Dear Reader, at the end of last year, against my better judgement, I compiled a Best Coffee of 2012 list. I think, in 2013, I’ve already had pretty darn close to the same amount of coffees as I had all of last year, so I wanted to sort of rank them in list format once again so that it will be there to remind me at the end of the year what I liked most (but mostly to generate a lot of Sunday traffic).
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Remember, the coffees in this list are only coffees that I’ve had in 2013; in no way is this list meant to be authoritative or comprehensive)
Without any further ado, I present my Best Coffee of 2013…So Far:
Passion House Coffee’s Sulawesi Tana Toraja AA is a wonderful, beautiful cup of coffee—particularly after it cools off. Furthermore, it is a true underdog—it hails from one of the most overlooked and underrated regions of the coffee-producing world and it’s currently being offered by one of Chicago’s most overlooked roasting operations.
The last couple of Sulawesis we had here at the Table were all great and Passion House’s contribution to that roster was certainly no exception. It brims with flavor from beginning to end and its profile shifts dramatically from the beginning to end; the thing that I liked most about it, though, was how unique and indigenous the flavors were—this Sulawesi was exemplary of what a great Sulawesi could be and it did everything it could to expand my cupping vocabulary.
My one complaint about this coffee—it just didn’t last long enough at the Table.
The Guatemala Palo Blanco Select, from Barefoot Coffee Roasters, is truly exemplary of everything I love about Guatemalan coffees. It has the soft, subtle, and exotic complexity of a very fine Guatemala—to the nth degree. It is sweet, crisp, and bursting with juicy fruits.
I couldn’t get enough of this coffee and it pains me that it didn’t last very long at the Table. This coffee was like the best birthday present ever—well, at least it made me feel like it was my birthday every time I drank it. This is a really special one that I’d urge anybody to purchase.
The Rwanda Dukunde Kawa, from Halfwit Coffee Roasters, is a very special, very unique cup of coffee.The folks at the roaster label it “demure…coy, graceful, tender”, and those descriptors are pretty accurate. I’ve got some descriptors of my own that I think fit the bill: coquettish, flirty, complicated. This is a classically feminine coffee and it’s even characterized by feminine wiles. Dukunde Kawa is like a beautiful woman that flirts with you all night, then slaps you when you move in for a kiss, then gives you her number anyway.Dukunde Kawa is the Scarlett O’Hara of the coffee world. She’s sweet and pretty, but she’s equally complicated, sassy, and has a mean bite; and even though I know I shouldn’t get involved with her because she’ll break my heart in the end, I just can’t help myself. It’s sweet and candied and sugarcoated up front; then she shows you how luscious she is with soft red fruits and juiciness; then, she does a complete 180° turn, altering her entire profile, becoming light and zesty.There aren’t enough kind things in the world I can say about the Rwanda Dukunde Kawa—it’s one that everyone should experience for themselves.
Hold on, folks – I’m still coming down from the dizzying heights that I just ascended to. You’ll have to give me a moment or two to collect myself.
The Kiriyama Burundi, from Madcap Coffee Company, is one hell of a cup of coffee. Really and truly. This coffee has all the makings of a classic Burundi coffee – chocolate, berry, flowers -, but it’s also so incredibly dynamic. It takes the prototypical Burundi, then turns the volume up to eleven with huge flavors that pop all over the palate, making the taste buds stand at attention. Furthermore, it’s a very, very well- rounded coffee. The high notes and the low notes and the sparkling acidity all combine to create a memorable experience that stays with you, even an hour or two after finishing the last drop.
I’m drinking this coffee in the middle of a massive winter storm, but I’m dreaming of summer. For two reasons: one, because I’m sitting in the middle of a massive winter storm; the other reason, though, is that the Colombia Finca Los Eucaliptos, from Panther Coffee, is the quintessential summertime coffee.
When it’s sunny and hot and a neighborhood kid’s lemonade stand seems like a godsend—that’s what this coffee is.
It’s tart and concentrated, but it’s also sweet and tasty and refreshing. This coffee ranges the spectrum from savory and crusty to fruity and juicy. This is an excellent cup as a pour-over, a superb coffee coming out of the Clever, and “so-delicious-it’s-unreal” over ice.
With this coffee, MistoBox proves that March comes in less like a roaring lion than it does a panther, pouncing on you when you least expect it.
