Have the old national coffee brands (e.g. Folgers, Yuban, etc.) been declining in quality?

(Now here’s an appropriate topic for this forum.)

I started drinking coffee in the mid to late 1970s, at a time when coffeehouses and higher quality coffee was something you rarely came across unless you lived in an area like Greenwich Village, or perhaps happened to work at or attend a university that happened to boast a decent cafe. (The first establishment I ever encountered that was anything like a traditional coffeehouse was the one in Kerckhoff Hall at UCLA.) Other than that, coffee was something you scooped out of a can from the supermarket and loaded into your Mr. Coffee drip coffee brewer. At restaurants, the coffee would often be a little better than at home, and at the office, usually rather worse.

It was all right then. In earliest childhood I loved the smell of ground coffee, although when offered a small taste, it was all I could do not to spit it out. Later, like most Americans, it seems, I acquired the taste and have enjoyed coffee all my adult life. The brands similar to and including the ones listed in the title were decent tasting if not terrific, perhaps because it was pretty much such mass-market brands that epitomized how coffee was supposed to taste.

Such was coffee in America, until about 1990.

As with so many others, it was about 1990 that I graduated to better coffee, partly through Starbucks but also through thoroughly enjoying the supernova-like burst of independent coffeehouses that appeared in West L.A. like mushrooms after a spring rain. It was supernova-like, because those small coffeehouses had nearly all vanished by the end of the decade. I enjoyed coffee even more when regional products came on the market, like real Yemen Mocca, Mocca Java, and premium beans from small regions throughout the global coffee growing belt. Notwithstanding all that, the national coffee brands found in the supermarkets still seemed passably good, even if it wasn’t nearly in the same league as Diedrichs Kenya AA or Costa Rica Peaberry.

But now?

I find the only way I can enjoy a national brand coffee is to load it up with milk and sugar, which I never used to do. Otherwise it tastes like the kind of coffee that comes out of a vending machine. A new can freshly opened, or rather, plastic container since most coffee doesn’t come in cans anymore, doesn’t even smell good now. The brew made from it tastes hard, flat, and above all cheap, in the worst sense of the last word.

So what I’d like to ask is whether the national brands have stayed about the same, or have they really been getting worse? Have the newer specialty brands like Starbucks drawn the more discerning coffee drinkers into their orbit, thereby forcing the older brands to descend to their new market level by sacrificing quality for economy? Or is it just that my palate has become accustomed to better coffee, and the national brands are the same as they ever were?

IMO they’re pretty much the same. I think you’ve developed your palate as I have mine, and it just tastes terrible because over the years I’ve not had much of the “old school” stuff. Between all the amazing coffee houses in Chicago and French pressing at home, I don’t have the regular Folgers drip stuff very often and when I do, I also have to add cream and sugar to it.

I also have a theory that many people don’t make the pre-ground drip stuff properly in the first place, using too little (should be 2 tablespoons per cup, so a standard 12-cup drip pot should have 24 tablespoons in the filter) grounds, causing too much acidity, overextraction, and bitterness.

As a kid I enjoyed Taster’s Choice instant coffee. It was a special treat when mom would pull out her old fashioned stainless steel percolator at parties and brew up some Folgers or Maxwell House. Watching the darkening water bubble up in the transparent progress knob, smelling that bitter robusta aroma filling the room and finally gulping down that sugary, creamy sludge—it was divine.

But, as with many childhood delicacies, our palates refine and our taste buds desensitize over the years and you require more refined (and expensive) foodstuffs to get the same taste hit.

I haven’t tried those old national brand coffees in many years, so I don’t know if they’ve declined in quality, though I suspect they haven’t. We’ve changed, not them.

You’ve heard of those flavorful coffee beans harvested from elephant feces, right? Good stuff, but kinda expensive. To drink well and save money, I just sprinkle coffee beans in my dog’s Kibbles 'n Bits. I’ve taught him to squat and poop into my coffee mug. Just add boiled water, stir in some cream and sugar and boy howdy, that’s a delicious way to start off the morning. Good to the last [del]plop[/del] drop!

