The big, beautiful moment came from nowhere, on the worst possible day—a brittle, featureless January afternoon in one of those Southern cities you do not typically rush toward when looking to uncover trends. The morning had been filled with disappointment, and coffee that tasted like sadness, and I wasn’t the least bit optimistic, arriving at my final stop. But there was this brand new coffee bar that I apparently just had to see, and so I went, expecting nothing. The town was already full of coffee shops, and they were all pretty bad—new, old, didn't matter. Should this one be any different?
Well, it was. Inside, under the kind of careful lighting that makes everybody look better, behind the kind of bar you just want to run your fingers over, until somebody shouts at you to stop being weird, there was this group of very friendly people, studiously attentive to their work, turning out perfect cortados and lattes and the like, to the quiet delight of a standing room-only crowd. After a year of intense travel, from Florida to the Midwest to small towns in Texas, throughout the Pacific Northwest and dozens of states in between, there had been so many satisfying moments of discovery, but here? Really? I felt as if I’d finally turned over the final stone in America, only to find a perfect little coffee shop, the sort that could fit in beautifully, in places you might actually have heard of. For the first time that day, I couldn't help but smile, and it hit me. You know what? This whole coffee business? We might really be nailing this.
And how long, exactly, did it take? Well, not very long at all, actually, a decade, maybe a little more, since things really began to pick up steam, outside of the places that had already been so far ahead of the curve. We’ve still got miles to go, but let’s take this moment to be the slightest bit impressed with ourselves—think about everything that has happened, in such a short time, and about everything that keeps happening—this is no longer a drill, this is not a flash in the pan—the best coffee we've ever had is here to stay. Well done, America. Take a minute, pat yourselves on the back, and then let’s go fix everything else.
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Exactly how good are things now, you ask. Possibly for the first time ever, each state now has a modern, up-to-speed coffee roaster doing at least very promising work, so there’s that—from North Dakota to Nevada to Oklahoma to Alabama, there are so many bright, often very young people jumping into the game, a group that becomes more representative by the year. (Out of the fifty states, roughly half of our picks are either owned or co-owned by women and/or people of color; among the hundreds more roasters and coffee shops you will see mentioned below, this trend only appears to intensify.) The world of coffee has become so much smaller, too, with so many buyers getting closer and closer to the source; American coffee drinkers now have access to a stunning selection of single estate, small lot, hard-to-find, rare varietal, magnificently obscure coffees, but equally important, as competition stiffens, as new roasters become more experienced, and as more consumers learn to ask for better, the quality of the finished product continues to improve.
This is the second year of the survey, and if you happened to come across the first one, first published in March of 2018, you know it skewed towards the new and the interesting; the project began as an attempt to understand exactly what was happening in American coffee, and once the thing was written, I knew we'd need to do it all over again, and that the next time, things were going to get really serious.
And so, this year, there were real guidelines. In order to claim the top spot in your state, you had to be an actual coffee roaster—for at least two years, if there was enough local competition to make this possible. Having great coffee was important, but as in 2018, we have held to a more consumer-focused approach (this is not a trade publication), focusing on roasters who were able to deliver the whole package, or close to it—spectacular coffees, great retail operations, and passions for hospitality, community, and, better still, complete sustainability. The world might run on coffee, but coffee remains in constant peril, subject to the cruelty of market forces, and the ongoing threat of climate change. Unless we care more, and put more of our money where it belongs, in the hands of the growers, there will come a time when we may no longer have coffee to kick around, anymore; any roaster holding themselves accountable, anyone committed to greater transparency, instantly had our attention. Of course, anybody nailing all of the above, well, that's a home run, and you might be surprised how many of them did just that.
The research took a full twelve months to complete, and I would have loved even more time. In nearly all cases, site visits (and tastings) were conducted anonymously; at no point in the process did I solicit free samples, or accept any kind of influence over the process—it’s admirable how many of the top operations remain content to let their work speak for itself, but it’s also interesting to see which roasters are now relying on hired publicity guns to buy them their legitimacy. (No, thank you.) I will, however, admit to networking over the odd cupping session or cappuccino with people in the industry who I particularly admire, often people working capably in the background; all of them generously shared their wealth of knowledge, and helped make this list better than I imagined possible.
For each state, you will find, along with the winner, a handful of tasting notes that should offer a decent overview of what’s going on right now in each state; inclusions should not be considered automatic recommendations, and exclusions of certain cities or roasters shouldn’t necessarily be taken as an automatic vote against, either—in some states, keeping you fully up to speed would require a book. Hopefully, this 2019 survey accurately reflects the amount of time invested in research and in learning—last year's was great fun to pull together, but laid bare just how much more there was to know. Here’s to another exciting year of coffee, and learning about coffee. Thank you for reading.
