Folgers Vs. Maxwell House – What’s the Difference?

by Matt Gibson

Folgers coffee has been on the market since the 1850’s, and Maxwell house has been around since 1892, so both of these budget coffee corporations have been around for quite some time, providing American households with ready-to-brew, freshly roasted and ground coffee. Maxwell House has enjoyed superiority over Folgers as the number one coffee in America for nearly 100 years, but became the runner-up to Folgers in the 1990’s. Folgers has held the title of America’s number one budget coffee brand ever since. 

In 2007, Maxwell House decided to use nothing but 100% arabica beans in their coffee blend, which gave them a noticeable edge over Folgers in taste, aroma, and overall quality. However, using 100% arabica beans is pricey, and in order to maintain competitive prices with Folgers and other budget brands, Maxwell House eventually had to go back to using a blend of both arabica and robusta beans to the detriment of their product. 

There are two distinct kinds of coffee bean grown in the world today, arabica and robusta. Arabica beans are more rare, making them more valuable. Arabica beans also taste better, and have a more subtle, complex flavors and aromas than robusta beans. Robusta beans are more common, and can be grown practically anywhere, making them much cheaper to source than arabica beans. Robusta beans have a more bitter flavor, and also contain higher amounts of caffeine, sometimes as much as two times more caffeine than the typical arabica bean. 

As far as advertising teams go, most would agree that Folgers and Maxwell House are both household names due in large part to their equally impressive slogans/jingles. Maxwell House’s, “good to the last drop,” is mysteriously tied to former US president Theodore Roosevelt, but has served the company quite well for decades. Folgers’ catchy jingle, “The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup,” is a tune that most people know well, and was an excellent marketing campaign for the coffee giant. 

So, which company has the better product? Is Folgers really the best part of waking up? Is Maxwell House really good to the last drop? Unfortunately, the similarities between the two brands seem to amount to more than the differences. At their core, these two budget coffee brands offer a very similar product. A pre-ground mix of arabica and robusta beans that were likely sourced from multiple coffee farms around the world. The result is a pretty basic cup of coffee, not that there’s anything wrong with regular coffee. 

Regular coffee gets a bad wrap but there is a warm place in many people’s hearts and minds for a regular old cup of joe. Gourmet coffee is far superior in every way, don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that truckstop coffee, or the basic drip coffee they serve at average diners around the world, can even hold a candle to the bouquet of a freshly-ground single origin roast in a pour over. The comparison is unfair to begin with, on multiple levels. But, there is some value in the nostalgia, and the warmth, that only an occasional cup of regular, average coffee can provide.

And that is why Maxwell House and Folgers are available, because that warmth, and nostalgia, for many people, are all they need out of their coffee. Folgers and Maxwell House are still at the top of the pyramid when it comes to popularity in America. The two iconic brands are still number one and number two, respectively. Millions of Americans enjoy the aroma of Folgers or Maxwell House coffee brewing each morning. And when you need a pick-me-up but are away from your pour over or french press, there’s nothing wrong with a trip down memory lane to a time when coffee was simple, and familiar. 

Even as a coffee connoisseur, when you’re cold and groggy, and you wake up with a splitting headache, a hot cup of Maxwell House or Folgers may not be the coffee you were dreaming of all night, but it’s better than no coffee at all. Just be careful when drinking blends, as they are usually high in robusta beans, and could be packing more of a caffeine boost than you were expecting.  

folgers coffee canister

A Folgers Coffee History

Folgers coffee got its start in San Francisco in 1850. An industrious young entrepreneur by the name of James Folger was contracted to build a coffee mill for a man by the name of William Bovee. James Folger had no intention of getting into the coffee business when he built the mill, as his heart was set on becoming a part of the gold rush that brought so many out west in search of gold during the early 1830’s. After completing the construction of the mill for Mr. Bovee, Mr. Folger set out into the California countryside in search of gold. 

Mr. Folger searched the hills for gold for several years without much success, and eventually decided to abandon his quest. He returned to San Francisco and had a business meeting with his former associate, and owner of the coffee mill, Mr. William Bovee. The meeting resulted in a business partnership, which eventually led to the founding of the J.A. Folgers Coffee Company. At first, Folgers Coffee was a small operation, but the company grew very quickly. In 1889, when James decided to hand over the reins of the company to his son, James Folger II, they were ready for national distribution. 

In 1963, the company was sold to the mega-corporation Proctor & Gamble, who launched the legendary marketing campaign which features the famous jingle, “The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup,” which made the brand a household name. The early Proctor & Gamble commercials also claimed that Folgers coffee was mountain grown. While that may have been true in the sixties, today Folgers uses a blend of arabica and robusta beans which are sourced from various coffee farms all around the world. There may be a few beans in the blend that were grown in the mountains, but to call Folgers coffee mountain grown is laughable, based on what we know about the brand today. 

A Maxwell House Coffee History 

In a small country town in Kentucky in 1873, a traveling salesman by the name Joel Cheek was asked by a grocer what was the best coffee that he sold. After recommending the most expensive coffee that he sold, Joel Cheek decided to conduct an experiment, and tried each of his coffees that evening, only to find out that one of the cheaper coffees that he had on hand was far superior in taste to the one he had recommended. After returning to the grocer to offer him a better coffee for a more reasonable price, Cheek continued to seek out the best flavors he could find in the world of coffee, hoping to create the perfect blend of roasted beans. 

In 1884, Joel Cheek moved to Nashville and teamed up with another coffee aficionado named Roger Nolley Smith, and together, the two would start producing Maxwell House Coffee, one of the most successful American coffee companies of all time. Maxwell House was the name of a fancy hotel where Mr. Cheek once supplied their coffee. When they ran out of Mr. Cheeks coffee, they switched back to their original house blend, but their rich guests started to complain, leading the hotel to order more of Mr. Cheek’s tasty blend. The coffee at the Maxwell House hotel had gained enough notoriety that the name for their coffee company was obvious. 

Supposedly, former United States President Theodore Roosevelt once stayed at the Maxwell House Hotel in 1907, and, according to old Maxwell House advertisements, he said that the coffee served there was, “good to the last drop,” which is a slogan that the Maxwell House coffee company has used prominently throughout the years in their various advertising campaigns. 

The Bottom Line

When it comes down to putting these two coffees head to head, there’s really not very much of a difference between the two. As far as an inoffensive coffee aroma and flavor, Maxwell House wins. For a nice caffeine boost, with a slightly sweeter flavor, Folgers serves its purpose as well. However, these are mass produced blends of a diverse array of coffee beans grown all around the world. At the prices that they offer, they can’t afford to use high quality beans. Also, pre-ground coffee is gonna taste stale no matter how it’s packaged. 

For a truly great cup of coffee, you’ll want to steer clear of anything that is pre-ground, and look for beans that are single-origin, mountain grown, organic, and preferably from small, eco-friendly farms in places like Brazil, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Papua New Guinea. For the best possible flavor, try to get your beans just after they are roasted, and grind just what you need for each brew for the freshest possible flavor. Canned, pre-ground coffees like Maxwell House and Folgers will pale in comparison to the flavor and aroma that you will achieve when you grind and brew freshly roasted single origin coffee beans.  

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