Food Liquids

Review: Nabob Guatemala and Costa Rica coffee beans

Nabob Guatemala and Costa Rica coffee beans
Nabob Guatemala and Costa Rica coffee beans. Here, the Costa Rica beans show off their colour.

I have a long history with Nabob. When I was a young lad, Nabob Tradition was the coffee I’d drink at my grandfather’s house, where it was boiled in a carafe on the stove until it was strong enough to stand a spoon in. It wasn’t always the greatest coffee, but it’s a memory that continues to stick. For me, it was what coffee tasted like before I knew that coffee could taste like so many other things.

In recent years, Nabob has tried to break out of the standard supermarket coffee narrative that has defined it for decades. According to the timeline on the Nabob website, the company introduced three single-origin coffees to its line-up in 2012, with packaging and wording meant to evoke the specialty coffees in quirky cafes everywhere, and the beans that can increasingly be found in grocery stores.

I suppose one could consider it upwardly mobile grocery shelf coffee. There’s clearly a market between diner-grade coffee and specialty coffee, and Nabob looks to be making a play for a piece of that market. The more good coffee someone is exposed to, the more their standards change; once you’ve tasted a decent cuppa, it’s hard to go back. If some fast food chains can adapt and change to capture a burgeoning premium fast-food market, it only makes sense that a coffee company could do the same.

The Pitch: Aimed at winning over specialty coffee folks with a cheaper alternative to a pound of beans from a decent coffee shop. It’s a genuinely interesting approach from a brand like Nabob. The packaging goes out of its way to talk about coffee terminology – roast levels, body and acidity. It’s not a lot of info, but it’s written in the kind of plain language that doesn’t alienate or talk down to people who aren’t coffee snobs. There are tasting notes, more than 60% of the beans are Rainforest Alliance Certified, and they’re sold as WHOLE BEANS. Grinding fresh before brewing makes a huge difference, so this feature alone is worthy of mention.

The Look: Nice bags. Sturdy and with a gas vent, but a bit large for the amount of coffee contained inside. The metal fold-over strip at the top is just like the ones used on bags of specialty coffee. Overall, it’s packaged like specialty coffee, because that’s what it aspires to. The beans are a shade of brown not dark enough to release their oil, but not extremely light.

The Taste: I brewed these to my own weight/volume standards in my workhorse Cuisinart drip coffee maker at home. (Because people who aren’t using a Tassimo or Keurig machine at home are typically using a drip coffee maker.) The flavour of both is so-so, with a clear Nabob flavour more in line with grocery store coffee than premium beans. The Guatemala beans have a nice acidity, though they don’t taste the freshest. They taste cheap, without any real standout notes. I preferred the Costa Rica beans, which yielded some light fruit, though not to the degree or quality that fruity specialty beans do. The acidity is again quite nice, and it would work for a bright, cheery morning cup with breakfast.

Nabob Guatemala and Costa Rica coffee beans
A closer detail on some Nabob Costa Rica coffee beans.


Cost: $8.99 for two 350 g bags (on sale at Safeway), so $4.50 per bag.

Value for cash money: Full price? Cheaper than beans from specialty shops, be they a small local roaster or a café chain like Starbucks or Second Cup, but more than other grocery store standards. A half-price, the deal becomes much, much better.

Availability: Widespread.

Nutrition?: It’s coffee, so it all comes down to what you add at the condiment stand.

The verdict: As a gateway coffee to the world of specialty beans, these are OK, but nothing great. You can taste the compromise in every cup. Of the two, the Costa Rica is the more pleasant. It you keep your eyes open for sales, you can get better pseudo-specialty beans for less.

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