Complex, dynamic coffees are always rewarding; coffees that you win as a prize in a bet are always rewarding. The Ethiopia Aricha, from Lone Pine Coffee Roasters, is very, very rewarding.
The Aricha is a very layered cup of coffee, never tasting the same from sip to sip, never being precisely the same brew twice. This coffee will keep you on your toes both in terms of keeping up with its profile and dialing it in from day to day. Simply adjusting your grind, simply adjusting your brew ratio, simply adjusting your… whatever; truthfully, the minutest of adjustments in your brewing will produce a radically different cup of coffee.
No worries, though—this isn’t, nor does it need to be, an intimidating coffee; for as complex and dynamic as it is, it’s also forgiving. While your cup from brew to brew may not perfectly match what the roastmaster at Lone Pine had in mind, but, more often than not, it’s still going to be a tasty cup.
The Kenya Kaimbu AA, from Augie’s Coffee Roasters, is red all the way through. Furthermore, and most importantly, it’s delicious all the way through.
This is a coffee that doesn’t overwhelm you, doesn’t grab you by the lapels and hold you up against a wall, doesn’t slap you in the face—this coffee quietly sneaks up on you, then suddenly erupts onto the palate like a Gusher. While it’s a very delicious cup of coffee, it’s very, very, very drinkable, making it all too easy finish off the whole cup without even realizing it.
I’ll admit it—even though I’m a coffee reviewer, the first two or three times I brewed the Kenya Kaimbu I nearly finished the cup before realizing how much I loved it. It’s one of those coffee that, while you’re sipping it, you think to yourself “Hey, this coffee is pretty good.” A few minutes after finishing it, though, you’ll be exclaiming, “Wow! That was really, really good.”
Then you’ll cry big, fat tears into your empty mug—because the coffee will be gone before you even realize it.
CREMA’s Guatemala Las Aguas Altas is a magical coffee; in that it’s a lot like magic; in that, like a magic trick, it presents you with the long, slow reveal. It doesn’t play all of its cards up front; instead, it holds them close to its chest.
At certain points in the cup, however, it pulls an Ace out of its sleeve and really wows the palate.
This cup is a prime example of how varied Guatemalan coffees can be from one another. While some Guatemalan coffees are very sweet, some are very savory, and some are very tart, this one is very dynamic and complex.
So, as you can probably tell from the notes I provided above, this coffee has an extensive history with Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Madcap Coffee Company, and their current offering of it was even selected as a finalist in the 2013 Good Food Awards. I can’t say one way or the other about Madcap’s roast of it, but I can tell you that CREMA did a great job with it. A really great job.
Let’s face it, Dear Reader – Bolivian coffees are seldom good. While Bolivia does have all the right ingredients for stellar coffees (plenty of high altitude, rich soil, great seedstock, etc.), their quality and production practices are, well, lacking. We’ve been fortunate, here at the Table, however, to have already cupped two prime examples of how good Bolivian coffee can be.
The Organic Bolivia Bolinda, from Kaldi’s Coffee, is a delightful cup; a classic Latin American breakfast or comfort coffee with its delicacy, brightness, clarity, balance, rich flavor, and sweet aromatics. Delicious savories up front give way to subtle fruit flavors in the back, providing a cup that is full of depth and pleasurable from beginning to end.
If you’ve never tried a Bolivian coffee before, this cup from Kaldi’s is a fantastic place to start.
The Tano Batak Sumatra, from Johnson Brothers Coffee Roasters, simply
sings swoonsbellows. With a lot of the coffees that I’ve reviewed so far in 2013, I’ve used frilly, poetic language about grace and delicacy in my reviews.
This coffee is a mouthful—a big-bodied, big-personality, big-flavored, Big Friendly Giant of a coffee. It doesn’t want to impress you—it really wants to impress you. It goes way out of its way with unique and distinct aroma and flavor, and it doesn’t pull any punches nor hold anything back. What’s more, it’s got a
little bitwhole lot of everything you could want in a coffee: you like spice?, it’s got that; you like sweet savories?, it’s got that; you like heavenly aromas, zesty acidity, sparkling clarity, and incredible definition?, it’s got that, that, that, that, and then some.
Look, it’s no secret that I love the Lake Toba region of Sumatra. But that love has led me to adopt some pretty rigid standards for what makes a good Lake Toba coffee. Dear Reader—the Johnson Brothers are currently offering a great Lake Toba coffee. This is one that I will remember, come end-of-the-year top coffees list-making time.
(No, there’s no better way that I could have possibly written that sentence.)
My first foray into Nordic coffees, I’d say, was a great success. The Kenya Tekangu, from Tim Wendelboe, is a really unique experience, but equally, I think, it was handled in a really unique way by Tim Wendelboe. Again, this is only my first exposure to a Nordic roast, so I can’t speak to what they do differently than American roasters, but I feel like this coffee would have turned out much differently in the hands of an American roastery.
Besides the very interesting flavors I found in this cup, the thing that made this coffee so interesting was its body and its profile. The thing about Kenyan coffees, as you are well aware, I’m sure, is that they are unlike any other coffee from anywhere else in the world in that a lot of them are intensely acidic and have, for lack of a better term “pointy edges”—their flavors and acidity can be very sharp.
Not only does Tekangu separate itself from the rest of the coffee-growing world as a Kenyan coffee, it separates itself from its Kenyan counterparts. It’s in a league of its own. It doesn’t have any of those sharp edges, it doesn’t share other Kenyas’ intensities—it is a really well-rounded, balanced, fully-developed Kenya.
There is, of course, a lesson to be learned today, and that lesson is this: when Ryan Knapp recommends a coffee to try, try it.
I couldn’t have been happier with the recommendation he made; couldn’t have been happier with this wonderful, delicious, flavorful, and delightful Colombian coffee. The Luis Reinoso, from Madcap Coffee Company, is everything and more that you want a classic Colombian comfort to be – it pleases the palate up front, then pleasantly surprises it in the back, leaving behind a lingering finish that continually rewards your taste buds for upwards of an hour later.
This is one I strongly recommend purchasing. And don’t think, for a moment, that you can get this coffee from another roaster and get the same experience; for one thing, that’s a fallacy, but more pertinent is the fact that, as aforementioned, Madcap is roasting this coffee exclusively as they purchased all of the specialty-grade coffee from their lot. You won’t/can’t find this coffee anywhere else, and it’s not going to last forever, so get it while you can.
If Ryan Knapp likes it, you’ll like it, too. More importantly, if Drew Moody loves it, you’ll love it, too.
This, the Costa Rica Finca San Luis from Cartel Coffee, is a simple, straightforward cup of coffee. “Simple” and “straightforward”, however, definitely doesn’t mean that it’s not flavorful and tasty—because it’s that and then some.
This is a very clean cup with crystalline clarity; which is great, because the flavors found herein are incredible. This is a bright, zesty, sparkling, and tart coffee that dances all over the palate. Flavors of savory caramel and vanilla that lead into bittersweet grapefruit and green apple make the tongue tingle; this coffee delights the taste buds, leaves behind a clean, fresh feeling in the mouth sip after sip, and, grumps beware, it is smile-inducing.
This is the coffee that you want in your cup to start off the day.
The Colombia Agustino Forest, from Caffe Ladro, is an incredible coffee that is sure to please the casual consumer and the professional cupper alike. This is the coffee that you can put in a travel mug and face the morning commute with, or scrutinize with a critical approach, cupping spoon and pen in hand, equally.
It has an incredible, light body making it very drinkable, it has enormous flavor, making it a real treat to drink, and it’s very approachable, making it a non-intimidating coffee that anyone can enjoy. It also has a startling clarity that makes all of its unique flavors of fruits and savories easy to pinpoint and very identifiable. The most important thing, though, is that it’s just a damn fine cup of coffee.
Sometimes I can’t believe how utterly unique certain coffees are, and sometimes I can’t believe how very much alike some coffees can be. Take, for example, the coffee I reviewed yesterday—the Santa Julia El Salvador—and compare it side by side with today’s Rwanda Gitesi, from Ceremony Coffee Roasters. In terms of both flavor and profile, these two cups are nearly identical. Two countries that are thousands of miles apart, producing two very different coffees in radically different growing conditions, and employing radically different processing methods managed to create two cups that could be mistaken for one another.
These two coffees are like sororal twins who were separated at birth and grew up in different countries, then somehow made it into the same April MistoBox. There are certainly some obvious differences—for example, Santa Julia’s dominant flavor up front was caramel and Rwanda Gitesi’s was cocoa (which, I suppose, is fitting); and Julia was sexy and thin and elegant, Gitesi was every bit of sexy and elegant but in a more voluptuous, full-figured way.
But enough of comparing and contrasting—the Rwanda Gitesi deserves to take up the spotlight for a little while.
