Favorite coffees of 2011

by on January 10, 2012

I was going to include a briefer version of this list in my post on “My year in beans: 2011,” which focuses on cost. But as I began to compile it, I noticed some common threads regarding the characteristics of my favorite coffees of the year that were interesting enough to warrant a separate post.

These are some of the coffees I considered outstanding in 2011. They are in no particular order. The price is converted to per-pound, and the flavor descriptors were from the roaster or reviews — the opinion of others, not my own.

  • Nombre de Dios, El Salvador (single estate) by Kuma Coffee. Washed, 1500 meters, bourbon. $21.33/lb.  Floral, honey, brightly acidic, citrus, apricot, apples.
  • Capucas, Honduras (cooperative) by Irving Farm. Organic, Rainforest Alliance; washed; 1400+ meters; caturra, pacas, catuai, bourbon; $19.33/lb. Honeysuckle, apple, honey, cashew, pineapple.
  • Carmen Estate 1750 Reserve, Panama (single estate) by Klatch Roasting. Rainforest Alliance; washed; 1750 meters; caturra, catuai, typica; $15.93/lb. Honey, tangy bright, citrus acidity, floral.
  • Cafe Takesi, Bolivia (cooperative) by Zoka Coffee Roasters. Organic; washed; 1900+ meters; $25.33/lb. Citrus acidity, floral, fruit (raisins), honey, graham.
  • La Golondrina, Colombia (cooperative) by Counter Culture. Organic; washed; 1500+ meters; caturra, castillo; $18.07/lb. Bright citrus, fruit (cherry), caramel.
  • El Manzano, Colombia (single estate – microlot from one farmer in a cooperative) by Kickapoo Coffee. Washed; 1700 meters; caturra, colombia; $17.67/lb. Mandrin citrus, caramel, toffee.
  • Haru, Ethiopia (cooperative) by Counter Culture. Organic; washed; 1700+ meters; $17.27/lb. Lemon, honey, tea.
  • Kenya Karibu (specific origins unknown) by Caribou Coffee. Rainforest Alliance; washed; $14.99/lb. Sparkling brightness, blackberry, current.

What does this say about my coffee tastes? I strongly favor washed coffees. In fact, one of my biggest disappointments is the trend to pulped natural (“honey”) and natural process coffees now coming out of Central America. I’m not a big fan of the berry-like fruitiness that tends to be imparted by these types of preparation, except on occasion. I’ve had quite a few of these new preps, and some of them were quiet nice. But my go-to coffees have always been bright Centrals, and I have sometimes found nice washed options hard to find lately.

The high elevations of my favorite coffees also stood out to me. The average elevation of these coffee was over 1600 meters! Higher elevation slows bean development, resulting in a denser bean and typically more well-developed flavors. Alas, we may be seeing more coffee grown at these high elevations in the decades to come. This doesn’t mean there will be a proliferation of coffees with characteristics like that of high-grown coffees today. Climate change will mean the temperatures required by fine arabica coffee will move upslope, but of course conditions at 1600 meters may soon be the same as 1200-1400 meters today. And sooner rather than later, we will run out of “up.”

The average price per pound of these coffees was $18.74 or $0.78 per 6-ounce cup. If I had only purchased these coffees at my typical (family) consumption of 62 pounds a year, I would have been enjoying fantastic, sustainably-grown coffee for $3.18 a day. As I said in my previous post, if only all of life’s simple luxuries were so cheap!

Note that all but two of these coffees had eco-certifications (organic and/or Rainforest Alliance).

A number of flavor characteristics were also common to many of these coffees, in particular bright citrus acidity, and honey or floral tones. Caramel or apple also factored in. So many coffee descriptions use very arcane terminology (which is why we’ve tried to make our reviews here more approachable). Yet these particular descriptors are broad, basic, common, and understandable enough that they can act as a good guide to choosing coffees I know I’ll probably like.

Finally, it’s exciting to me that some of my favorite coffees came from roasters I tried this year for the first time: Irving Farm and Kuma Coffee, and there was a runner-up from Olympia Coffee. Some people find a roaster they like and stick with them, and certainly I have a handful that I turn to frequently. But one of the joys of coffee to me is the discovery of new coffees, and new roasters that are bringing them home. More and more roasters are looking to source great-tasting, sustainably-grown coffee. I love drinking it, and making new friends along the way!

Here’s to more coffee adventures in 2012.

Bean photo by David Joyce under a Creative Commons license.

