Friday Feature: Best Coffee of 2012

Dear Reader, the Table proudly presents the best coffee of 2012.

25) Hullabaloo Holiday Blend, by Metropolis Coffee Company (Chicago, Illinois)

Hullabaloo Holiday Blend

Metropolis Coffee Company, with their Hullabaloo Holiday Blend, proves that in some cases, change is good; it certainly was for them.

“Hullabaloo” is defined as “a clamorous noise or disturbance; uproar”—Metropolis’s holiday blend of the same name definitely provides a few moments that fit the bill. It offers a full-bodied cup that excites and delights all the way through; from the first few sips that provide a bouquet of spices that tickle the tongue, to the last drop of juicy fruits that is sure to put a smile on your face.

Furthermore, this was a pretty exciting cup for Metropolis—one of the more exciting cups I’ve had from them. That makes the Hullabaloo that much more of a special holiday treat for all of us Chicagoans.

24) Helsar de Zarcero Costa Rica, by Entimos Coffee Roasters (Citrus Heights, California)

Helsar de Zarcero Costa Rica

Much like my friend, Sir Randy Levine of New Jersey, I really became quite enamored with the Helsar de Zarcero Costa Rica. This coffee, from Entimo’s Coffee Roasters in Citrus Heights, California, provides a wonderfully dynamic—though I wouldn’t say “complex”—cup.

It provides plenty of wow moments—moments that make you sit back in your seat and simply melt in comfort.

 

 

 

 

23) Ethiopia Konga Cooperative, by CREMA (Nashville, Tennessee)

Ethiopia Konga CREMA

Some Ethiopian coffees have a lot of zing!—the Ethiopia Konga, from CREMA, has a whole lot ofshazam!.

This cup brims—overflows, even—with flavor, from beginning to end. This is a seriously delicious cup of coffee that didn’t last long on my kitchen counter—it was gone within a couple of days, actually.

 

 

 

 

 

22) Holiday Fusion, Madcap Coffee Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Madcap Coffee Holiday Fusion

MadCap Coffee Company harnessed the wild flavor profiles of these two tropical regions, then fused them together to create one of the most exotic and delicious coffees I’ve had in quite some time.

My very first sniff of MadCap Coffee Holiday Fusion immediately sent the coffee to the very top of my top holiday coffees list. Upon first sip, I wanted to throw up both of my hands and shout, “I’m a believer!” This wonderful holiday blend, which is unlike just about any “traditional” holiday coffee out there, offers an exotic and sweet foray into the highlands of Costa Rica and Kenya with notes of tropical fruits and caramel.

Holiday Fusion would pair excellently with any holiday dessert (like gingerbread, sugar cookies, or coffee cake), and would complement a snack like trail mix even better.

21) Old Dank Nick, by Dark Matter Coffee Company (Chicago, Illinois)

I was NOT expecting Dark Matter Coffee Company’s holiday blend, Old Dank Nick, to taste the way it did. Last year, this blend was really good; really good. This year, this blend was incredible; amazing—INCREDAMAZING.

This coffee was huge; explosive, even. And totally unpredictable. When it started off with that deeply sweet and full aroma of hazelnut and cocoa, I had no idea that the cup was going to turn into a tropical festival of lights.

This year’s Old Dank Nick is a really fantastic cup of coffee. One that should not be missed.

 

 

20) Ethiopia Hachira, by Thirty-Thirty Coffee Company (Peoria, Illinois)

Thirty-Thirty Coffee Company // Ethiopia Hachira

I was not at all expecting this coffee—the Ethiopia Hachira from Thirty-Thirty Coffee Company—to be what it was. Not at all.

It has a super-intense flavor from the very first sip to the very last that just does not quit—it is absolutely relentless. And there are so many flavors in this cup, that it’s almost hard to keep track of them all. And herein, actually, is my one complaint about this coffee—roasted right around a city (or maybe a city plus) profile, I’m not sure it’s developed enough.

