my top coffee roasters (a response to thrillist)

sprite forwarded a link to me: Thrillist’s list of the “top 11 coffee roasters in the nation.” It’s a good list, but one with which I take some exception.

My main beef is the critics polled in the Thrillist piece are supposed “coffee experts.” But they play it safe in their ratings. Almost all of the roasters in their top five have regional and/or national reach. They are the giants of craft roasting, the Boston Beer Company analogues in the coffee industry.

Let’s look at their top finisher: Counter Culture. I love and loathe Counter Culture coffee. Their beans are typically well selected and roasted. And they are one of the biggest supporters of independent coffee shops in the United States: they train baristas to do proper hand pours and espresso pulls; they equip shops with good tools for preparing coffee; and they provide long-term support for up-and-coming coffee shops.

But the price they exact on coffee culture is almost as damning as Starbucks. When a shop takes their training courses or signs up for their support, they are in the Counter Culture net for a while. Counter Culture often requires shops to be either a single-source vendor of their coffees, or to give the coffees preferential treatment. And while they train their baristas very well, it makes for a coffee experience that is almost as uniform and blasé as Starbucks: predictable, yes, but not unique.

I tend to like roasters who are even more small-scale than my faves on the list (Madcap, Stumptown, and Intelligentisia, FYI). Granted, I am limited to places I’ve been, but I am also a stickler for high-quality coffee, and the beans make up a lot of the equation.

Here’s my list, in no particular order:

* – Denotes a “micro roaster” who roasts beans in small batches. In the case of Jack Mormon, they roast one pound at a time, to order. They also lack a website right now – not a shock.

Prime Roast Coffee/Monadnock Coffee Roasters (Keene, NH) may make this list in time. The beans I bought there are exquisite.

This is the first post for my November NaBloPoMo effort – whee!

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