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Revised on March 24, 2014

Posted in Coffee news and miscellany,Coffee reviews

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim Elena Ionescu January 12, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Hi Julie,
Happy New Year and thanks for the shout-outs to La Golondrina and Haru! Though I haven’t tasted any of your non-CCC top coffees besides Kickapoo’s El Manzano micro lot – which I agree is excellent – it always feels great to get recognition. I’m proud of these two coffees from a sustainability perspective as well as a cup-quality perspective and particularly pleased that they fared well with a sustainability-minded consumer like yourself. I was shocked (and disappointed) to read in your earlier post that only 31 out of 89 bags of your coffee were certified organic and 9 out of 40 certified by RA in 2011 but I’m heartened and excited that all but two of your favorite coffees featured an eco-certification! Examples like this help combat the industry-wide, seemingly-ingrained perception that eco-certification requires compromising quality, so thanks for that, too!

Kim

Reply

JACraves January 12, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Kim, the first thing I look at when I’m browsing a roaster web site is what certified coffees they have. We made a decision last year to try to buy only organic or eco-certified coffee. As the year went on, it seemed a little harder to find — we wondered if perhaps the high market prices of coffee drove down price differentials and some farmers chose to drop out of certification programs. I always try to look into farm practices when I could. I ended up more or less abandoning buying most coffees from Brazil and Kenya. My goal is to improve my own sustainability “score” with more certified coffees this year!

Of course, there were other CCC coffees that were among my favorites. It almost goes without saying that I love all of Aida’s coffees, and Finca Nueva Armenia never disappoints me either. I just have to give some other beans a chance…

Hope to see you soon!

Reply

Darrin January 14, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I have started a coffee club at work in 2011 and we now have two groups of 8 people each. We’ve focused on sustainable coffee (most being certified organic with a few Smithsonian Bird-Friendly). So far we’ve purchased ~35 lbs through the months and I’ve varied the selections of coffee origins & roast levels. I’m glad I’ve been able to convert some co-workers to drinking better quality and sustainable coffee rather than consume the “deforestation”, lower-quality office coffee.
I must say the most talked about coffee from the selections we’ve had this past year was the Counter Culture offering of Finca El Puente (aka The Purple Princess) and look forward to it coming into season again: http://counterculturecoffee.com/coffee-people/55-coffee-people/78-marysabel-caballero-finca-el-puente

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Nathan January 18, 2012 at 10:27 am

Thanks for sharing, Darrin!

Our Northern Hemisphere offerings start arriving in late spring (Finca el Puente being from Marcala, Honduras). This document estimates availability:

https://docs.google.com/a/counterculturecoffee.com/document/d/1dViawnURumQ9VUpZPVyeG0LnFrRNOwjGMZb85jkGZU0/edit?hl=en_US

And, we have a newsletter group for various regions (among others), that would get interested folks an email the day it goes on sale:

http://counterculturecoffee.com/newsletter

And, thanks for spreading the word about sustainable coffee!

Best regards,
Nathan

Reply

Eva January 26, 2012 at 12:46 am

Hello, I have concerned your blog for more than a year. I am a graphic design student in academy of art university. My thesis project is the promotion of sustainable coffee. My target audiences is coffee consumers in US. I have read thousands of articles about sustainable coffee, and I become confused. It is easy to find some general concepts about sustainable coffee, but difficult to find detail information. And I found that there are a lot of coffee consumers have head about sustainable coffee, but they don’t really understand what is sustainable coffee. In addition, there isn’t a specific definition for the term “sustainable coffee”. Is it sustainable coffee=eco-certified coffee?
Hopefully can talk more with you.

Best regards,
Eva

Reply

JACraves January 26, 2012 at 6:48 am

Eva, you’re right, there is no agreed-upon definition of “sustainable” coffee, and even the word sustainable has become overused these days. But at the top of the front page of this blog (just click “Home“) is the broad definition that I use — I put it there so everyone knows where I’m coming from, at least. (I guess it must not be obvious enough!) Even within that definition, there are a lot of variables, which I try to explain in my posts, especially those on the User Guide page. Is sustainable coffee the same as eco-certified coffee? Not always. Because of the costs and logistics involved in certification, there are farms growing coffee in an environmentally-sensitive way working with buyers to obtain a good price, etc. that are sustainable, and there are no doubt eco-certified farms that have problems. I think consumers need to understand the variables — environmental, social, and economic — and look for coffee that is marketed with as much transparency as practical. Thanks for reading.

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Chin2x February 11, 2012 at 10:56 am

Hi! I really like your article and the entire website. What your doing is really great not only to inform the consumers but to organic coffee producers like us from the Philippines. We are growing “Shade-groiwn” (Rustic) Organic Coffee here in partnership with small organic farmers in upland forest communities. Would love to send you some samples and maybe you can give your expert opinion on the quality and potential. Here’s a link to our organic coffee – http://www.freshstartorganic.com/coffee.php (old) / https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150294923383335 (new) / https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150294731548335 . Let me know if your interested : )

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