Even though it is incredibly flavorful, each sip thins out towards the end; each sip starts off with an explosion of tastes, but they don’t stick around. The only thing that does stick around is the limy acidity that, while refreshing (like a mojito), is almost too sour.

Don’t let that dissuade you from trying this coffee, though. As I mentioned on Twitter last week, this Ethiopia Hachira literally made exclaim “Wow!” in my cubicle—you can verify that story with any of my workmates.

19) Abakundakawa Rwanda, by Handsome Coffee Roasters (Los Angeles, California)

click image to purchase

I really enjoy doing these comparative cuppings, because it proves that the roaster has a lot of impact on how a coffee’s flavor turns out. There are a lot of altruistic people out there that often argue that “the roaster is a limited factor in a coffee’s flavor outcome; the real magic happens at the farm level!” I used to be one of those people, believe it or not. Today’s coffee, Handsome Coffee Roasters’ Abakundakawa, proves the point that the individual roaster is a major influence in a coffee’s flavor. Oftentimes, the roaster is the deciding factor – that’s why you should always buy your coffee from roasters who know what they’re doing. A really great roaster doesn’t overroast or underroast; rather, a really great roaster knows how to make adjustments to nail what the coffee’s profile should be, while still bringing out a lot of the nuances in the beans. A really great roaster knows how to bring out a coffee’s full potential.

I think Handsome did just that with the Abakundakawa; while Ritual’s version was very unique, tasting almost exactly like a s’more, Handsome’s version had a bit of the s’more thing going, but then a lot of other things too. I think Ritual hit the nail on the head with finding the right profile, but Handsome brought the Abakundakawa to its fullest potential.

18) Honduras Ovidio Gomez, by Kickapoo Coffee Roasters (Viroqua, Wisconsin)

Honuras Ovidio Gomez

Here it is, Dear Reader—the Honduran coffee that made me smile.

After having so many mixed reactions to Honduran coffees—even the one from my favorite roasters in town, Passion House Coffee—I was just about to announce my setting out to find a great cup of Honduras. It was going to be a whole series of my misadventures with this region, trying to find that one cup that I really liked. When I learned that Wormhole had Kickapoo Coffee Honduras Ovidio Gomez, I thought “Great—that can be the official start of this series.”

It turned out to be the only entry of such a series needed, because it was, indeed, very, very tasty.

17) Sumatra Lintong Dolok Sanggul, by Velton’s Coffee Roasting Company (Everett, Washington)

Sumatra Lintong Dolok Sanggul

The Sumatra Lintong Dolok Sanggul… What a bizarre cup of coffee. Wow.

This is definitely not your typical Sumatran coffee—hell, it’s not even your typical Lintong Nihuta or Batak coffee. This coffee is a very unique, one-of-a-kind flavor experience that I can’t just compare to any other coffee I’ve ever had. It stands in the presence of its own company. It has a massive body and an equally massive flavor, but, believe it or not, it’s the cup’s subtleties that will impress your tastebuds the most.

Don’t read this wrong—this cup isn’t without flaw; of course it is—it’s a Sumatra. I may be one of Sumatra’s biggest supporters but even I’m no dummy. However, if you’re willing to get past some of the elements that make a Sumatra a Sumatra, then the Lintong Dolok Sanggul will reward you for the effort.

16) Ethiopia Idido, by Passion House Coffee Roasters (Chicago, Illinois)

Passion House Coffee Ethiopia Idido

Last year, I got to try the natural version of this coffee from Counter Culture Coffee—their Kesher Buno sundried natural Idido. That coffee and this—the Ethiopia Idido from Passion House Coffee Roasters—are two totally different entities even though they are, essentially, the same.

The natural from CCC was a heavy, full-bodied, blueberry bombin’ chocolate malt explosion on my palate. It was actually one of my favorites of 2011.

The washed version from Passion House is completely different—it has a slightly lighter body and is more delicately flavored. Instead of big, bombastic chocolate and fruits, it has notes of spices, blossoms, and herbs.

It is, simply, a tremendous cup of coffee. As per usual from my friends at Passion House.

