Yesterday, Thrillist (a daily newsletter of curated recommendations) published a list of the “best coffee roasters in America.” I was one of the “jurors” asked to recommend my top ten coffee roasters in the US and provide a brief description as to what makes them special. Beyond that, I didn’t know who the other jurors were, or how the results would be calculated until the list was published.
The other jurors included:
Bill Walsh (Pure Coffee Blog)
Jordan Michelman (Sprudge.com)
Kelly Stewart (Roast Magazine)
Chris Cusack (Down House)
Sean Henry (Houndstooth)
Sarah Allen (Barista Magazine)
Joshua McNeilly (Black Black Coffee)
Greg Martin (Urban Bean)
Here’s how the final list was complied: all of the roasters who were named by jurors received points based on how they were ranked by the respective juror who mentioned them. For example, if I listed Heart Coffee Roasters as #1, they would receive 10 points towards their total score. If I ranked them #10, they would receive 1 point. If I didn’t name them at all, they received no points—a simple (and fair) format to balance the blind recommendations of nine jurors.
This list is not scientific. It’s not written in stone. It’s only valid until the next internet list of 10 greatest things is published. And it’s all in good fun to reflect the recommendations from a small group of people who drink a lot of coffee—both as professionals in the industry and as consumers. You don’t have to agree. But just maybe there are some roasters on here you haven’t heard of, or tasted, and maybe you’ll find something new that you like. If you’re personal favorite roaster didn’t make the list, don’t hate the internet over it. Drink what you enjoy.
For the sake of transparency, I wanted to share my personal list of top 10 US coffee roasters below (which is not an easy task). However, seven of my selections made the final list—so I wasn’t alone in thinking those companies deserved a mention. Agree, disagree, either way, please enjoy.
1. Heart Coffee Roasters, Portland
Heart stands out as having clearly embraced the Nordic influence of their owner Wille and the taste of the coffee reflects it. There’s always something juicy, lively and interesting to enjoy in coffee from Heart.
2. Ritual Coffee, San Francisco
Ritual has always felt like an underdog of the San Francisco coffee scene to me. They often fall to the wayside of Blue Bottle’s marketing prowess and the unexplained hype of Phil’s, but they offer some of the best coffee you’ll find in the Bay area and the country as a whole.
3. Intelligentsia Coffee, Chicago
Intelligentsia is where I first discovered the joy of black coffee in the mid-2000′s. They may be “big” compared with newer, smaller roasters in the US, but they still discover some of the most unique coffees around and haven’t lost their touch.
4. Verve Coffee, Santa Cruz
Verve stands out for representing where they come from better than most other coffee companies. Their brand and their attitude reflects the lifestyle of Santa Cruz in almost every way. Verve’s green-tip gesha from 2012 remains one of the best coffees I’ve ever tasted.
5. MadCap Coffee, Grand Rapids
MadCap may not come from a large metropolitan area, but they push forward with unique varietal series and Sunday tasting experiences. They’ve also got a stellar brand, one of my favorites, by the renown designers Chuck Anderson and Seth Herman
6. Gimme! Coffee, Ithaca
For a time, Gimme! was one of the only “local” roasters in New York City serving quality coffee before an influx of outsiders like Stumptown and Intelligentsia forced others to jump into the game. Gimme! still remains one of my favorite roasters and cafés in New York.
7. Handsome Coffee, Los Angeles
Handsome formed from a team of big names in the world of specialty coffee with lots of experience and knowledge to transfer into something new. They added fresh variety and energy to the LA coffee scene after forming in 2011 and haven’t slowed down since.
8. Four Barrel Coffee, San Francisco
Four Barrel has really progressed over the years, helping to further expand San Franciscan’s access to good coffee and sourcing really delicious beans in the process. Their coffee shop puts their roasting on display and stands out among the many options in San Francsico.
9. Ceremony Coffee, Annapolis
Ceremony underwent a successful name and brand overhaul in 2011 that better reflects their values and the ceremony involved in crafting a delicious cup of coffee. Since then, they’ve been showing up in even more places around Washington D.C. and throughout the country with some really tasty coffees.
10. Counter Culture Coffee, Durham
I consider Counter Culture a part of the “big three” in terms of US specialty coffee roasters (including Intelligentsia and Stumptown). However, with CCC’s unique training-based wholesale model that lacks high profile coffee shops, they rarely get the awareness they deserve among average consumers.
