Although only one producing country is represented in this month’s reviews, the range of coffees styles and pleasures these reviews describe is wide and engaging. Consumers seeking an exceptional cup carrying the reassurance of a third-party-verified certification will find a wide range of sensory options here, all distinctive and all deeply attractive.
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With all of that indoor weather, and one of the country's top coffee importers right in town, the depth and breadth of Twin Cities café culture will come as no surprise, but in a town where so many spots—right on up to the best ones—are either too stiff or too much into the business of bells and whistles, this recent entry from two talents in their early twenties, a small-batch roasting operation stripped down to the essentials, is an enthusiastic vote for simplicity, not to mention good customer service, and it feels like a winner.


After taste-testing thirteen different varieties of ground coffee widely available for purchase at a chain grocery store, the winner for a solid cup were Maxwell House. In terms of flavor and cost, it ranked highest overall, though it did lose points for not being very good to microwave. Still, at $5.83/lb, it's cost efficient enough to just make another cup of coffee.
Having one of the East Coast's best roasters representing your state is very nice, and we're super happy for North Carolina and everything, but it's fascinating to see that decades on, Counter Culture, now every bit a national brand, still pretty much dominates the regional scene. Apart from Friday cuppings—always open to the public—at training centers in Durham and Asheville, you won't find Counter Culture coffee bars, which is okay, because it turns out that some of the state's top shops—for instance, the twin locations of Jubala Coffee, next door in Raleigh—act as terrific brand ambassadors.
“Organic certification,” says Aaron Jordan of Roast House Coffee, whose Ethiopia Suke Quto scored 92, “is the bedrock of Roast House’s green coffee purchasing values. Seven years ago when the company started, we made a commitment to exclusively purchasing organically grown coffees, and one of the ways we prove that commitment is through certifications. It’s very important to the core of our business values and ethics.” So, Roast House has essentially built its business on organic certification as a fundamental value, and has drawn customers who share that priority, rather than picking and choosing coffees to market to various customer sectors. However, the Suke Quto bag doesn’t include the USDA organic seal, simply because Jordan reserves bags with the seal for his year-round offerings. (The Suke Quto is a limited reserve).
Coffee can be compared to wine in terms of flavor because it is also affected by soil, altitude and the region in which it’s grown. The two types of coffee bean options are Arabica and Robusta, but what does this mean? The easiest way to categorize the two is by the altitude in which they grew. Arabica beans are grown in the mountains at an altitude above 2000 feet, while Robusta coffee is found below that, typically on flat plantations.
Lake Winnipesaukee might be next door, but the historic center of Laconia, an old mill town, isn't exactly a thriving tourist destination—at least not yet. This cheerful micro-roaster and café, across from the shuttered (apparently, not forever) Colonial Theatre, is one in a small group of businesses—including a proper butcher shop, just next door—helping to invigorate the old town center.
Other coffees appearing on the list were grown in 16 different countries. The most frequently appearing origins were Ethiopia and Kenya, with four coffees each. Origins with two coffees each on the list included Burundi, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, Sumatra, and Tanzania. Origins appearing on the list with one coffee each included the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Peru, Rwanda, Uganda, Hawaii (United States), and Yemen.
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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