15) Ethiopia Gelana Ebaya, by Halfwit Coffee Roasters (Chicago, Illinois)

ethiopia gelana abaya

This is almost unfair to my friends at Halfwit—I can almost guarantee that starting off with theEthiopia Gelana Abaya, no matter how much I fight it, is going to cause to me to look through a glass darkly at the rest of Halfwit’s offerings.

Because this coffee was good. Damn good. And I can’t even imagine how delectable it would be as an espresso.

There are so many flavors happening in the cup at all times that they’re hard to keep track of—it’s immensely complex, but the clarity is crystalline. Shockingly so.

Ethiopia Gelana Abaya is available at The Wormhole in Wicker Park, and I suggest you hurry down there to pick some up.

14) Mexico Coatepec, by Kaldi’s Coffee (St. Louis, Missouri)

Mexico Coatapec Kaldi's Coffee

Every now and then, as a coffee reviewer, I come across a cup that  really surprises me. The Mexio Coatepec, from Kaldi’s Coffee, is definitely one of those. I, for one, still have a hard time believing that this coffee comes from Veracruz!

This cup is so light and delicate and refined, with crystal clarity and fantastic flavors of pear, green grape, and brown sugar. It’s definitely worth checking out—its quality far surpasses just about all of the Mexican coffees I’ve had in the past couple years, and I think it even holds its own when compared to its neighboring regions.

 

13) Agua Preta Brazil, by Intelligentsia (Chicago, Illinois)

Intelligentsia Agua Preta Brazil

I’ll be honest with you, and the folks at Intelligentsia know this about me – I’ve never really been taken with their coffees. It’s not that I don’t like them or anything, but the coffees I’ve had from them were always too light for my palate: lightly bodied, lightly flavored. I’m not sure if this is an issue for me at the roaster level or at the brewing level, but I had never had a coffee from them that really “wowed” me.

This coffee, though, the Agua Preta, Brazil, really impressed me. I have a feeling that at the end of the year, if I were to do a “Best of 2012″ list, this coffee would probably be on it – it’s just that great. It’s so warm and inviting and soothing; this is the coffee you drink when you curl up on the couch with a book, when you’re staring out the window on a gloomy day, when you just want to enjoy a damn fine cup of coffee. It’s full-bodied and sweet with a mild acidity and smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

An instantly classic cup.

12) Ethiopia Mordecofe, by Stumptown Coffee Roasters (Portland, Oregon)

Stumptown Coffee Ethiopia MordecofeI really liked this one. There wasn’t much about it that really wowed or impressed me (besides the hops in the aroma and the similarity to iced black tea with Splenda in it), but it’s definitely not a boring cup of coffee.

The flavors shift and change and develop throughout the stages of the cup, so it’s very interesting and will offer you a very unique coffee with each sip – chocolate and caramel, apple and peach, lilac and rosehips, bergamot and lavendar (in that order, actually); thoroughly enjoyable at each point in the cup’s life.

 

 

11) Ethiopia Kochere Yirgacheffe, by Bluebeard Coffee Roasters (Tacoma, Washington)

Bluebeard Coffee Ethiopia Kochere

After trying the Ethiopia Kochere Yirgacheffe, from Bluebeard Coffee Roasters, several times, and letting Ashley, coworkers, and friends try it, the general concensus of this coffee was “Wow.” While gathering information about the Kochere Cooperative, a lot of other coffee websites said that this coffee was delicate, subtle, light, etc., but I couldn’t disagree more.

This cup featured a massive, full-bodied flavor, but, like the Guatemala Los Volcanes, it also had such great clarity and definition. Huge tastes of blueberry, berry, honey, and floral aromatics soothe the palate and excite the tastebuds all at once.

I really don’t need another one, but this week has given me another reason to be jealous of Daniel Nettleton and all my other coffee friends who live in Washington. They’ve got the great weather, the Pacific Ocean, the nature, and a roster of businesses that includes some of the most amazing coffee in the country.

I can firmly say that Bluebeard Coffee Roasters belongs on that list.