Alabama: Domestique Coffee Company, Birmingham
A boundless passion for Haiti, and the country’s against-all-odds coffee industry was the inspiration Birmingham natives Nathan and Michael Pocus needed to get off of the sidelines and into the coffee game, for real—a Haitian nitro cold brew coffee was the first thing to snag them some well-deserved attention, but for roughly two years now, the brothers have been growing their offerings, sourcing from a range of locations, all the while ensuring that their first love—Haitian coffee—remains at the heart of the business. A casual café, the daytime alter-ego of a popular local bar, will soon be joined by a second, standalone spot in the Five Points South neighborhood.
Tasting notes With a goal of total sustainability, Birmingham’s non-profit Seeds Coffee operates two shops in the area—look in on their current Ethiopian offerings. In both the college town of Auburn and the state capital of Montgomery, Prevail Coffee has managed to become an essential part of the community—same goes for the ambitious new Mural City Coffee Company, which opened its doors in remote Dothan last fall. Meanwhile, young entrepreneur David Bizilia's donation-based Side Track Coffee in Opelika continues to thrive—customers have been paying what they wish for the best coffee in town since 2016.
Alaska: Uncle Leroy’s Coffee, Anchorage
When it comes to coffee, Alaska has typically preferred things dark, strong, and from the same handful of reliable sources. So why is it suddenly open season on the establishment, around here? For psychologist Austin Schwartz, who used to daydream about the idea of roasting his own coffee, the whoa, hey moment happened a few years ago, during a trip to Portland, where he realized that everything had changed, and he wanted to be a part of bringing that change back home. Uncle Leroy’s began in 2015 as one of those only-in-Alaska sort of deals, coffee being roasted in a frying pan, in the back of a converted vintage bus that Schwartz bought off a preacher, out in the Mat-Su Valley. Today, there’s a shop, and there’s an actual (small) roaster, and there are drag shows, and live music, and some very unusual drinks, and a long bar with plenty of seating, where you can watch the goings on behind the counter, and make new friends. Schwartz may take a while to catch up to the old timers in terms of experience, but that hardly matters: Anchorage has a new kind of place for coffee, one it didn’t even know it needed, but the city appears to be glad it’s here.
Tasting notes Drive-thru espresso culture is widespread in Alaska, but the sister-owned yellow hut on Old Seward Highway in Anchorage isn’t just another candy bar-flavored coffee pusher—Goldie’s Coffee happens to be the home of a roaster to watch. And while Earnest Rawlins spends a lot of his time servicing the many espresso machines that help to keep Anchorage awake during the day, he’s back (after a lengthy hiatus) roasting his own beans—for now, the surest bet for trying E’s World coffee is at Sweet Basil Café in Midtown. Not up for anything new? While SteamDot Coffee can hardly be considered old, at least not in regional terms, the first real push towards modern coffee happened here, a decade ago—today, there are four locations in Anchorage, but the O’Malley Centre mothership is the one you really want.
Arizona: Presta Coffee Roasters, Tucson
With both of Arizona’s big cities now up to their eyeballs in coffee, it’s worth remembering who had the decade-long head start at building any kind of modern scene, and it’s not Phoenix. Back in the late 1990s, Tucsonans in the know were drinking coffee that could stand up to anything being served in the better-known coffee capitals of that era, and things have only improved with time. Avid cyclist Curtis Zimmerman was hardly ahead of the curve here, starting out with a coffee cart in 2012, only getting into the roasting game a couple of years later—then again, if you’re going to dash onto a crowded field, all you need to do is aim to be the best, and so he has done. Every thing about Presta, from the coffees themselves, to the shops (the flagship is one of the most design-forward in the Southwest) to the typically great service, is essentially where it needs to be. Let's hope this holds, as the empire expands—a third shop should be open soon.
Tasting notes One of the best names in the Phoenix area is also one of the oldest—you’ll have tried the coffees from Roaster of Cave Creek at some of the most visible restaurants in town, but since 2008, when Dave and Alison Anderson sold their popular café and wine bar way up in Cave Creek to focus on their carefully-selected organic coffees, things have been a bit more low-profile (but no less noteworthy). On the newer end of things, Provision Coffee is a notable valley up-and-comer with a pleasant shop in the Arcadia section of Phoenix, their second; then again, if it’s a truly great coffee shop you’re after, a couple of years after it quietly arrived on the scene, the strikingly minimal Futuro remains a must-see.
Arkansas: Onyx Coffee Lab, Springdale
Let us suppose that you are a person, very passionate about coffee, and you would like to build your own little empire somewhere, piece by piece, and you would eventually like everybody to know about the work that you are doing, and not only that, you’d like them to really, really like the coffees that you are roasting, to the point where the mere mention of your name makes people light up like a Christmas tree. Oh, wow, people will say. That coffee, those guys—the best. Where would you go? How would you start? In 2012, Jon and Andrea Allen, husband and wife sharing a burning passion for better coffee, rightly assumed that they could pretty much do it anywhere, and so they planted their little business in Northwest Arkansas, and now, the very mention of Arkansas around coffee people, and suddenly you’re in the middle of a lively conversation about Onyx. This is as it should be—it sometimes feels like Onyx (which took home—again—a bunch of honors at this year’s U.S. Coffee Championships, including Andrea’s second place in the grueling barista competition) just doesn’t know how to stop being cool, beginning with their passion for complete transparency, something so many roasters are now moving towards, happily—each of their coffees is accompanied by an exhaustive amount of information, including the price paid, and everything you could ever want to know about it was sourced. No one roaster can solve the sustainability crisis that coffee now faces—talking openly about the process is a huge step forward. Big news, this spring—the flagship/new headquarters that Onyx has always deserved is very close to opening in downtown Rogers.
Tasting notes By the close of 2019, Onyx will have four shops in their home region, including the one right in the middle of Bentonville, home of the Walmart mothership—that hasn’t stopped brash young upstart Airship Coffee from taking root in the town, as well. Things remain relatively quiet in the rest of the state, but if you’re in Conway or Little Rock and looking for a great cup of coffee, you won’t go wrong at the Onyx-fueled Zeteo.
California: Coffee Manufactory, Oakland
Funny, isn’t it, how great things sometimes happen only when you’ve run out of options. This is where Tartine, the San Francisco bakery that helped usher in a new era of American bread, found itself back in 2016, when looking to greatly expand their empire, built on so many citrus-scented morning buns. You can’t, after all, serve some of the country’s finest pastry and bread alongside sub-par coffee; founders Chad Robertson and Elisabeth Prueitt knew this, but they were having the worst time finding the right partner or supplier for the job, and time was very much a factor. Enter Christopher Jordan, one of those coffee industry grownups who by that time had done and seen it all—his modest proposal, to bring the roasting in-house, most likely didn’t have anyone thinking, at least not at first, that everyone else was going to want their coffees. But with someone as experienced as Jordan, who called in a whole bunch of his very talented colleagues to make the thing go, you look back and you think, okay, so that was pretty much inevitable. The coffee is, as you would expect from a team with this much knowledge, right up there, but equally exciting is just how streamlined and sensible the operation has been from the start. There are six different roasts, each with their own role to play, but with a common goal of continuity and quality. In not very much time at all, Coffee Manufactory has become a calming presence in a somewhat excitable industry, and that’s just the nicest thing.
Tasting notes After years of contenting itself with the status quo, Los Angeles spent the last decade—with a serious assist from out-of-town players—creating a new kind of café culture, and now there are beautiful coffee shops everywhere. While most play the part rather effectively, the coffee too-often feels like an afterthought. That’s never the case at Dayglow, the straightforward Silver Lake café brewing up some of the best beans from around the world, a selection tightly-curated by proprietor Tohm Ifergan. Walking into the Sunset Boulevard shop, with its neon and millennial pink accents, you may be tempted to think you’ve just wandered into another Instagram trap—stay, and be blessed. Still, with so many roasters at the top of their game around the state right now, you don’t want to spend too much time away from the source—there’s hardly a town or city left in the state that isn’t contributing to California’s continuing journey towards utter and complete coffee domination, but here are four you should definitely be familiar with: in Oakland, it’s Keba Konte’s Red Bay Coffee, which has had nearly two years to settle into their impressive roastery, bar, and garden complex, over in Fruitvale (Red Bay has plans to expand well beyond Oakland—keep eyes peeled). In Santa Cruz, one of America’s best little coffee towns since before many of today’s coffee drinkers were born, it’s currently all about the endlessly likable Cat & Cloud, backed by a significant amount of industry experience. In Southern California—now proudly the first coffee producing region on the American mainland, watch this space—of course we'll start with the new roasting program backing Kyle Glanville and Charles Babinski’s rapidly expanding Go Get ‘Em Tiger empire in Los Angeles. Nothing in this part of the state during the past year, however, felt quite so yes, please, more of that as the work being done at Arcade Coffee, the low-key roaster (complete with modest, but very welcoming café) making their home in an old video store in Riverside; their coffees were among of the most memorable, nationally, beginning with an absolutely plush espresso blend. Arcade’s profit-sharing program, where employees split 10% of the profits each quarter in lieu of tipping, feels like a model worth talking about.
