Nescafe is a huge multinational brand of coffee owned by Nestle. We commend Nescafe partnering with for the Rainforest Alliance, the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), and the Common Code for the Coffee Community (4C) to be sure they are following internationally recognized sustainability standards but they do not offer organic certified coffees. Therefore, their coffee’s may contain chemicals and mold. They only offer instant coffees, ground coffee, or pods so again, freshness is a concern.
Randy Lint, of Big Creek Coffee Roasters in Hamilton, Montana sent us an Ethiopia Gedeb Halo Beriti (94) that is certified organic at origin, but is not labeled organic. While Lint has been a certified organic handler in the past, he has found the cumbersome process of certifying his roastery not worth the cost, though he is still committed to the associated practices. He says his local customers trust his sourcing, and his business is successful without offering the added reassurance of certification. Nevertheless, Lint acknowledges that this might change as his roastery grows.
Professional coffee roasters roast green organic coffee beans by heating them in a large rotating drum. After about 5 to 7 minutes of intense heat, much of their moisture evaporates and the beans turn a yellow color and smell a little like popcorn. After about 8 minutes in the roaster, the "first pop" occurs. At this point the organic beans have doubled in size, crackling as they continue to expand. Many roasters stop the roasting process after the "first pop". Not Starbucks! After 10 to 11 minutes in the roaster, the organic coffee beans reach an even brown color and oil starts to appear on the surface of the bean. At somewhere between 11 and 15 minutes of roasting, the signature Starbucks flavor develops in the organic beans. The "second pop" signals that the organic coffee is ready to sell under the Starbucks label.
You might be familiar with one of La Colombe's brick-and-mortar cafés across the country or even their canned Draft Latte line, but we bet you didn’t realize that you can purchase their full line of coffee beans online. What started as a flagship café and bakery in Philadelphia is now an award-winning nationwide coffee brand, and we think La Colombe's Corsica Blend is the best expression of the brand's deliciousness.
Here's the truth: K-Cups are packed with the same coffee ground you would buy in your grocery store or supermarket. Flavored coffees are made by spraying propylene glycol on the coffee beans/ground, then adding the flavoring oils or liquids afterward. The propylene glycol helps the beans/ground to hold the flavor, and it acts as a preservative. Every time you drink flavored coffee—whether it's in a K-Cup or a regular coffee machine—you're ingesting propylene glycol and natural and artificial flavorings.
For the first time we allowed ready-to-drink, cold-brewed, pure black coffees into consideration for the Top 30. Two superb cold-brewed, bottled coffees made the list, the Bird Rock Red Bourbon Honey-Processed Cold Brew at No. 17 (94 points) and the States Coffee Reserve Cold Brew (from a Tanzania single-origin coffee) at No. 21 (also 94 points). For more on the cold coffee trend see our report Cold-Brewed Black Coffees: Quality in a Can.
That is a lot to ask for a cup of coffee, and not all coffee brands will be able to meet all three criteria. This doesn't necessarily mean the company isn't socially responsible: it is often the case that these designations are difficult to achieve all at once and still produce coffee at the volume and price necessary to satisfy the market. But they are good things to watch for when you compare brands and taste organic coffee.
Coffee grown in the sun in fertilized fields produces more seeds (coffee beans) more quickly than coffee grown in the shade, but coffee grown in the shade produces a higher quality coffee with a better flavor. Growing coffee in the sun not only requires the use of fertilizers, but has led to wide-scale deforestation and habitat loss for wildlife species. Coffee grown in its traditional forested setting creates valuable habitat for many bird species.
Arabica is the more desirable bean and you will find it in nearly all your daily coffee blends. Arabica beans are more popular because they are grown in richer soil that allows the bean to become naturally mild and aromatic. Arabica is a fragile, oval-shaped bean that needs to be grown in cool and subtropical climates. Arabica beans contain about 60% more sugar content than Robusta, adding to their delicious taste.
We prefer to buy organic coffee because pesticides can become magnified in the drying process. So, we try to get the best quality we can for the best available price. We enjoy the Equal Exchange Breakfast Blend because it is mellow and not bitter, it is strong but not acidic, and we can enjoy it iced or hot. We typically brew an entire pot and drink it over the course of a couple of hours. We have found the quality and flavor to be consistent from one batch to the next. Though we often try other brands, this is a part of our regular monthly order.
Approaches ranged from commitment to organic as a core value in a business model to mere coincidence or afterthought. Furthermore, several of the top-scoring coffees came from roasters who don’t label their coffees as organic, even when these coffees are farmed organically. The reason? They don’t have USDA certification as organic roasters, making it illegal for them to do so.
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