10) Colombia Alto Palmar, by Metropolis Coffee Company (Chicago, Illinois)

This is something we’ve been seeing over and over and over again at the Table: Colombia is the up-and-coming region for coffee production. Of all the coffee-producing countries in the world, Colombia has the most to prove and the most prejudice to overcome. However, as we’ve seen over the past few months, a lot of the stuff that’s coming out of Colombia has been fabulous. This Alta Palmar-Viota, from Metropolis Coffee Company, is certainly no exception – it offered a fairly complex cup, a lot of flavor, and a pleasant overall experience. It’s smooth and juicy with flavors of caramel, red wine, honey, lime, and pineapple that finishes crisp and dry.

As I mentioned earlier, as a Chicagoan it’s all too easy to forget about Metropolis just because their coffee is in 75% of the cafes and restaurants in this city, but it sure is nice to come home to them every once in a while. It’s a privilege that a company like Metropolis is the Ace up my sleeve. Thank you, Colombia Alto Palmar-Viota, for reminding me how truly great Metropolis Coffee Company is.

9) Sulawesi Toarco Jaya, by Bluebeard Coffee Roasters (Tacoma, Washington)

Sulawesi Toarco Jaya

The Sulawesi Toarco Jaya, from Bluebeard Coffee Roasters, is a very unique, very special cup of coffee. A lot of people ask me why I’m so enthralled with Sulawesi coffees—this one speaks for itself.

If I hadn’t seen what it was before I started drinking it, I would’ve guessed that this was a Honduras or a Nicaragua; then it would cool off and I would’ve thought it was a Kenya or Guatemala. It’s that dynamic.

 

 

 

 

8) Kenya Barichu Gatomboya, by FourBarrel Coffee Roasters (San Francisco, California)

Kenyan coffee is always incredibly complex, garnering various reactions from consumer to consumer. No two Kenyan coffees are exactly alike, but they all have one thing in common – they pack a lot of flavor. I can recall once at a cupping, I asked my audience, “If you were a coffee region, which would you be?” One hipster teenager girl replied, “I’m a Kenyan coffee. Because, love me or hate me, I am what I am – and I’m a different person everyday.” As pretentious as that sounds coming from the mouth of babes, it’s actually a really fitting description of Kenyan coffee.

FourBarrel Coffee’s Kenya Barichu Gatomboya is truly unique, with an incredibly complex and explosive flavor. As much as I adored it, however, it may not be for everyone. This isn’t at all a commentary on FourBarrel’s roasting, or even on the coffee itself – that’s just the way it is with Kenyan coffee. Love it or hate, it is what it is – and it’s a different beast from roaster to roaster, from region to region, from year to year.

If you know what you’re getting into with Kenya’s coffees, and you’re ready for a flavor adventure, Kenya Barichu Gatomboya is one coffee you can’t pass.

7) Ethiopia Rophi, by Coava Coffee Roasters (Portland, Oregon)

Coava Coffee Roaster’s Ethiopia – Rophi is easily one of the best coffees I’ve had from Ethiopia in some time. This naturally processed coffee is both sweet and full-bodied, equal parts dainty and gritty, with delicate aromas of jasmine and carob that give way to flavors of lush strawberries and notes of hazelnuts and creamy milk chocolate. A nice bed of earthiness makes it a great example of a really well-balanced cup of coffee.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

 

 

 

6) Rwanda Buf Cafe Red Bourbon, by Passion House Coffee Roasters (Chicago, Illinois)

I’ve always been of the opinion that the true magic of coffee is found at the farm level – not the roaster. It’s the farm that dictates the magic of the coffee’s flavor – all the roaster does is bring that magic out. However, every now and again, something like this comes along and I’m forced to eat crow. Passion House Coffee Roaster’s Rwanda Buf Cafe Red Bourbon is an entirely different cup, and the only explanation I have is that Joshua Millman and Shannon Steele are roasting dynamos. Looking back, now that I’ve tasted this version, I’m have to agree with Jamie, from Coffee Adventures, that Heart’s Buf Cafe is kind of… dull.

I can’t say enough about it – genuinely. A truly wonderful cup of coffee.

