The Bitter Truth About Why Your Coffee Isn't Tasting as Good Lately

Coffee drugOscar Wilde once said, "A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

If he was right, the supermarket aisles of America are probably crowded with coffee-drinking "cynics" right now.

Reuters is reporting that many of America's major brands have been quietly tweaking their coffee blends. While most coffee companies consider their blends trade secrets, and are loath to disclose exactly what goes into them, both circumstantial and direct evidence suggests they're now substituting lower-grade Robusta beans for some of their pricier Arabica, and degrading the quality of our coffee.

Here's What's Brewing

Research out of agricultural bank Rabobank confirms that demand for Arabica beans among coffee buyers "has fallen 27% year-to-date, while Robusta [demand] is 25% higher." This seems to confirm a widespread alteration of the bean mix.

At least one coffee roaster has admitted it. In November, Massimo Zanetti USA, which roasts for both Chock full o'Nuts and Hills Bros., publicly confirmed upping its Robusta usage by 25% this year.

Why the switcheroo? Prepare to not be shocked. The answer is: price.

Last year, a shortage of Arabica caused prices of the premium bean to spike as high as $3 a pound -- $2 more than what a pound of Robusta would cost. This compares to a five-year historical trend of Arabica costing closer to 70 cents more than Robusta. In recent weeks, the trend has reversed, with Arabica prices falling to just a 62-cent premium over Robusta.

What's It Mean to You?

If you're a coffee purist, then this all probably sounds like dirty pool.

But really, all the coffee companies are doing is trying to match demand for their product with a price people are willing to pay. And already, mainstream coffee brands such as Kraft's (KFT) Maxwell House and J.M. Smucker's (SJM) Folgers have responded to falling coffee prices by lowering the prices they charge consumers.

More premium coffee purveyors such as Starbucks (SBUX), in contrast, have been slow to follow suit.

When you get right down to it, if there's more Robusta in our coffee but people still find it drinkable, and the coffee's getting a bit cheaper in consequence, where's the harm?

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended writing covered calls on Starbucks.

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Tommy Tom

I found a family-owned and operated coffee company that uses 100% Arabica beans, and it's affordable! You can get quality coffee for $7.99 per pound at from Rogers Family Company

June 18 2013 at 6:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rita Hebert

That sure is a down right shame. I love coffee for 50 years and now thinking it was I was getting old and taste buds were going bad, you ruined a good product, Coffee manufactures. Bummer.

November 19 2012 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And here I was, wondering what was wrong with my tastebuds. I couldn't understand why the coffee I drank for years, suddenly tasted so bad. I changed brands a number of times and still they all tasted bad to me. Now I know the reason.

June 25 2012 at 8:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

At least the new ingredient is actually coffee beans. I wouldn't have been, and would not be, surprised if it turned out to be some completely different ingredient or filler.

June 25 2012 at 5:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Seems to me in just a few weeks, my coffee went from normal to tasting like it was made with bread crumbs. Costco usually carries a bag of gourmet coffee for about 25 bucs which will be equivalent to 4 pounds. It's not on the shelf anymore (after having been available for 20 years).

I think the US is being provided with substandard quality coffee do to low bidding for coffee beans at global auction sales.

I'll boycott coffee altogether - quit drinking it if this continues. This is my decision after I broke down and spent 24,00 for Starbucks Verona mild blend at Costco, a 1 pound bag, hoping i could at least drink the highend brand on weekends. One sip later and I nearly spit it out as it tasted just as bad.

Boycotting works. As the banks and Federal Reserve continue the lowering of the US dollar and the devloping nations which now have all of our jobs present a stronger currency, we are going to see this country turn into a Banana Republic. Cost of food is skyrocketing.

I am telling you people, it is time to begin making some noise, at least with your political representatives,

June 25 2012 at 1:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

American citizens are being ripped of by most corporations every hour one way or another being food, textiles, machinery autos and so no and they do not care just as the aricle says its no big deal if they cheat the consumer but the real reality is its the consumers fault this is happening because no one will boycott these theives the sheep people just keep buying watered down or bad quality goods paying the high prices and still complaining instead of all Americans getting together and taking a stand and stop buying watered down or just plain crap made in China or America period.

June 25 2012 at 1:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What is the harm? WHAT is the HARM!? Are you serious? It does NOT taste the SAME and we are being CHARGED the same that is the harm. AND we are being decieved! I just looked at my Chock full o Nuts bag and it's true no Arabica beans to speak of.What I want to know is,now that the price has gone down why do they not put back the Arabica beans? People are willing to pay for quality,I know I am and as an American I WANT THAT CHOICE!--I'm going to the website to write them a letter right now.In the meantime I'm drinking the best,...Cuban Coffee!:)

June 24 2012 at 11:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have one medium size cup in the morning and that's it. I'm not addicted. The new Krups I got for Christmas allows me to make 1 cup at a time, ensuring that there is no waste. With the price of coffee, that was a great deal.

June 24 2012 at 9:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

and NOW for something completely DIFFERENT-
and of course another diM leader.
During her speech at the 5th annual House District 7 Unity Dinner, she accused Republicans of attacking President Obama any chance they get.
“We cannot allow the opportunities that America stands for to be eroded by those who simply want to bring this president down,” she said.
She was cheered when she said, “After a good night sleep, I wake up the next day, and I say, ‘Come on, Tea Party, let’s get it on.’'
guess WHO .

good ol maXEEEEEEEn waters.

June 24 2012 at 8:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are an number of professional/coffee roaster who has admittedly refuse to believe that your investigation is true. Would a smaller dealer/distributor/roaster know if he or she is getting 100% Arabica coffee beans or a mixture/blend of Robusta/Arabica?

June 24 2012 at 8:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to aliloga's comment

why don't YOU simply call UP fOLgers etc ?
couple of years AGO WE DID and all due to THEIR COFFEE tasting like SPIT after years of a good cup--
they ADMITTED to changing their blend and ORIGINS.
wouldn't touch their crap even if it were 10cents a pound.

June 24 2012 at 8:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply