The Caffeine Addict: Costco Coffee Fail

Costco Kirkland Brand Coffee

They should call it "Volcanic Roast"

I’ve said plenty of nice things about Costco in the past, and regular readers will have seen my specific product recommendations in the Costco Reports that I post on this blog (e.g., here and here), but I have no special agenda in support of Costco shareholders, and I don’t pull my punches, so today – as I pour another badly needed but instantly regrettable cup that tastes very distinctly of incinerated carbon- I have to call them out: Dude, your Kirkland coffee really sucks.

Now, before you jump down my throat for being foolish enough to buy coffee in bulk from a warehouse, trust me, I get it: I’ve posted (here) at some length about the importance of both the intensity and the freshness of the roast, as well as (over here) why I prefer coffee that has, at the margin, been roasted too hard rather than gently. I’ve also bought coffee at Costco once before – an ostensibly fair trade and organic Sumatran from the “Seattle Mountain” brand that they freshly roast right in-house – and I was reasonably happy with it, particularly at about $5/lb, or less than half the price of Peets and at least 70% less than the boutique roaster here in town.

The Kirkland brand (pictured at right), however, isn’t French roast, it’s downright volcanic, the beans apparently having been subjected to some sort of scorched earth policy, and produces the sort of coffee that I can imagine the rebels drinking in the future of the Terminator, where the very surface of the planet has been reduced to a bleached out, smoldering husk. You know when you use a charcoal grill and then it rains on the burnt out coals before you can clean them out? Well, take ash, push it through a cheesecloth, and you’ll have a fair idea of what I’m drinking for breakfast today.

I’ve heard it claimed, but cannot seem to vet or verify, that the Kirkland brand is roasted for Costco by none other than Starbucks, which would go a long ways to explaining the egregiously violent application of heat, although I suppose the final analysis sits in my cup, so it doesn’t really matter who burnt the living daylights out of the poor little beans, only that it happened. I would buy the freshly roasted organic version again because, while it may pale in comparison to what a really top shelf local roaster can provide, it represents terrific value and still tastes good in an absolute sense. But I’m struggling to keep from using these Kirkland beans for compost – partly because I’m a cheap bastard who hate, hate, hates to waste food, but mainly because I’m afraid that introducing the sack of coal black berries into the environment could leave the same sort of carbon footprint as Al and Tipper Gore’s McMansion.

Author: Proximal.Kitchen

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17 Comments

  1. Yes, the Sumatran coffees that I have seen all tend to the ‘dark side’ anyway. But French Roast is really on the DARK side of dark roast.

    The Wikipedia article offers a simple and effective guide to roasting at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_roasting with pictures.

    I do tend to enjoy the Kirkland Signature brand coffees but the darker roasts aren’t my choice, because they taste a little overdone. So I choose medium roasts, such as Columbian or similar. I also tend to use a lot of coffee in a cup which means DARK roasts can be overpowering!

    Anyway, like the other posters said, just return it. And buy something you do enjoy.

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  2. I am sitting at work, drinking a cup of the Seattle Mountain Sumatra from Costco. It was ground 3 days ago in-store and I have to say it’s like drinking liquid ass. Or ass-liquid. Take your pick. I like a really dark bean (at home I drink FRESHLY ground Ethical Bean Rocket Fuel), and this stuff is getting progressively weaker unless it is our coffee machine that is crapping out. I added more grounds to beef it up and it is just nasty. The grounds are the colour of Tim Horton’s coffee (light brown); it’s nowhere near the dark roast it claims to be. We have been buying this for the last few months at work and it’s very inconsistent. Unfortunately all the good stuff comes in beans so it’s hard to find something good that’s pre-ground. I guess we will have to buy a grinder!

    Oh yeah, on the topic of your post, I have also heard that Kirkland coffee is re-branded Starbucks.

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  3. @John, you like burnt coffee, then I say, have at it – and at the best price you can. I mean, for goodness sake, Green Mountain is the benchmark? Really?! I am well acquainted w/ Sumatran beans, I have been drinking very-dark roast coffees for decades, and I generally have nothing but nice (and frequently nice) things to say about Costco, as I do any other provider of good products at good prices. But I call it like I see it, and I didn’t think this one made the grade. That’s my opinion, no more, but no less.

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  4. I happen to really like the Kirkland Signature brand coffees, and at Costco prices, they taste that much sweeter. I switched to Kirkland from various blends by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, which I do prefer slightly, taste-wise. However, the minor downgrade in taste is more than made up for, by the major difference in price-per-pound (which is nearly half).

    Furthermore, Sumatran beans do generally taste more “ashy” than most, even at a normal roast. So, what were you expecting to taste when you bought a bag called ‘Sumatran French Roast’? I don’t agree with your decision to bash an entire brand, based on one roast whose taste you didn’t like. Kirkland coffee does not, in fact, suck. They do a fantastic job making coffee that satisfies my desire to have a daily cup (or two) of high-end joe, at club prices.

    JD Rogers, thank you for the great coffee your family produces. My wife and I thoroughly appreciate the quality and value you are able to provide at the club price point. Keep up the excellent work.

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  5. JD – thanks for your comments and recommendations, and in particular for the emphasis on the quality of the underlying beans you use, that is an important distinction. Also, my apologies for referencing what is now obviously incorrect information in regards to SBUX roasting the beans. I believe I commended Costco on its product support above in this thread, but will do so again: The few times I’ve had an issue w/ a Costco product, the company has been exemplary in addressing it.

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  6. Hi, my family makes the Kirkland Signature French Roast for Costco. I’m sorry you didn’t like the degree of roast. We chose this roast because of the immense popularity of dark roasts in the markets where we do the most business. There are those who would agree with you – some say that the “softness” of the Sumatra bean does not stand up well to a dark roast. But there are many people who like it, particularly those who like heavy bodied coffees, and who take dairy in their coffee. It is all a matter of personal taste, really. It is one of our top selling items. And keep in mind that our darker roast is not used to mask the inferiority of the bean, which can be the case with other roasters’ dark roasts such as you will find in other outlets. These are top grade coffees selected personally by my brother (who is actually in Sumatra right now, working n next year’s crop). I do encourage you to follow previous advice and return the coffee. We are a family business who tries our very best to make the best coffees we can, and neither I nor Costco want you to be unhappy. Try a different coffee. The Rwanda is a darker roast and will be available in late January. It is a much harder bean that responds well to a dark roast. Perhaps the San Francisco Bay French Roast. Or, more immediately, try some of the lighter roasts — the Colombian Supremo, the San Francisco Bay Rainforest Blend if available. Thanks for your thoughts. JD Rogers

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  7. @Cara – Yes, I think you will generally eat better when you buy farm-fresh and I do so all the time. But – as I’ve also noted – I also have to feed a family of 5, and I’m a realist, not a zealot, in how I go about doing so. Costco has good prices, which means I can buy more of what I really like by saving some $ there; they also happen to carry lots of local products (e.g., cheese, wine, and beer – staples, all). And, as to the return policy, I’ve already tipped that particular hat in this thread. Guess I don’t really follow your point.

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  8. From your profile:
    “Scott has hit upon a simple philosophy: Purchase the best ingredients you can directly from the people who farm them, prepare them with care, and you will eat better and learn something about life in the process. ”
    If true, what are you doing at Costco (you go to Trader Joe’s too?)

    Coffee tastes are subjective and if you got a bad batch from Costco, like the previous contributors wrote, return it. Costco has a very generous return policy.

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  9. @Barry – we here at the PK like really dark roasts, despite the conventional wisdom amongst the hard-core coffee crowd that such roasts take too much flavor away (I talked about this here – http://proximal.blogs.pressdemocrat.com/10238/coffee-addict-palate-fail/). Having said that, I *completely* agree on Peets v SBUX: If you’re gonna go for the big, bad, dark roasts, there is no comparison, SBUX just tastes acidic, metallic, and flat out burnt to a crisp; Peet’s is more bitter chocolate and smoke and still has some balance and, at the end of the day, taste GOOD, which is more than I can say for most (not all) SBUX beans.

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  10. It’s a shame that Costco doesn’t have more than one brand that offers half & half. I recently purchased a 3 lb. bag of San Francisco Roasters (I think that’s the name, but can’t be sure because I threw the bag away and didn’t pay attention to the brand name). Since I fiddled around with the grind size, I ended up with some larger flakes instead of the finer granulesI am used to getting, so that may have something to do with my having to use more coffee than usual to get the flavor I like.

    Needless to say…..the flavor of this stuff is not bad, and when I get the grind right next time, it should be spectacular. The new super-fast grinders at Costco (I haven’t bought coffee there for at least two years) are quick, very easyto use and “really does the job,” as Ron Popeil would say. $13.69 for a 3 lb bag. No charcoal here, but at least I am getting into Peets territory. Due to its metallic acid-like flavor, I dropped Starbucks long ago in favor of Peets. many moons ago.

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  11. Ecco Coffee served at Centro Espresso up in Fountain Grove is probably the best coffee this side of San Rafael. Equator in San Rafael and Rulli’s in Larkspur have sealed the deal for me and I will drive the 20 miles once a week for it. Having said that, Centro Espresso and even some of Aroma’s in RR Square – in my humble caffeinated opinion have won over my pallet. But its my pallet. You might hate it. But as far as Costco goes, ya, it blows. Sorry guys. I like Costco, but more work is needed in the coffee dept.

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  12. Checkout Rogers coffee. That’s what they carry in Costco in Sacramento. You can buy it on-line.

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  13. Hey @Costco – you are 100% right to point out the Costco guarantee – the rare occasions I’ve exercised said right, Costco has been exemplary, and in fact that very guarantee is one of your best selling points.

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  14. If you really hate it please do not force yourself to drink it. RETURN it. It’s your right as a Costco member. 100% satisfaction guarantee remember? You are not satisfied so exercise that right..
    If you have the receipt great..if not they will give you a store credit.

    Personally that Sumatra is in my Grind and brew right now.

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  15. @Truth – thanks for the info, and a good explanation for some of what I too often taste in “French Roast” coffees. I shop at the SR Costco, so now you got me wondering, which type of roaster do they use? (To be fair to Costco, per my post, the Seattle Mountain brand, the one they roast on premises, was unspectacular but acceptable and far, far better than the possibly-Starbucks-burnt-to-a-crisp Kirkland in my picture.)

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  16. Costco uses a Diedrich Drum Roaster that has roasting profiles entered in to the computer brain. These profiles are utilized based on the recommendations of the bean “Cupper” that “Cups” the coffee to see flavor characteristics and then determines how the “Bag” should be roasted. Sometimes the beans do not taste good at any roast level, so the “French” roast tag is applied and they roast the beans to the darkest side of the roasting spectrum almost an “Espresso roast”.
    Costco in Santa Rosa used to use a Sivetz Air Roaster, the bean is cooked through convection not conduction as with the drum roaster, which gives you the burnt drum flavor. The Fluid Air Roaster provides the best flavor beans, hands down……

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