My shortlist for runners-up included:
PT’s Coffee, Topeka
Equator Coffee, San Rafael
George Howell Coffee, Acton (Boston)
Olympia Coffee, Olympia
Cuvée Coffee, Austin
See the final collective list published on Thrillist.
What would brunch be like with Duane Sorenson, the founder of Portland’s celebrated coffee company Stumptown and budding restaurateur? Fantastic. Chris and Sarah Rhoads, from We Are The Rhoads, attended such an affair and captured Duane’s love of coffee and food with friends and family for Bon Appétit.
There was definitely coffee, brewed by Duane himself, but it wasn’t the only thing worth noting. The atmosphere was punctuated by famed artists (both in person and on vinyl), a delectable looking sausage & broccoli rabe frittata, salmon & capers, hazelnut granola and a fantastic looking cocktail called the “Dark Moon.”
Dark Moon Cocktail
- 1 1/2 cups of cold brew coffee
- 1/2 cup coffee liqueur (Duane uses this)
- 1/2 cup spiced rum
- 1 bottle of “Mexican” coke
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Mix all of the ingredients together (except the cream) and divide into rocks glasses filled with ice. Distribute cream evenly on top and serve.
View all of the photos and recipes from Duane’s brunch on Bon Appétit.
[Photos: Chris & Sarah Rhoads, We Are The Rhoads]
posted by bwj
on 10.07.2013, under Misc.
Mr. Porter, an online retailer of high-end menswear, published a lovely interactive map of global coffee trends this summer in the journal section of their website. You can glide around the map and read tidbits about each location’s coffee culture and brief summaries of various brew methods and coffee drinks.
The illustrations were done by some of my favorite designers at Hey Studio in Barcelona, Spain. Their simple geometric style illustrates twenty-nine different drinks from around the world, from the AeroPress to the Ten Belles.
The map is also accompanied by some thoughts from Mansel Fletcher, the site’s Features Editor, and Marco Arrigo from Illy, regarding today’s evolving coffee scene:
One of the striking things about the modern coffee scene is the extent to which the Italian tradition has been written out of the picture. The flat white has become so popular that it’s possible to imagine that the espresso was invented in Melbourne, rather than in Turin. However, Mr Marco Arrigo, Illy’s head of quality in the UK, believes that there’s one element of Italian coffee culture that Anglo Saxons can’t reproduce. “In the UK and the US you can have the coffee, but you still don’t have the culture. You should enjoy a coffee with somebody else, sitting down, drinking from a real cup. To drink coffee on your own, from a paper cup, while sending an email on your BlackBerry is missing the point; it’s like eating a meal in front of the television. It’s sterile.” – Mr. Porter
View all the illustrations and explore the map at Mr. Porter Journal.
Kenya is a beautiful place. Many of my favorite coffees come from this East African country and having the opportunity to visit a few years ago, still remains one of the greatest trips I’ve ever taken. Verve Coffee in Santa Cruz, California has captured many of the things I loved about that trip in a new video, while also showing the process your coffee goes through before getting into your cup.
Thanks to technology, curiosity and roasters who visit coffee farms, there have been an increasing number of coffee origin videos in recent years. The production quality continues to rise, bringing many people closer to coffee farms than they will ever get themselves. This particular film stands out for its warmth and for its broad perspective showing the viewer coffee farms as well as the lively street culture and dramatic country side of Kenya.
Verve worked with What Took You So Long to produce the film, an organization who is quite experienced with film making in Africa. WTYSL was founded by Sebastion Lindstrom to make guerrilla films in the most remote parts of the world and to share positive stories from those regions. The organization came together during a trip across 16 countries in Africa while researching best practices within nonprofits. Since that maiden trip they’ve built up an impressive portfolio of work on the continent.
So grab a fresh cup and enjoy this lovely journey through Kenya.
Yesterday, I shared an article from the New York Times travel blog on Facebook that mentioned the plans of Paris-based international hotel chain Le Méridien to hire and train 100 new Master Baristas. These new baristas are meant to be at the center of the hotel lobby’s concierge services, encouraging social interaction and offering recommendations for things to do around town.
During the company’s research for the new strategy, they found that an incredible 78% of 7000 people surveyed would rather give up alcohol, social media or sex with their partners for a year than forfeit their coffee—now that’s true love. I got in touch with a Le Méridien representative for more details on the new program and its potential.
