My year in beans: Winners, losers, and the future

by JulieCraves on January 17, 2009

In a previous post I mentioned that I had kept track of all the coffee I had in 2008. That post emphasized the low price ($2.70 a day) of drinking only really good, sustainable, specialty coffee.

Here, I’d like to make some brief comments on a few of the coffees themselves.

As I noted, my 2008 list included 63 different coffees, nearly all single origin  coffees, from 22 countries. Most were Latin American, with El Salvador leading the pack; Kenya topped the choices from the rest of the world. I drank coffee from 23 roasters, turning most often to Counter Culture and Terroir Coffee Company.

My three favorite coffees were:

  • Mamuto, Terroir Coffee Company, Kenya. Coffee Review gave this coffee an amazing 97 points, deservedly so.
  • Finca Kilimanjaro, PT’s Coffee Company (I mentioned roaster and coffee here). A Kenyan bean grown in El Salvador, literally the best of both worlds.
  • Finca Nueva Armenia, Counter Culture, Guatemala. From a Smithsonian Bird-Friendly certified farm, it has to be the current best certified sustainable coffee in the world (my review here).

One disappointing coffee stood out: Trader Joe’s Cafe Feminino Peru. I’ve tried these beans from this source before, as they are widely available; my brief review from Grounds for Change was very positive. The Trader Joe’s version, which was supposed to be a medium roast, was very dark and oily, more like a French roast. That shouldn’t be a problem — I liked the Grounds for Change in a dark roast. Yet I found the Trader Joe’s was awful: thin, harsh, and sooty. Trader Joe’s doesn’t use roast dates, and the (lack of) bloom indicated this batch was not particularly fresh. I will be devoting a post to Trader Joe’s coffee in the future.

A few of you may be wondering why, if I drink so many different coffees, so few are reviewed here on Coffee & Conservation (eleven reviews were published in 2008). There are several reasons. First, although I’ll occasionally give just my own opinion on a coffee, fair reviews involve a bunch of people tasting each coffee, often more than once. Sometimes, it’s just hard to corral a panel. Second, as I pointed out in the introduction to how we do reviews, most coffee ratings are lumped in the middle of the 1 to 5 motmot range. The value in the reviews is the background information provided about the origin/region, farm, growing methods, and roaster. This research is time-consuming. Sometimes, I don’t come up with enough solid information to make a good review.

In 2009, reviews will focus on sustainability stars and outstanding coffees, as well as more reviews of the coffee of popular retailers, such as I’ve done with Panera, Einstein Bros, or Tim Hortons.  Starbucks and Caribou will also get more attention since they are how many people are introduced to “specialty” coffee. In many ways, these are more difficult to write…the more corporate the company, the less they divulge about their sources.

As always, if you have any suggestions or things you’d like to see, please drop me a line (contact info here).

Coffee bag photo by Biskuit.

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Revised on December 5, 2010

Posted in Coffee news and miscellany

John January 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Looking forward to another year of reviews.

MenoRikey January 17, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Great post. Speaking of Caribou, is there any truth to the fact that they are partially owned by ARCAPITA, an Islamic investment bank?

Julie January 17, 2009 at 7:45 pm

The major Caribou shareholder is Arcapita, the Atlanta-based holding company owned by Arcapita Bank, based in Bahrain. A number of years ago, an Egyptian Muslim with some controversial opinions, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, served on the bank's board, which triggered a boycott of Caribou. In 2002, the bank severed all ties with al-Qaradawi. As far as I know, most of Arcapita Bank's investors are Saudi.

Amber Coakley January 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm

We learned about Grounds For Change from your site, and buy all of our coffee beans from them. Wonderful coffees, and they are members of "1% for the Planet" as well. I agree, the Peruvian Cafe Femenino is delicious! The roaster definitely makes a difference.

Julie January 20, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Sometimes researching and writing this site seems like too much work. When I get positive feedback about positive change, it renews my motivation. Thanks, Amber.

Mike January 27, 2009 at 7:12 pm

I loved TJ's Cafe Femenino when it first came out but it seems to have declined in quality since that time. And now, alas, I don't live near Trader Joe's anymore!

Julie January 27, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Interesting! I hope to have my Trader Joe's post out in a week or so. Getting info about them is like pulling teeth.

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