5) Ardi Ethiopia, by Madcap Coffee Company (Grand Rapids, Michigan)

madcap ardi ethiopia

The Ardi Ethiopia coffee, from Madcap Coffee Company, is one heck of a cup of coffee! It embodies everything that I love about naturals, and none of the things that I dread about them—100 percent awesomeness.

This a massively fruity cup of coffee with an enormous amount of flavor. However, for as much as I rave about this coffee being explosive and massive and bombastic and flavor-filled, it maintains its balance and clarity—it is a wonderfully clean cup in which each individual flavor gets a chance to really shine.

This, of course, is what makes the Ardi Ethiopia coffee so unique—the distinctness of each flavor, and the sheer amount of flavor in each sip. This is not a coffee to be missed.

4) Panama Carmen Natural, by Kuma Coffee (Seattle, Washington)

Kuma Coffee Panama Carmen Natural

Van Halen had it right when David Lee Roth so wisely sang, “Uh! // Oh yeah! // Ah-huh! // Panama, Panama // Wow! // Panama, Panama // Oh-oh-oh-oh // Woo!” He was obviously drinking this coffee while he wrote that hit song—I was expressing very similar sentiments sip after sip.

Kuma Coffee’s Panama Carmen Natural is the most exciting cup of coffee I’ve had in recent memory. As I’ve mentioned before, I love naturally processed coffees because they have no limits, they have no restraint, there’s nothing to hold back all of their God-given flavor; they taste exactly as they were created to taste. Of course, sometimes, that’s not such a great thing, and their flaws have to be washed away.

However, in this case, circle gets the square—Kuma Coffee and the Carmen Estate proved the natural process’s limitless flavor potential.

3) Colombia El Pital, by CREMA (Nashville, Tennessee)

CREMA’s Colombia El Pital: “What a great cup of coffee” – a phrase you won’t typically catch me uttering about a cup of Colombia. It has a lot of character, being smooth and creamy and soothing at one moment, then juicy and fruity and sweet at another moment, then becoming smooth and creamy and tart towards the end. It’s a very flavorful cup of coffee with notes of vanilla, nougat, cacao, pear, plum, and tangerine.

 

 

 

 

2) Sumatra Tano Batak, by Kuma Coffee (Seattle, Washington)

Kuma Coffee Sumatra Tano Batak

Wow, what a coffee! Named for the ethnic Batak peoples of northern Sumatra, where this coffee hails from, Sumatra Tano Batak exemplifies what a fine Sumatran coffee should be – hell, what a fine Indonesian coffee should be; this is particularly poignant when you consider that Sumatra really hasn’t had a banner year for coffee in some time.

I’ll be honest – I was not at all expecting this coffee to be what it is. Sure, I figured it was going to be massively flavor, but not like this. This coffee was a blast of cool and refreshing on my tongue and left my mouth feeling clean and sparkling, from its winter melon and mint beginning to its grapefruit and tobacco finish. Perfect for a hot Chicago summer afternoon.

1) Guatemala El Limonar, by Passion House Coffee Roasters (Chicago, Illinois)

Guatemala El Limonar Passion House

I know it already seems like I’m on the payroll at Passion House Coffee Roasters since I’m always, always, always raving about their coffees, but I swear to you that I’m not! I really am this over the moon about what Joshua Millman and Shannon Steele are doing inside of their Fulton Street warehouse. In the year or so that I’ve been drinking Passion House, I think there’s only been one roast I’ve tried that left me thinking “That was pretty good”; the rest of the coffees I’ve had left me exclaiming, “Wow! This is really good!”

The Guatemala El Limonar is certainly no exception. This was such a fabulous cup of coffee. Crystal clear clarity, sparkling, well-defined acidity, smooth and refreshing, and, most importantly, so very, very tasty.

Some very good friends of mine also posted lists of their favorite coffees of the year—here are some of their lists:

Did your favorite coffee of 2012 make the list? Comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome here at the Table! Pull up a chair and speak your mind by entering a comment below. Also remember to like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter!