The history of American coffee can be broken down into three distinct waves: Folgers in your cup, Starbucks on your block (whose caffeine content is graphed here), and a new crop of artisan roasters building brands based on sustainability, quality, and really, really cute packaging. So to pick the crema (coffee term, not a typo) of the crop, we pulled together a cast of the nation's most notable coffee writers and shop owners to pick their 10 favorite roasters and tell us why they're so buzzed about them. Once the ballots were cast, we tallied the votes (10 points for #1, 9 for #2...) and ranked the roasters to decide once and for all which brand is The Best Part Of Wakin' Up.
10. (19 points) Klatch Coffee
San Dimas, CA
The supreme bean: Ethiopian Kochere Grade 1
The scoop: The chemical engineer behind Klatch chooses only the top 1% of beans and built his customer base by giving each patron a mug with their name on it.
From the judges: "Aside from the most excellent honor of coming out of San Dimas, CA, Klatch serves up a great cup of coffee that often rates high on the minds of coffee elite. With several great awards and a bubbling staff, Klatch is a wondrous caffeinated asset. Having had them out West and in my home, I've greatly come to appreciate their fine skills." - Bill Walsh, Pure Coffee Blog
9. (23 points) Dogwood Coffee
The supreme bean: Neon Espresso (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Brazil)
The scoop: With a coffee that tastes so bright they recommend wearing BluBlockers while you're brewing it, Dogwood takes their sourcing and roasting seriously, but checks pretentious posturing at the door.
From the judges: "We've been with Dogwood for three years and they continuously excel at roasting, sourcing, and deliciousness. Also they have really attractive employees that are also amazing baristas." - Greg Martin, Urban Bean Coffee (Minneapolis, MN)
8. (24 points) Four Barrel Coffee
San Francisco, CA
The supreme bean: El Salvador Montanita Single Origin
The scoop: Neither of this roaster's two coffee shops have Wi-Fi or power outlets, a move aimed to encourage a more social environment/the use of smartphones.
From the judges: "You cannot discount education in coffee, and Four Barrel describes their coffees more thoroughly than any other roaster I've seen, from growing conditions to processing method descriptions to amazing taste descriptions." - Joshua McNeilly, Black Black Coffee (Denver, CO)
7. (26 points) Verve Coffee Roasters
Santa Cruz, CA
The supreme bean: Kochere (Ethiopia)
The scoop: Working on a vintage 1965 Probat UG 15 roaster made in Germany (... so the beans always roast on time), Verve's attention to detail earned them the award for best overall roaster at the 2013 Good Food Awards.
From the judges: "A relative newcomer to the specialty coffee scene, Verve is big stuff after a quick six years. Owners Colby Barr and Ryan O’Donovan are persnickety about everything, from buying practices to staff and wholesale training, to demanding nothing but the prettiest build-outs of its cafés and roasteries." - Sarah Allen, Barista Magazine
(tie) 5. (29 points) PT's Coffee
The supreme bean: Elida Estate Natural (Panama)
The scoop: PT's started in 1994 as a small coffee shop whose aspirations snowballed from the simple goal of an amazing cup of coffee into a full-scale roasting operation that's earning them serious accolades from the Specialty Coffee Association of America.
From the judges: "Great coffees at a great price. They're like that $15 bottle of wine that always delivers." - Sean Henry, Houndstooth Coffee (Austin, TX)
(tie) 5. (29 points) Heart Roasters
The supreme bean: Kenya Gichathaini
The scoop: Heart's a one-shop micro-roaster that starts with green beans (not that type of green beans) and processes them in the lightest method possible in order to preserve the delicate flavors.
From the judges: "Back in 2009, when these guys first came out, I tried like crazy to get them to ship to me, but they couldn't. I had to go to Portland to try it, and it was insane. They ship regularly now, and I highly recommend their coffee." - Chris Cusack, Down House (Houston, TX)
4. (32 points) Intelligentsia
The supreme bean: Black Cat Espresso (Brazil, Costa Rica)
The scoop: The Chi-town institution has also put down roots in Los Angeles and NYC, spreading their caffeinated gospel with top-notch beans whose bags detail everything from the roast date to growing elevation.
From the judges: "Intelligentsia's collaborative spirit extends past its doors and out into the coffee-growing world. Everything that the company does is with the belief that treating people and the land with care will yield outstanding quality in every cup." - Kelly Stewart, Roast Magazine
3. (40 points) Madcap Coffee
Grand Rapids, MI
The supreme bean: Oktoberfest (Ethiopia, Costa Rica)
The scoop: Madcap's known for their meticulous design and a unique varietal series in which they source eight different types of beans from the same farm.
From the judges: "Madcap may not come from a large metropolitan area, but they push forward with unique varietal series and Sunday tasting experiences. They've also got a stellar brand, one of my favorites, by renowned designers Chuck Anderson and Seth Herman." - Brian Jones, Dear Coffee I Love You
2. (43 points) Stumptown
The supreme bean: Hair Bender (Latin America, East Africa, and Indonesia)
The scoop: The dudes behind Stumptown established it in 1999 and promptly began the biz traveling six months out of the year in pursuit of the greatest beans in the world. They've since expanded to 10 shops across the nation, and pride themselves on not only their roasts, but also their ability to intelligently discuss stoner metal with their customers.
From the judges: "Stumptown can legitimately claim a degree of authorship over the current specialty coffee zeitgeist. Their sourcing and well-rounded armada of offerings are second to none, and their cold brew may well take over the world." - Jordan Michelman, Sprudge.com
1. (48 points) Counter Culture Coffee
The supreme bean: Ndaroini (Kenya)
The scoop: Counter Culture got its rep by pioneering sustainable coffee practices such as less ecologically damaging shade-growing techniques and releasing yearly transparency reports, presumably on overhead projectors. They back up their do-gooding with complex flavors that have won them the World Brewers Cup two years in a row.
From the judges: "A solid roaster with a growing presence up and down the East Coast, Counter Culture tends to be a certifying badge of quality at the coffeehouses that serve them. Add into the picture their regional presence, training centers, and educational opportunities, and you have a great asset in Counter Culture." - Bill Walsh, Pure Coffee Blog
[We want to thank our illustrious cast that included Bill Walsh (Pure Coffee Blog), Jordan Michelman (Sprudge.com), Brian Jones (Dear Coffee I Love You), Kelly Stewart (Roast Magazine), Chris Cusack (Down House), Sean Henry (Houndstooth), Sarah Allen (Barista Magazine), Joshua McNeilly (Black Black Coffee), and Greg Martin (Urban Bean).]