Dear Reader, at the end of last year, against my better judgement, I compiled a Best Coffee of 2012 list. That list was a big hit and I had a lot of fun doing it, so I decided to do it again this year.
(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.)
In 2013, I cupped around 150 different coffees from 79 different roasters. I’ve compiled my 40 favorite coffees of the year below. Without any further ado, I present my Best Coffee of 2013 list.
So, here we are, at the end of another week—more or less where we began—with the Sumatra Wahana Natural, this time from Tandem Coffee Roasters.
Again, it must be said that this cup of coffee is incredibly unique. Tandem’s version of it wasn’t very spicy or herbal, but it certainly brimmed with flavors; it was sparkling and effervescent, it was so clean, and it had such an incredible clarity for a Sumatran coffee or a natural coffee, let alone a natural Sumatran coffee!
The other thing that was so interesting about this coffee was that the longer is sat at the Table, the brighter, fruitier, delicious-er it got. I had it for a day or two and it was pretty spicy and fermented, like the Forty Weight was; after a couple weeks, it totally changed. Not necessarily for the better or anything like that—but for the… different.
Tandem admits on their site that they tend to shy away from Sumatras and naturals, but they also admit this coffee changed their minds about both at once. I’m glad about it, because the Sumatra Wahana Natural is a real treat of an experience.
Kuma Coffee’s Kagumoini Kenya is one heck of a cup of coffee. Wow.
I really liked this coffee, but I will say this—it’s almost overwhelming; it gets right up to the point of being too sweet, but then backs off. It’s one to be consumed in moderation. Here’s a little cupping tip for this coffee: when you take your slurps, the longer you hold it on your palate, the more you get out of it. And the more you get out of this coffee, the better; it’s a very clean cup with an awful lot of flavor to offer, so savor every last drop of it while you can.
If you have a sweet tooth, though, this is the coffee for you; particularly if you have a sweet tooth and your New Year’s resolution is to give up candy.
Intelligentsia’s Anjilanaka Bolivia is an intense, dynamic, and complex cup that doesn’t just provide the consumer with a good cup of coffee—it unleashes an all-out coffee experience.
Drinking this coffee was a supreme adrenaline rush, like plummeting down the tracks of the steepest incline of the world’s biggest roller coaster. Yeah—it’s a lot like that. When the first few sips were so light and airy, so delicate and refined and tea-like, I figured that the rest of the cup might provide a few flavor shifts, but they’d be mostly subtle. Instead, as soon as the cup started cooling off, it got so massively intense, so tropical, and so incredibly lively. It went from being a coffee that I had to sip slowly because of its delicacy and complexity, to being a coffee that I had to sip slowly because of its complexity and explosiveness.
What impresses me most about this coffee isn’t the interesting flavor profile so much as the crystal clarity that this coffee possesses. Anjilanaka Bolivia features a deluge of flavor and, in most coffees, when you have this much flavor and a profile that is so juicy and concentrated, all of those flavors just sort of blend together, like a fruit smoothie. In the case of Anjilanaka, though, it has so much definition and clarity that all of its incredible flavors were easy to identify.
This coffee is not for the faint of heart, Dear Reader, but it is certainly one that the adventure-driven thrill-seekers should look into.
The Colombia Finca Primavera, from Populace Coffee, is an intensely bright and lively coffee that dances all over the palate in a long, flowing silver sequin gown. That metaphor is a bit much… But it’s accurate.
From the first sip to the very finish of the cup, the Finca Primavera is a dynamic coffee that really glistens with incredible flavors, a supple mouthfeel, tremendous balance, and a sparkling acidity that really makes the taste buds stand at attention.
The Honduras Santa Elena, from Buzz Killer Espresso, is a really unique—nay, singular—cup of coffee. Honestly, I never expect much out of Honduran coffees; I expect them to be either a) decent, b) not so good, or c) above average. What I never expect to find coming out of Honduras are coffees that are exceptionally unique and/or complex. This coffee certainly embodied the latter.
While it features the traditional hallmarks of most Honduran coffees (fruits, wood, spice, flowers), the Honduras Santa Elena takes those elements and takes them to another level. The thing that makes these elements pop so much is the intensity of the flavors and, more importantly, the intensity of the flavors (which, of course, directly benefits from the aforementioned clarity).
