I've experimented quite a bit, having bought from most of the major online vendors and local roasters. Clearly, fresh is a must, but I must admit that lately some of the coffees that have really been impressing me have been on the bargain side of the coffee aisle--and I couldn't be happier!
Most, it not all of the beans that I've bought in bulk at grocery stores have been stale. But a friend of mine urged me to try Winco's Cascade Pride Specialty coffee beans, and I must say "WOW" they have some really nice single origin and blends at a great price!
Their Kona Blend, Tanzanian Peaberry, and Organic Dark Sumatra are really quite good--definitely in my top 10 of all the beans I've tried so far, with their Kona Blend easily in the top 5. Chocolatey, creamy, hint of apricot, not lemony at all--really, really nice! And best of all is the price: only $7.95lb!! I've been buying beans from our local Winco stores for 2 months now, and have yet to get any stale beans at all. I've been using their coffees exclusively with my lever espresso machine, and I get wonderful thick crema each and every time. I must admit that I was quite skeptical when my friend suggested I try their beans, but so far I've been super impressed!
So if you live in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Texas, Utah, or California, definitely check out the Cascade Pride http://wincofoods.com/departments/bulk-foods/coffee-101/
offerings, really can't be beat for the price and truthfully the 3 beans I mention above are better than most of the $20lb beans I've tried.