The new program is being led by the expertise of Fritz Storm, the 2002 World Barista Champion and trainer of several high placing World Barista competitors—including Fabrizio Ramirez who finished 2nd and Miki Suzuki who finished 4th in the 2012 WBC. The new program will complement 100 locations where the lobbies have been transformed into hubs that provide a more coffee shop-like atmosphere.
The disappointing part of all this is that Le Méridien has partnered with Illy to provide the program’s coffee. If the focus was truly on elevating the coffee experience as well as creating a more personal interaction about the city where each hotel is located, it would have been great if they worked with local or regional roasters. Instead they’ll be providing a bland coffee that many other hotels (and grocery stores) already offer.
It seems like the company has put a lot of money and energy into this program—and Fritz has a track record of training talented baristas—but in the end, the company seems to have chosen a safe route that will most likely go unnoticed by many.
[photos via Le Méridien]
posted by bwj
on 09.26.2013, under Misc.
Novel is just that—a novel travel kettle that folds up for easy packing. The kettle design, by Slovakian designer Stanislav Sabo is currently patented, but I’m not sure how functional it is at this point. Very little information is available about the technical aspects of how it would work, if it would actually work at all. But what if it did? It would make the ultimate travel coffee kit complete. I want one.
When I travel, I always carry my AeroPress, hand grinder, pocket scale, KeepCup and fresh coffee. The missing link is always the hot water. Sometimes you can find it in large boilers set aside for tea, or you can hunt down a nearby café and awkwardly explain that you only need hot water to brew your own coffee. Some hotels have kettles, but they are often pretty scary on the inside—to the point that you wouldn’t want to drink anything that came out of it. But even those hotel room kettles are beginning to be replaced by K-Cup machines.
The Novel is made from a 100% silicone liner that’s wrapped in heatproof plastic panels, which all fold flat. The pieces, including the lid are held together by magnets which also activate fuses in the electric base. From the illustrations of the prototype, I’m not entirely sure how energy is transferred to boil the water, but this can’t be an impossible task—we landed on the moon damn it!
I’ve had conversations with manufactures about this type of product, but they’re convinced the market isn’t big enough—I think they’re misjudging the potential. If something like this could be powered in the car or by solar adapter, then backpackers, campers and road trippers of all stripes would be totally into something like this—no more bulky butane kettles taking up valuable space in your pack.
Any product engineers out there want to help Stanislav make this functional and Kickstart it? Or let’s start from scratch and make something awesome. Give me freedom or give me death! Is that really too much to ask?
On October 1, Counter Culture Coffee’s new world class, state-of-the art training facility will officially open in New York City. The fully renovated space offers 3,600 sq feet of epic coffee training wonderland that will include one of the first Modbar systems in the country as well as equipment from all the top equipment manufacturers—La Marzocco, Ditting, Mazzer, Nuova Simonelli, Marco and Mahlkonig. If the Modbar wasn’t enough there will also be several Über boilers and an EK-43.
Counter Culture Coffee is headquartered in Durham, NC but sells coffee through wholesale accounts in most major cities and beyond. The company doesn’t have cafés of their own and instead focuses their energy on thoroughly training their wholesale customers. The training program has proved quite successful for their own employees as well, helping both Katie Carguilo, the 2012 US Barista Champion and Erin McCarthy, the 2013 World Brewers Cup Champion win their respective competitions.
The training center will be used for an array of classes from the company’s Counter Intelligence program and boasts an incredibly multi-faceted design to host a broad range of events. There will be free public cuppings every Friday at 10am (which also take place at their other training centers around the country), home brewing workshops and even food pairing events with guest chefs.
For the industry side, there’s an espresso training room that fits up to 20 people, a full service tech lab in the basement, and a competition training room. If you happen to be a Counter Culture wholesale customer you’ll even have your own key. As Counter Culture’s own Jesse Kahn puts it, “our training lab IS our wholesale customers training lab. They have access whenever they need it. It’s all about helping people have sustainable in-house training.”
The design utilizes ample amounts of reclaimed and salvaged wood filling the space, and its 16ft high ceilings, with some warmth. The architect, Jane Kim, has worked with other well known coffee spots in NYC, including the second location of Everyman Espresso and Third Rail, but the work for Counter Culture seems to better reflect some of her beautiful lofty residential work.
[above the CCC dream team in their new training center: Park Brannen, Katie Carguilo, Jesse Kahn, Erin Meister, and Erin McCarthy] Photos: Alan Tansey
For those of you in NYC this weekend, the training center will have an open house on Friday and Saturday to celebrate with cuppings, brewing workshops and giveways. I can’t make it, so stop by the new space, taste some great coffee, Instagram the hell out of it and give Jesse Kahn a giant hug for me.
The New York Counter Culture Training Center
376 Broome Street
New York, NY 10013
John and Radek, two coffee lovers in the Czech Republic, have recently directed their passion towards creating unique, hand crafted products to compliment your coffee making. WeBrew sent me one of their hefty—yet delicate—slow pouring decanters, which is a pleasure to use and makes much more of an impression on guests than the Hario vessels we’ve become so accustomed too.
A beautiful tasting coffee can be enjoyed many ways. You don’t need fancy glass to get a fantastic cup, but it sure does look nice on your table. The vessel you choose to drink (or serve) coffee from can affect your perception and experience more than you may realize. From the balance and comfort of the vessel, to the thickness of the lip and the heat your hands are able to feel— it all enhances or limits the experience.
WeBrew set out to compliment the joy of great tasting coffee with well made products. They’ve already created a small line of their own that includes hand blown glassware, custom wooden tampers and denim aprons.
Check them out at WeBrew!
Andrew Barnett is a veteran of specialty coffee who has been around longer than many of the younger roasters you might be familiar with. In 2000, Andrew founded Ecco Caffe which roasted coffee for the San Francisco Bay area for years before it was sold to Intelligentsia in 2009. New Yorkers may also be familiar with Ecco from its use at Joe Coffee, until Joe began roasting for themselves earlier this summer.
This week, Andrew opened the door of his newest foray in the world of coffee—Linea Caffe. The new espresso bar is an intimate, open air café on the corner of 18th and San Carlos in the Mission District. The focus on espresso based drinks and its standing room only intimacy, creates a European feel that’s contrasts with the spacious San Francisco spots that can feel more like co-working spaces than coffee bars. For those who don’t have work to do, Linea provides a warm neighborly environment that’s better for standing around talking with friends than meeting deadlines.
Apart from Andrew and his coffee, the space is also shared with Anthony Myint, of Mission Chinese fame, who’s making fluffy Brussel-style waffles and salads meant to satisfy. Andrew is determined to ensure the focus on coffee and fare be well balanced, instead of leaving the food as an afterthought. So Linea Caffe partnered with Anthony to launch food concepts that will be just as much of a draw as the coffee.
The espresso at Linea is meant to be sweet, balanced and approachable, leaving the more experimental flavor bombs to some of San Francisco’s other specialty coffee bars. After sampling the espresso with and without milk, it was right on target. It was a straightforward, enjoyable coffee that should please both coffee purists as well as the rest of the neighborhood. Next I’ll be sure to try the waffles.
3417 18th Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
8am – 3pm Daily
(I’m also a big fan of the Heath Ceramic demitasses)
Some coffee guy who you’ve most likely never heard of is running for NYC Mayor. Well not actually, but it was a good way to get his coffee company’s press release published in the New York Times. The only thing interesting about this company’s million dollar campaign is watching Lewis Black, who always seems like he’s had one too many cups of coffee, rant about how important coffee is to NYC.
John Vassilaros is a personal friend of Lewis Black and the owner of Vassilaros & Sons Coffee, a large wholesale coffee company that’s been selling coffee direct to diners and dives around New York for 95 years. Now they’ve got themselves an AD agency (NSG/SWAT) who wants to help them sell directly to customers and claim the title of “New York’s own” brand of coffee, which they say doesn’t currently exist—ignoring the success and admiration of New York coffee companies like Joe, Grumpy & Gimme!
The company’s new strategy involves “developing new products” like an Italian roast espresso and a premium-priced (note: not premium quality) line of coffees called 1918. The first offering in this new premium-priced line of coffee includes a “rich roasted Sumatra.” So intense, earthy and bold!
Meanwhile, the company’s social media strategy includes a new Instagram account, who’s first post is a reappropriated image of Sam Penix’s coffee tattoo from Everyman Espresso—another well-known name in NYC coffee. I guess Vassilaros $1 million dollar budget wasn’t large enough to develop original content alongside their new products. But then again, Vassilaros thinks the “new world” of coffee still revolves around Starbucks, so they didn’t spend much on research either.