I think this is the case; the mass market national brands just weren’t very good to begin with. But when that’s all there was, you didn’t have much to contrast with, except for even worse instant coffee brands.

Now, even marginal crud like Starbucks’ medium roast far outshines Folgers, and is still noticeably better than Maxwell House (I always preferred Maxwell House), and it only goes up from there.

The big brands ARE consistent- that’s probably the thing they do best. I’d bet a cup of Maxwell House today is very, very similar to one in 1976, because they probably have a lot of ability to source and blend beans, as well as to consistently roast them exactly where they want them.

It’s just like beer; stuff from the majors like Budweiser, Miller High-Life, and Coors Banquet i the same as it ever was, but now that we have all sorts of craft brews and imports to choose from, they seem insipid and bland by contrast. But those guys are GOOD at what they do- it’s not easy to brew light lager like that, and it’s even harder to do it consistently and well across multiple breweries, year in and year out. And despite that, if I was to go buy a Budweiser right now, it would taste pretty much identical to what they tasted like back in 1993, when I turned 21.

Another way to look at it is that the greybeards aren’t griping about the quality of their cheap coffee going downhill, and nor are they griping about their old-school light lager beer tasting any different either.

Dunno how people drink Folgers when much better stuff at a similar price point exists. I have noticed no decline in the quality of Chock Full o’ Nuts which, don’t let the silly name fool you, is pretty damn good mass market coffee, as is Eight O’clock coffee, IMO.

It’s really quite simple–although I’m sure you won’t believe me.

Folgers is honestly and genuinely one of the best coffees in existence. I go to Starbucks occasionally for business purposes, and their coffee is ok, but Folgers is every bit as good if not better. I’ve tried several types from independent coffee shops, and again, Folgers generally at least as good. And when you get into things like the odder flavored coffees, they tend to taste downright terrible.

I’ve tried Colombian (on several occasions); I’ve tried a whole bunch of different blends at independent shops. The ONLY type of coffee I have ever come across that is distinctly better than Folgers is Guatemalan coffee.

And for some reason, not very many places carry Guatemalan.

Data points–I’m 37; I like my coffee strong; and black is the only proper way to drink it.

I drink my coffee black, sometimes watered down or with milk. An ordinary brand like Folgers is just fine and probably better than most “house” coffees". In addition, I can’t stand most of the supposedly-superior product at coffee houses. The taste is usually flat and bitter. On occasion, I’ve tasted truly superior coffee, and it is a fine thing. But no place I can go regularly has anything like that level of quality.

I drank Folgers for years until recently. I finally realized it wasn’t any better than vending machine coffee, so I upgraded to Starbucks and don’t see myself willingly starting my day with another Folgers in my cup.

What roast do you get? Generally speaking, as the beans get darker, the actual flavor of the beans themselves is lost in favor of more generic Maillard reaction flavors.

I can totally believe that if you got dark roast at a coffee house, that it would seem inferior to Folgers. But a good light or medium roast of good beans? That’s hard to believe.

One difference between Folger’s and other mass market pre-ground coffee from the “old days” and now is the fact that now it’s packaged in plastic tubs, and in the old days it came in cans. I still remember how wonderful it smelled when Grandma opened a fresh can of coffee with a can opener.

I avoid Folgers for the simple reason I don’t know for sure if the plastic container can be put in the recycling bin. I avoid Maxwell House because it has a foul ‘bean-y’ taste (to me. Like uncooked chewed white dried beans to make soup.) The best coffees, nonetheless, are Colombian coffee no matter what brand. Wegmans sells a can of Colombian for about $2.00 and it is just excellent. (though I buy Dunkin Donuts coffee to make in my drip machine for my husband, he likes DD.)

I believe the rise of Viet Nam as a coffee producing country has led to wider use of cheaper beans - robusta vs. arabica, IIRC.

And no doubt the rise of the premium coffee chains raised the bar on what is considered acceptable for everyday.

I put skim milk in mine, and the high end coffees are too strong for me. I can’t unclench my teeth after a visit to Caribou’s. And the various flavored versions are invariably too sugary.

I do need my cup or two in the mornings, though. But I have no kind of a palate for coffee.