Really dynamite cup of coffee that challenges the palate.
After three coffees from Fratello Coffee Roasters, this time their Costa Rica MISO, I remain impressed with the work Russ and his team are doing and their output.
The MISO provides a pleasant coffee experience with sweet juicy fruits and mild spices as its high notes, but it also has those dried fruits, nuts, and shortbread flavors that keep the cup grounded. So, overall, this is really nicely balanced coffee that is heavy on the palate and light on the belly. Perfect breakfast or light lunch coffee.
What impresses me most, though, is the profile. I’m told that this coffee is roasted for espresso, but the roast is so light that the coffee tastes great as a filter brew. I, for example, made this coffee in my Clever and was blown away at its clarity, flavor, and lack of “roastiness” that is often present in espresso roasts—so don’t let the website fool you when you read that the coffee is meant for espresso.
It took everything I had in me to wait to cup this coffee; everyday, for a whole week, the bright silver bag and the Norman Rockwell-esque packaging staring at me, taunting me, enticing me. There was no sign with the words “Do not open ’til Christmas” on it, but I was so right to wait to cup this blend last—‘Tis the Season Roast, from Kaldi’s Coffee, was the best holiday blend I had this year.
While I don’t necessarily think that this blend embodies the scents and flavors of the holiday season perfectly (the acidity is just a little too tart (though it certainly does “make the [coffee] bright”)), it is an absolutely incredible blend. I really wasn’t sure what to expect putting these two singularly unique coffees in one cup, but gee golly does it work.
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 Kunga Maitu Kenya, from Intelligentsia Coffee, is such a beautiful, elegant, and graceful coffee. Furthermore, it is also incredibly light and delicate. This isn’t a coffee that splashes or explodes or completely envelopes the palate; no, this is a coffee that simply pirouettes across the palate.
This Kenya is bright and floral and fruity and effervescent; it has all of the best characteristics of a Kenya, nay, it is the very definition of how utterly beautiful a great Kenyan coffee can be.
What a unique, dynamic, complex, but, moreover, delectable cup of coffee!
The Brazil Serro Do Bone, from Temple Coffee, presented my palate with a lot of really interesting flavors and an engaging experience, overall, as this coffee evolved continually over the life of the cup. From post-brew to cool-down to room temperature to finish, the Serro Do Bone was practically four different coffees. It was sweet and sugary, it was lemon-limey and tart, it was juicy and fruity, and doughy and nutty.
I really enjoy coffees that every bit as delicious as they are complex; they appeal to the coffee lover and the coffee geek in me simultaneously. And, I’ve gotta tell ya, this coffee really did it for me.
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.
To what can I liken the Colombia El Paraiso Cooperative, from Mountain Air Roasting, most accurately? A hurricane? A volcano?
Much like a hurricane, this coffee comes on strong, then settles into itself and gives the palate a rest before coming back stronger than before. Much like a volcano, this coffee absolutely erupts onto the palate with massively bright, intense flavors.
This coffee is so sweet, so crisp, so tropical; but it’s also very well-balanced, and features perfect clarity.
Absolutely fantastic Colombian coffee.
The Tano Batak Sumatra, from Johnson Brothers Coffee Roasters, simply
sings swoons bellows. 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 bit whole 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.)
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.
The Colombia Finca Esperanza, from Case Coffee Roasters, is a unique, dynamic, and complex coffee that lays it all on the line from the very first sip.
I make a very conscious effort not to repeat the tasting notes that a roaster provides for their coffees (I don’t even read their tasting notes until after my review is written), but the notes on this label are bang on: Dutch chocolate, lemon meringue, and assertive—a descriptor that makes a lot more sense after you’ve tried the coffee. It is an assertive coffee—it’s a coffee with something to prove. It’s the “Rudy” of Colombian coffee; just because this lot is a little guy from the massive Colombian market doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong on a specialty roaster’s shelves.
In terms of profile, the Colombia Finca Esperanza is a much tastier coffee in the second half of the cup and a much more interesting coffee up front. That’s what makes it such a dynamic coffee.
