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.
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 Intelligentsiais 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.
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
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.
The Danish stalwarts at Coffee Collective recently made an exciting announcement on their blog. After years of only serving limited pastry offerings to maintain focus on their coffees, they will now begin offering delicate treats created specifically to pair with certain coffees on the menu at their location (and roastery) on Godthåbsvej.
The idea was to keep it as simple as possible. Three small dishes, each paired with a specific coffee as a combined experience. The dishes change along with our coffee menu, so new flavour combinations can be tested. - Coffee Collective blog
This idea comes from the company’s experience working with and learning from several high end restaurants who have begun incorporating the flavors of coffee into their tasting menus the same way they would wine and other foods. It’s an inspiring addition to an already fantastic coffee shop. I’m definitely looking forward to my next visit.
Coffee Supreme, the New Zealand-based coffee roaster, won first prize in the non-alcoholic beverage category last week at the annual Dieline Package Design Awards. The company, which has five locations in New Zealand and one in Melbourne, received a brand makeover last year from the NZ-based design agency Hardhat that included the development of an engaging system of take-away cups for their stores.
The new collection of cups include sixteen unique illustrations that are meant to capture the spirit and individuality of the company, referencing vintage etchings with a modern design approach. The system also includes three different cup colors to easily distinguish between different sizes—definitely a helpful feature for busy baristas.
In creating this collection of cups, each with their own characterful hand-drawn or painted illustration, we hoped to replace the somewhat thoughtless routine of buying a take-out coffee with a more unique and personal experience, encouraging you to take a moment to stop & reflect; to look at the detail and humor in the illustrations, to look forward to seeing which cup your coffee might arrive in, having a particular favorite.
Put simply, this was about re-connecting people with the great cup of coffee in their hands. -Hardhat Design
I’m not a supporter of paper cups, but these are quite lovely and definitely distinguishable. If only they weren’t meant to be thrown away after such a short life.
Tonight the partners of Koppi, a crown jewel of Swedish coffee, will open the doors to their new pop-up coffee bar in Stockholm. Until now, coming across Koppi in the capital city was relinquished to the occasional guest appearance on bar or recently at a multi-roaster shop like Mean Coffee. But after this evening, there will be a little bit of the Helsingborg experience available to everyone in Stockholm.
The new space shares a wall with the Denim Demon flagship store where you can try on a fresh pair of raw blues while you enjoy an Aeropress of Thunguri.
The Daily Meal, one of the internet’s fastest growing food websites, just released one of the more thorough lists of great coffee shops that can be found across the US. While there are a few notables I would add, there are far fewer surprises then other lists I’ve seen. After first giving readers an update on the progression of coffee culture over the years—with the oft-used wave metaphor—they break down their method of selection:
We scoured for the best independent coffee shops and chains that have changed the way we drink coffee. Our criteria? The best quality in coffee and food, atmosphere, customer service, and the “unique” factor. (Case in point: a DeLorean car in the back of one shop.)
Then a panel of coffee aficionados and industry surveyors, including the current US Barista Champion Katie Caguilo, weighed in with their own nominations and suggestions of both national craft coffee “chains” (i.e. Stumptown & Intelligentsia) as well as domestic shops. A selection of nearly 150 shops across the United States were then narrowed down to 33 winners with the highest ranking.
The Daily Meal’s list the of Top 10 US Coffee Shops
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending a weekend in Amsterdam, a place I hadn’t been to in years and whose small but vibrant specialty coffee scene has grown significantly in recent years. While the number of quality shops are growing, it’s still possible to visit most, if not all, of them during a short visit and still have time for some of the city’s other cultural and recreational treasures.
The evening I arrived I headed directly to a gathering of local baristas for a Friday Bean Battle, which is basically a TNT (Thursday Night Latte Art Throwdown) that takes place on the first Friday of every month. The event was being held at Espresso Fabriek, one of the staples of the specialty coffee foundation in Amsterdam. There is no money or points involved in the battle, just a cool little trophy that’s displayed at the shop of the winning barista until the next competition. It was a fun introduction to some of the people I’d be visiting around the city over the coming days.
As one of the first small specialty coffee roasters in Amsterdam, Espresso Fabriek has helped build a foundation for what is now a growing market for lovely coffee bars and cafés across town. They currently have two locations, the first can be found at Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks factory that is now a renovated hot spot for creative and cultural entrepreneurs near Westerpark. The second location is a bit further east of the city in a residential area, which I didn’t visit on this trip (IJburglaan 1489).
Espresso Fabriek can be found behind the main buildings inside a smaller one that once housed gas meters for the nearby factory. It is now an airy two floor loft, with a coffee bar on the ground level and a Giesen roaster with extra seating up above. There’s a 3-group Kees van der Westen lever machine as well as slow bar with V60s and AeroPress filter coffee available. Be sure to try a slice of the Apple cake.
