As in past years, we selected and ranked our Top 30 coffees and espressos based on quality (represented by overall rating), value (reflected by most affordable price per pound), and consideration of other factors that include distinctiveness of style, uniqueness of origin or tree variety, certifications such as Fair Trade and organic, and general rarity.
The Hunt Brothers Coffee Beans | Blue Honduras Specialty Coffee | Certified Organic comes from Marcala, a region in Central America that is recognized with a DOP (Protected Origin Denomination). These 100% Arabica beans are grown on a fertile volcanic soil, which is enriched by volcanic lava. The growth process of the coffee is marked by the SHG – strictly high growth. This means that the fruits will mature slowly to make sure they create a full-bodied and deeper flavor as well as a premium taste.
After tasting many coffees that were either completely bland or singed to bitter oblivion, Thrive Market's coffee was a welcome relief, as it offered flavor that was actually nuanced. "Aroma!" wrote my colleague Joe (note the exclamation point). "Woodsy, dark chocolate. Bright! Finished fruity, with a flavor of raspberry and copper." Other tasters also noted that this coffee was brighter than the rest, and offered nice fruitiness. The coffee has a relatively thin body, so those who like a rounder, creamier texture might find it lacking It was not so light and thin, however, that it didn't hold up nicely to a bit of milk—and you could still taste the chocolatey, woody notes through the milk, whereas many coffees lost all distinct flavor when dairy was added. Another bonus: this coffee comes in a huge 24-ounce bag, and at $12.99 for that size, it's an incredible deal.
Need further proof that great coffee can (and does) happen just about anywhere, nowadays? At least a couple of hours from the nearest big city and convenient mostly to nature—beautiful Blackwater Canyon, for example—this multi-roaster and unofficial community center anchors an array of independent businesses on an old coal town's handsome and very historic main drag.
Seattle got most of the attention, but the '90's were very good to the Windy City, coffee-wise—let's start with Intelligentsia, beginning life as a relatively modest café and roastery in the Lakeview section of town, back in 1995. Like Seattle today, Chicago's scene is wonderfully layered, offering up everything from the unabashedly traditional to the cutting-edge. For the best of the latter, look way, way west—steps from where the notorious Horner projects stood crumbling thirty years ago—to a block shared with another celebrated coffee roaster (Sparrow) and a very good brandy distillery (Rhine Hall). Metric, something of a power partnership between the owner of a popular local café and a talented Intelligentsia vet, roasts its prized beans on a restored 1961 Probat, keeping relatively limited hours in an on-site café and tasting room, where public cuppings are held every Friday morning.
Subtle Earth whole bean light roast is one of the only coffees that made our list, boasting both certified organic and GMO free ingredients. You can tell the care that is taken from farming to finish when looking at the story of Don Pablo’s Subtle Earth coffee. Our tasters picked out a number of fruity and herbal flavors, but what won everyone over was the sweet finish with no added flavor in the beans. Costing you only $.53 per ounce, this flavorful cup provides more than just a boost of caffeine, it can also boost your savings.

Now that we have a better understanding of how complex coffee is, we had to find the best coffee maker to ensure quality control for each brew. We chose the award winning and Speciality Coffee Association of America’s Certified (SCAA) Home Brewer: the OXO – On Barista Brain nine cup coffee maker. This was also the winning machine in our review of the best drip coffee makers.
Organic coffee is a good choice if you want to keep track of your health as you continue to have your favorite coffee. With organic coffee, you can enjoy a cup of coffee every day without consuming chemical traces. Organic coffees are slowly roasted to bring out a full-bodied taste and flavor. You will also realize that most organic coffees are organic and kosher certified.

The next step in the quest for a quality cup of coffee is roasting. The roasting process heats up the beans at temperatures of 230 degrees Celsius; neutralizing the extreme unpleasant flavor profiles of the bean. The newly roasted bean offers nutty, smoky, or spicy flavors. The length of time that the bean is roasted determines the flavor profile and caffeine content. Beans roasted longer have a shiny black appearance and they boast a bitter and bold taste. Also, they are noted by an oily feel. Light roasted beans, which are roasted for a shorter length of time, tend to be sweeter, smoother, and even floral in flavor. If you prefer a lighter smooth taste, you will defer from bolder, darker roasts of equal of even better quality.
Stumptowns Mountain Coffee is of course, an organic blend but really shines through the pack with an offering of blended fruit and chocolate flavor notes. This brand is very serious about their coffee, it’s reported that they once held the record for paying the most for a batch of coffee beans and often pay their farmers three to four times the value for coffee beans. They truly appreciate the farms that produce for them, and that’s a huge part of what the organic initiatives are trying to accomplish, beyond just labeling a package of beans.
Heat, as always, is an essential factor in coffee drinkability, so my taste tests have included an assessment of the flavor at brew temperature, at room temperature, and after microwaving to return the coffee to brew temperature. Anyone who’s left a fresh, full cup sitting out just a little too long—while changing over a load of laundry, say, or tackling a pet barf emergency—knows the tragic dilemma of the cold cup, too full to top off with hot-from-the-pot coffee, too cold to drink. I am a staunch proponent of microwaving coffee rather than wasting it, though I know many people (my own boyfriend included) might call this the line between cheapness and frugality. After all, if the coffee’s cheap to begin with, what’s the waste? Still, I believe microwaveability is essential to any home coffee, and can indicate whether coffee left on the burner will deteriorate or stay more or less stable, flavor-wise.
Over the course of the year, we reviewed fewer than a dozen darker roasts. Most were medium-dark at best; some barely that. The majority of darker roasts we reviewed were sent by roasters in Taiwan and most were espressos, reflecting both the time-honored espresso practice of emphasizing chocolate and sweetness through moderate dark roasting, as well as, perhaps, a preference in Taiwan for more traditional styles of espresso as opposed to the lighter-roasted, brighter style of espresso now popular with the leading edge of North American roasters.

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