Oh, yeah—and it’s hella good over ice.
The Mexico El Eden Cooperative, from Quills Coffee, is a fantastic Mexican coffee that holds up in the company of some of the better Central American naturals and certainly outshines most of its Mexican peers—particularly in its specific region of Guerrero and extending into the more famous Oaxaca.
While I’ve had maybe one Mexican coffee that was tastier (to my liking anyway), I most definitely haven’t had a Mexican coffee that was more (or even equally, for that matter) dynamic nor complex. Truly, this natural Guerrero fires on all cylinders with plenty of sweets and spices. Furthermore, it’s a real mouthful with a weight that is light on the belly, but heavy on the palate. What it lacks in clarity, it makes up for in volume and dynamics.
Whatever your preconceived notions of Mexican coffees are, throw them out the window when you try this one. While most Mexicos won’t even make your head turn, the El Eden will make your head spin.
This Rwanda Abakundakawa Rushashi, from Bluebeard Coffee Roasters, is not the Rwanda Abakundakawa Rushashi that I’ve had in the past. The two I had (from Ritual and Handsome) were so incredibly unique, but similar, at least, to each other. What a difference a year (and a different roaster) make…
My former experiences with the Rwanda Abakundakawa were with a coffee that was sweet, airy, and decadent with incredibly unique notes of marshmallow, graham cracker, chocolate, honey, and strawberry. I had never had anything like it before, and I haven’t had anything like it since. Even including today.
No, today’s coffee was fruity and herbal, complex and dynamic. So many interesting flavors, such a unique overall profile—the Rwanda Abakundakawa is a coffee all into itself. An utterly singular coffee that provides an utterly singular experience. Truly memorable.
If there were ever a coffee that is worthy of the term “elegant,” this, the Kenya Mchana AA from Tony’s Coffee, is it.
Specialty coffee has been trying for years to convince the general public that it’s as much a gourmet/culinary beverage as fine wines are; that an experienced coffee cupper has just as much right to be considered a true “sommelier” as a trained wine enthusiast. The Kenya Mchana is a coffee that, I think, absolutely proves it.
This coffee tastes like it’s fresh out of the vineyeard, like a dry red wine—like a Merlot—, with its flavors of slightly astringent and sweet/tart/malic fruits. Supple, elegant, beautiful.
Honestly—Ethiopia has been really killin’ it in 2013. With the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Banko Gotiti Natural, from Kickapoo Coffee Roasters, the Table has been graced with yet another utterly unique Ethiopian coffee.
There are very few naturally-processed Ethiopian coffees that are as delicate and elegant (delicant?), but still as flavorful as this one manages to be. The Banko Gotiti has such crystal clarity, and it simply brims with tropical fruits, flower petals, and herbaceous aromatics that titillate the tongue.
This is a stunning coffee.
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.
The Costa Rica Don Pepe, from Case Coffee Roasters, is a somewhat complex coffee that really deserves multiple tastes over multiple devices. It demands a lot of patience, and when you get it right, I think that extra bit of required patience really pays off.
I brewed it with a Hario V60 but I wanted the body to be fuller and the flavors to pop more; I knew I needed more saturation so I attempted it again with a Clever, but I lost the cleanliness and clarity. There were two devices that gave me exactly what I was looking for, though: the Aeropress and the Clever. Furthermore, I imagine that this coffee could withhold an espresso machine and be served as an SOE; it might even be structured well enough to use in capps.
Fantastic coffee from a fantastic company. Well worth looking into. And, as I mentioned earlier, you’re not going to find this honey-processed lot anywhere else, so if you’re going to give it a try, definitely be sure to do so as soon as possible—the sooner the better as I’m guessing this one is flying off Case’s shelves.
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.
A couple years ago, when I really started getting into listening to podcasts at my work desk, I spent HOURS wasting time watching Stephen Leighton’s In My Mug vodcast, and it always broke my heart that there was no other way to try Has Bean’s coffee at home in Chicago without spending the mucho de nero it costs to have it shipped internationally. So, I did the next logical thing – I bought two plane tickets to Ireland for my wife and me and tried some Has Bean at 3FE in Dublin.
