and beans are stale, or even perhaps were picked before sufficient time on the tree????, and I hear there is often a problem with moldy beans. No wonder the young people love Starbucks gooey pure sugar concoctions….with the artificial coffee flavor added ,too. I am glad I am an older person, who drank coffee when it was absolutely magnificent …….both the taste and the awesome aroma that filled the house first thing in the morning.

Feb 16, 2024 • Posted by Samantha

Great article! I really like how you had budgets and sustainability in mind with this list. I also appreciate that you didn’t demonize big brand coffee because we’ve all had THOSE days where okay coffee is better than no coffee.

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