French Press Coffee
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I'm a Coffee Snob. This Cheap Coffee Is the Best, IMHO

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French Press Coffee
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Can I Get a Refill?

Life is too short to drink cheap coffee. That's my philosophy — or was until the economy tanked, groceries became scarce, and my favorite coffee shops closed down. In an effort to satisfy both my caffeine craving and a newfound urge to save money where I can, I set out to find the best cheap ground coffee for less than $5 that wasn't Folgers or Maxwell House (the two best-selling brands in the U.S.). Would any of these basic brews satisfy the snob in me? Surprisingly, a couple did. Coffees are ranked worst to first.

Related: 10 Local Coffee Roasters That Put Starbucks to Shame

New England Coffee New England Donut Shop Blend
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New England Coffee New England Donut Shop Blend

Price: $3.83 from Amazon
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Pronounced molasses and tobacco aromas as the vacuum-sealed bag is opened for the first time. Brewed, this was the lightest-colored coffee in our sample: a flat medium brown. Light, slightly citrusy notes on the tongue with a slightly toasty finish, but generally bland with a bitter aftertaste.

The hot take: Second cup? No thanks.

Great Value Donut Shop 100% Arabica Medium Roast
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Great Value Donut Shop 100% Arabica Medium Roast

Price: $3.88 from Walmart
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This pungent blend gave off subtle hints of caramel and nutmeg when we opened the bag. In the French press, it was almost jet black, with a subtle, pleasing aroma that smells exactly the way I expect brewed coffee to smell. The first sip bore no trace of the bitterness that dog other coffees in our test, mellow and a bit sweet with a vaguely nutty finish. Despite its rich, dark appearance, this was the blandest of the bunch.

The hot take: The plain donut of cheap coffees

Market Pantry Colombian Medium Roast
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Market Pantry Columbian Medium Roast

Price: $2.89 from Target
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The powerful aroma unleashed as I opened the coffee can made me think of the pipe tobacco my father used to smoke. Whew! Target's house-brand blend didn't brew up quite as dark as the Great Value coffee, but it was still a reassuringly opaque brown-black in the French press. There was less pronounced bitterness on the tongue, but the same dominant toasted wheat flavor, with a slight cocoa and citrus finish.

The hot take: Highway diner coffee worth a refill (but just one)

Related: From Mocha to Java: The Secret History of How Coffee Took Over the World

Great Value 100% Arabica Colombian Medium Dark Roast
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Great Value 100% Arabica Colombian Medium Dark Roast

Price: $2.98 from Walmart
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  Popping the foil on this can of coffee released a slightly sweet, nutty aroma with an underlying whiff of pipe tobacco. The resulting brew was pleasingly dark and rich-looking, but the first sip was surprisingly sharp and bitter on the tongue. The flavor mellowed slightly on subsequent sips, revealing hints of unripe citrus and toasted wheat, with a lightly lingering finish on the palate.

The hot take: Coffee just like Dad used to drink

Café Bustelo Espresso Vacuum-Packed Dark Roast
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Café Bustelo Espresso Vacuum-Packed Dark Roast

Price: $2.99 from Target
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Delicate aromas of licorice and warm spice on the nose when opened, but subtler than our other samples. The slight toasty scent of this dark brew didn't prepare us for the hair-curlingly bitter hit of the first sip, which slowly gave way to a fairly rich, nutty flavor. This would wake me up in the morning for sure, but it may be too strong for some drinkers.

The hot take: A full-bodied brew that tastes more like an Americano than drip coffee

Eight O'Clock Original Medium Roast
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Eight O'Clock Original Medium Roast

Price: $4.99 from Target
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Syrupy molasses and pipe tobacco on first sniff, with a rich, inky brown-black color. Pronounced cocoa flavor on the tongue, underpinned by a nutty base and toasty hints, with a vaguely bitter finish that doesn't linger for long.

The hot take: The Goldilocks of cheap ground coffees: neither too strong nor too weak.

Seattle's Best Coffee House Blend Medium Roast
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The Winner: Seattle's Best Coffee House Blend Medium Roast

Price: $4.79 from Amazon
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Opening the bag released aromas of pipe tobacco, molasses, and spice, but without the acrid aromatic bite of other coffees. Swirling the brew in a cup, we could detect hints of caramel and citrus, and it was smoky and toasty on the palate with a touch of cocoa. Makes me want to curl up with a good book on a rainy day as I sip and savor.

The hot take: The closest in flavor to more expensive coffees like Starbucks Yukon Blend

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Methodology

All coffees were purchased in the Austin, Texas, region from local Walmart and Target stores, as well as from Amazon, during the last week of March. Samples were prepared and tasted one at a time using a 12-ounce French press, following precise brew methods outlined by Epicurious.

Related: The Best Cheap Coffee Makers