If you are an avid drinker you would want to know what the hell has gotten so bad about coffee lately? I mean the prices for coffee is the lowest it has (ever?) been for years, but what's up with the quality? If you thought coffee taste has gotten to the dogs, you are not alone. This year, coffee makers are increasingly substituting low-quality beans in their ground coffee for high-quality beans, according to the International Coffee Organization, a global trade group and sort of an OPEC for coffee. In addition, the purity of the average cup of coffee -- the ratio of debris like twigs and rotten beans to actual fresh beans -- has shifted markedly in the unappetizing direction over the past two years. In fact, quality has gotten so poor that in recent weeks, the ICO issued new rules requiring coffee-exporting countries to improve their product -- or stop selling it. That is good news for us, because the new standards are significantly higher than the U.S. government's own rules: Currently, FDA rules essentially permit unripe or moldy beans, gravel and other junk to constitute as much as 30% of a cup of "pure" coffee. The falling prices on the global coffee market are having a direct impact on the coffee you drink. Kraft Foods (which makes Maxwell House) says its second-largest supplier of coffee is now Vietnam, which grows some of the cheapest -- and lowest-quality -- beans in the world. (Kraft's largest supplier is Brazil, and second-largest used to be Colombia.) The quality problem affects the vast majority of coffee sold in the U.S., because almost all coffee sold here is either preground or instant, the two types most likely to contain debris or bad beans. "Specialty" coffee -- the kind sold in whole beans or, say, skinny frappuccinos in cafes -- has only about 15% of the market, despite the increasing popularity of coffee bars. That is partly because many of the drinks sold in specialty shops contain very little actual coffee: They are mostly milk, sugar and flavorings. There is no end in sight, by the way, since the big coffee makers are not even disclosing what their internal monitoring and grade levels are, nor how they are determined. What are we to do? find a better bean. The Beans Don't be baffled by all the choices -- Sumatra, Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain -- there are only two main bean types: Arabica: Generally, a better tasting bean. A lot of it comes from Latin America, and it's what most specialty coffee is made of. (FYI: It also has nearly 40% less caffeine than robusta.) Robusta: Cheaper to grow; hardier; less tasty. Vietnam is flooding the market. It's used in lots of blends but on its own (or when there's too much of it in the blend) it tastes bland or worse. The Roast Coffee tastes a lot better if it was roasted in the past two days. This can be tough to achieve -- not even all of the fanciest coffee emporiums post "roasted on" dates. But ask. The Color Very dark roasts can kill the flavor of beans. Thanks to the coffee-bar fad, dark roasts are trendy. But in fact much of what passes as "dark" roasted is in fact, burned, killing the subtle flavor of an otherwise delicious bean. "Look for beans roasted to a rich color between caramel and chocolate," says Mark Prince of coffeegeek.com. The Grind Want decent coffee? Grind it yourself. Sure it's a hassle, but consider: coffee can legally have up to 30% dead beans and other debris, such as gravel, industry experts say. If you buy it pre-ground, who knows what's in there? But if you buy whole beans you can see what you get. Plus, fresh ground coffee is more aromatic. The Brand Most packaged, preground brands won't tell you the coffee's origins unless they feel there's something to be proud of: Yuban boasts "100% Colombian." For one coffee connoisseur's taste tests of hundreds of brands see coffeereview.com. The Fine Print Watch for makes that specify "fair trade," "shade grown" or "single origin." These aren't strictly a guarantee of better coffee, but they provide useful information -- if you know the code: Fair trade: Means growers received a higher price for presumably more attentive production. Shade grown: Means what it sounds like: Beans are grown in the shade, which leads to tastier beans. Single origin: When it's from a more reputable country, like say Kenya, tells you you're not drinking a blend with questionable beans added in.