While it would have probably been cheaper to pay for international shipping than it was to pay for international plane tickets, I’m glad I spent the money because the Costa Rica Finca de Licho, from Has Bean Coffee, was very, very, very tasty.
This is a very clean, crisp, and balanced cup of coffee that is every bit tropical as it is confectionary. Its profile shifts and evolves over the life of the cup with highlights of chocolate, raspberry, honey, and juicy citrus acidity. Furthermore, it’s incredible as a single origin espresso.
A very fine Costa Rican coffee that is well worth flying over the Atlantic to drink.
A warm and comforting coffee, the Mexico Nueva Linda, from Passion House Coffee Roasters, is just what the doctor ordered for cold, wintry days.
If there is one coffee you want in your mug when you’re curled up in your easy chair in hibernation mode, this is the one.
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.
It seems as though Craft Coffee’s goal with this box was to completely decimate their subscribers’ palates. Each coffee they packed in this month’s box was so intensely flavorful that it my taste buds were practically overloaded; I may need to avoid drinking coffee for a while so that my palate can regain its composure.
The Panama Finca Carmen, from Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, is powerful, intense, and overflowing with flavor.
What’s more, it tastes nothing like any other Panamanian coffee I’ve ever had. While others Panamas (in my experience) tend to be light-bodied with clean fruit notes and plenty of brightness. The Finca Carmen, on the other hand, has a massive body and lots of big, fat, low-end flavors.
This is a fantastic coffee. One that mesmerizes.
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.
The Rwanda Nyamasheke, from Entimos Coffee Roasters, is a beautiful and hearty coffee that shows so much character. It’s a coffee that puts it all out there and doesn’t pull any punches.
When I review these coffees, as you know, I write things like “Immediately post-brew…as it cools off…at room temperature…” because I find that there are generally three stages of a cup’s life and each stage has its own unique identity; flavors appear then disappear then reemerge or don’t. Some coffees have flavors that appear in Stage 1, then reappear in Stage 3. Every cup has a different profile, but they generally fit the same mold. Of course, there are always exceptions.dd
Like this coffee, for example.
At each stage of the cup’s life, it added more flavor onto itself. Furthermore, at no stage did any flavor back off—they only intensified to make up for the additional flavors the cup tacked on. “Here are the confections. Now, here are the confections plus some nuts. Oh you like that? How about confections and nuts and pommes? Yeah? Now how about all of that with some citrus on top?” And this coffee must have some really sturdy legs to support all that body!
Really, a fantastic coffee from Matt and Tim at Entimos. You guys nailed this one.
This, the Costa Rica Finca Santa Rosa from Fratello Coffee Roasters, is ab-so-lute-ly cray cray. And, yes, that is my expert opinion of it.
There aren’t enough nice things I can say about this coffee—it’s certainly one of my favorites of the year. Silky body, fruity/floral complexity, tremendous acidity, great balance, and such a clean taste.
This coffee won’t last long in your kitchen—I can guarantee it. It certainly didn’t last long in mine.
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.
There are those who will tell you that Papua New Guinean coffees aren’t worth your time; most roasters won’t even give them a fair shake. While I think the aversion is unfair, I also understand it. Because for every one good PNG coffee, there are dozen or more terrible ones. That’s just the Way of Things when it comes to coffees from this part of the world.
However, the Baroida Estate, from Fratello Coffee Roasters, is certainly the exception. Furthermore, not only is it a good PNG coffee, is it a fantastic PNG coffee. Yeah—I went there.
I know that some of my reviews can be unnecessarily poetic and over the top (this review certainly is), but this coffee deserves every bit of praise that I’m giving it. It has a lot of really incredible flavors and it provides the consumer such a unique tasting experience that you don’t really find in other regions.
Much like Sumatra’s Batak coffees, Baroida Estate is the standard bearer, the definition, of an incredible Indo-Pacific coffee.
Don’t be fooled, though—as I’ve mentioned, it is also the exception. Don’t go out and buy a crappy PNG and say, “Well, A Table in the Corner of the Cafe said they’re great”—they’re not. PNGs (and Sumatras, for that matter) are very fickle and a really good one is very hard to find.
This PNG, though, the Baroida Estate from Fratello, is that “really good one.”
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.
Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.