Screaming Beans is another company that has been a staple of the Amsterdam community who serves coffee roasted by Bocca. In the last year they’ve refreshed their original location with a recent remodel and opened a second location that doubles as a well stocked wine bar and restaurant—complete with tasting menu. The wine bar takes the format of a typical coffee shop and throws it out the window. It offers an experience of fine dining and elegance that won’t have customers questioning the cost of a Chemex. Stationed in front of the glowing wine cellar are dueling Kees van der Westen lever machines, an Über boiler and a myriad of different brew methods to choose from.
The original location, which just re-opened last month in a popular shopping district, has a more traditional café menu, with weekend brunch and pastries along with a fully equipped coffee bar up front, which is also outfitted with a Kees van der Westen lever machine. The space is long and narrow with a bright white wall that reflects light into a nook that’s adorned floor to ceiling with lovely reclaimed wood. What impressed me most about both of the Screaming Beans locations is their dedication to table side coffee brewing, which really elevated the experience to new levels.
Coffee Bru is located south east of the city and is a bit out of the way for most travelers. However, if you have the time it’s a journey that will take you to parts of Amsterdam you would otherwise probably never visit. This café has only been open for about a year and a half, but it has the feeling of a neighborhood institution. It’s less modern than the other shops around town and much more bohemian. There’s a corner full of toys for the kids, a living plant wall in the back room and a menu offering vegan friendly fare.
The coffee bar is built on a brightly tiled island that feels like you’re in someone’s kitchen. The baristas serve coffee roasted by Bocca on V60s and espresso was pulled on a La Marzocco. I had my best cup of filter coffee here, but the least welcoming service.
KOKO Coffee & Design was a favorite of mine on this trip. The shop has only been open for 6 months, but it already seems to have a stream of regulars taking advantage of the inspiring surroundings and great coffee. The atmosphere, the location, the concept and the coffee where all fantastic and the service by the lovely owners Karlijn and Caroline was warm and welcoming. KOKO is located right in the heart of Amsterdam, with a front door that sits just across the canal from the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum. Its presence is unsuspecting and greatly appreciated in this part of town.
The space is part coffee bar that uses beans roasted by Caffenation in Antwerp, Belgium and part design boutique that sells clothing and other accessories from exclusive designers that can’t be found elsewhere in The Netherlands. There is a variety of vintage furniture for lounging and well-lit tables for working or sitting with groups. All of which share the space harmoniously with racks of designer clothing and rotating art exhibits on the walls. I could have spent all day sitting here reading through old magazine and sipping a cappuccino, which was the best I had on my trip.
Headfirst Coffee is the newest coffee shop in Amsterdam and will soon be the newest specialty roaster as well. When I visited, they had only been open for a month and were using coffee roasted on a friend’s machine while waiting for their new Giesen roaster to arrive. The owners of Headfirst, share the space with another business called Harvest & Co that sells vintage furniture, home accessories and other lifestyle goods that transform the space into one you’d find on the pages of Kinfolk as well as Barista Magazine.
The space here is warm and inviting and the bar is simple and understated with little to distract from the shiny new La Marzocco Strada, which takes center stage. The filter coffee was brewed with an AeroPress while I was there and the single origin espresso was singing with brightness and balance. The owners will soon be roasting themselves in the back half of the shop which will introduce more customers to the process behind their cup and adding even more to the quickly growing coffee scene in Amsterdam.
There’s so much activity in Amsterdam and the coffee shops have all taken their own unique approaches to the service they provide and the atmosphere they’ve created. If new shops continue to open up at the same rate as they have in the past year, Amsterdam will soon find itself as one of the leading specialty coffee hubs in Europe.
Gerry Leary, who is seeing impaired, was led by his curious passion and love for good food to start his own coffee company when he as introduced to coffee roasting on a visit to San Francisco in the early 90′s. After learning the audible cues of coffee roasting, Gerry began searching for a job with several companies, but was unable to find anyone who would hire him, unconvinced that he could roast by smell and sound alone. So Gerry opened his own roastery and later bought a struggling coffee shop to learn more about his coffee and his customers.
The film was created by Ira Chute for Whole Food’s online magazine Dark Rye and offers an inspiring look at how far motivation can take a person, no matter what obstacles they may face. Beautifully filmed and heartwarming. Grab a fresh cup and enjoy.
Stumptown just released the latest installment of their video series, which in the past has captured the beauty and the process of hard work that takes place at origin, now highlights the passion for coffee from within Stumptown’s own walls.
The film shares an honest and poetic behind-the-scenes look at Stumptown and serves as a tribute to the coffee loving team who live for the work that they do. It’s a well polished glimpse of the industry for the professional coffee crowd or just the coffee curious, with the kind of aspirational sheen you’d expect from a Levi’s commercial.
Created by Trevor Fife, the filmmaker who’s famous for the opening credits of True Blood and the BMW Unscripted series, does the specialty coffee industry far more justice than the Travel Channel has. Brew a fresh cup and enjoy.
Trevor has been a long-time collaborator with Stumptown: traveling to source with Duane starting in 2006, shooting films on farms like Guatemala Finca El Injerto, and traveling across Colombia, Ethiopia and Kenya, blending clean, pristine digital images with gritty and textural Super 8 and 16mm film. His work is not only easy on the eyes but captures the living, breathing spirit behind the coffee farms and the surrounding communities.