This is quite an extraordinary coffee. She really sings and sparkles like a Dreamgirl in a silver sequin gown in a V60 and a Chemex, and she can bring down the house as a single origin espresso. She has flavor bellowing out of her at every point in the cup and she makes a guy feel like a million bucks when she’s around. I very really couldn’t get enough of this coffee and I really wish I could have spent more time with it.
This is one I highly recommend ordering.
The Colombia San Jose, from Verve Coffee Roasters, is one of those rare coffees that just doesn’t quit.
Honey and brown sugar are the dominant features of the cup, and these flavors run throughout the course of it—from beginning to end—and silky fruit notes introduce a long, satisfying finish that rounds out the bottom of the cup. Usually, with coffees like this, when the finish introduces itself so early, the cup ends up having a short life; the flavors up front dissipate quickly, then the finish just kind of – sputters out after a short time. Not so with the San Jose—not so at all; its finish just keeps going and going and going.
What makes this cup even more unique is that it never loses its dynamics or its complexity. Some of these coffees go for a long time, sure, but they thin out after a while and the consumer gets bored with them. This coffee, on the other hand, captivated me and held my attention from beginning to end.
The Santa Ines Colombia, from Cartel Coffee Lab, is one hell of a cup of coffee. To be perfectly honest, I could sign this article off with that statement, immediately followed by “‘Nuff said,” and leave it at that. But for the sake of posterity, I won’t.
Really, though, this coffee bursts out of the mug with a tropical punch – sweet and fruity, intense and exciting. However, for as brimming with life as the coffee is, it’s actually very sophisticated and refined. Let me put it this way – this coffee isn’t like a nightclub or a disco and it’s not like ballroom dancing or ballet so much as it’s like one of Jay Gatsby’s famous parties; the music really swings, the dance floor is really hot, and the energy is unbridled, but everybody’s dressed formally, driving luxury cars, and drinking champagne.
The cup is sweet, sweet, sweet, all the way through, but it has just enough of a tart citrus acidity and a creamy caramel base to keep the coffee grounded; yeah, it’s very sweet – but it’s never too sweet. And that’s a very important distinction to make. However, if I were to keep scores at the Table, I’d probably dock points for that – the fruitiness is just a little out of control at times. I would have liked to have that reined in just a little bit more than it was. Still, though, an incredible cup – certainly 90-92 worthy in my opinion.
This is the quintessential Summah Time coffee – light, fruity, sweet, refreshing, and if you think this coffee sounds good hot, just wait til you try it over ice or as a cold brew… Oh man.
Last year I went against my better judgement and compiled a Best Coffees of 2012 list; I’m pretty sure I’ve tried as many coffees in 2013 as I did in 2012 already so I’ve been thinking about compiling a shortlist of coffees to include in my Best Coffees of 2013 list.
If you want a sneak preview of what that list is going to look like, I’ll tell you this: when I tried Kuma Coffee’s Colombia Jose Ninco, it immediately became a contender for the top spot.
This was a very special cup of coffee that provided a unique and complex experience. Really, that’s the word to summarize this coffee: experience. And that is what makes this coffee so memorable—it’s not just a good coffee and it’s not just a complex coffee, it’s one that makes you excited about coffee! You know, as a reviewer, I drink an awful lot of coffees here at the Table—a lot. Some are really great coffees that I have a lot of respect for, but very few generate a lot of excitement in me. This one did. And it did consistently, time after time, brew after brew.
I’ll admit it—this coffee made me squee like a fan girl.
Beg, steal, or borrow—do what you’ve got to do to get your hands on this coffee.
(Just kidding. Go to Kuma’s website and buy it.)
Honorary #1) Passion House Coffee Roasters // Union Blend
As I mentioned, this is a very exclusive custom blend that was created specifically for my wedding. However, I would be remiss not to urge you to look into the three coffees that comprise the Union Blend, all of which are delicious and all of which are available for purchase through the Passion House Coffee website: Brasil Santa Lucia, Brasil Rainha Microlot, and El Salvador Las Nubes #11. Furthermore, if you have an upcoming special occasion and you want to provide your guests with a unique favor to remember the day by, I would suggest reaching out to Passion House or another locally-owned roaster like Passion House to discuss creating a custom blend.
Ashley’s and my many, many sincere thanks to Joshua, Shannon, John, and Brian at Passion House Coffee for going out of their way to create such a special offering for our special day. We are very honored and privileged to call you guys friends.