Colorado: Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters, Lakewood
Just around the corner from the cliff divers and those sopapillas at the apparently immortal Casa Bonita, in a Denver-adjacent neighborhood nobody’s talking up as the next hot thing—that’s where you’ll find Andy Sprenger and head roaster Jin Chiew running one of the most noteworthy operations in America right now, one of too-few light-touch roasters in the country that can almost instantly make a believer out of any bitter dark roast clinger. Here is a modest set-up, a few tables and chairs with an unobstructed view of the goings on, couches for relaxing, and a cupping and training lab set-up in the back, behind a wall of windows—never mind, you’ve come to the right place, the essential place, even in a city embarrassed with such an extraordinary pool of coffee talent. Sweet Bloom may be out on the margins, relatively remote from the Denver that everyone’s so hot for these days, but don’t worry about it—this place is pilgrimage-worthy. Should you find yourself disinclined toward making the (small) trek, Caleb and Jeannie Sprenger—Andy is Caleb’s uncle—own and operate one of Denver’s nicest coffee shops, Sapor, which is, but of course, powered by Sweet Bloom.
Tasting notes Plenty of states have one great coffee town, and then nothing—not so Colorado; there’s Color Coffee Roasters, way high up in Eagle, while in Fort Collins, your first stop is Harbinger Coffee. Colorado Springs has both the fine Loyal Coffee, as well as Switchback Coffee Roasters; in Montrose, way in the southwest, Eric Palumbo’s Cimarron Coffee Roasters is doing some excellent work. Last but not least, while in Boulder, you’re spoiled by your options, but make sure you pay tribute to elder statesman Dragonfly Coffee Roasters—they’ve had a tasting room for about a year now.
Connecticut: Giv Coffee, Canton
For Jeff Brooks, coffee was the road back from addiction. After completing rehab with the support of his wife, Emily, Brooks began roasting in his Torrington garage, back in 2011, slowly growing the business, which the couple began with a simple mission: to give back. Gratefulness is at the core of the Giv experience—dial in, and you’ll feel it in everything they do, from the warmth of their small café and roasting operation, in a modest converted single-family by the side of the highway in suburban Hartford, to the passion for close relationships with their farmers, and a commitment to paying fair prices. Being one of New England’s most capable roasters is just one part of the package—Giv will not only make you feel good, it might just inspire you to be better.
Tasting notes When Michael and Sarah McCoy opened Story & Soil Coffee with partner Michael Acosta in Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood back in 2017, there were no assurances they’d be successful—thieves hit their block fairly early on, breaking into their shop; a neighboring business simply gave up, and then there was the matter of trying to get people to come to them, instead of the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. Not only has the shop survived, it has thrived, to become the best multi-roasting setup in the state, hands down—an inspiring, safe space in a city that could always use more of them.
Delaware: Brandywine Coffee Roasters, Wilmington
It happens so often that it barely registers, anymore—the spotting of those unmistakable bags containing another batch of Delaware’s most notable coffee, in places far (sometimes really far) away from Delaware. The design may be what catches the eye at first, it’s among the most eye-catching packaging in the business, thanks to the whimsical work of Delaware artist Todd Purse, but what keeps coffee shops around the country buying from a small operation with only a few years of roasting experience is the quality—from seasonal blends to the nerd-friendly Heady Collection of wonderfully unusual coffees, Brandywine may come from a little state that people don’t often think about—come coffee time, they really ought to. You’ll find Brandywine’s coffees served at one of owner Alisa Morkides’ six Brew HaHa! cafés in the Wilmington area, now celebrating—how time flies!—a whole quarter century since the very beginning, when Morkides went to Italy that one time, and came home convinced that the thing she needed to do, right away, was open a coffee shop. Talk about good instincts.
Tasting notes Over in the college town of Newark, the fledgling Little Goat Coffee Roasting continues to show promise; if you’re headed for the beaches, consider a detour to tiny Greenwood, where Amity Coffee Roasters & Café have been at it for a number of years now, and the locals couldn’t be more pleased.
Florida: King State Coffee, Tampa
Veteran musicians Tim McTague and Nate Young could have easily allowed life to take them far away from Tampa, but like so many creative and interesting people you meet here these days, they're in on one of Florida's best-kept secrets, which is that Tampa is actually kind of the greatest. Since 2015, McTague and Young have been roasting coffee for the people here, in between all of the other things they get up to, and you may not have known this, but the work that they are doing is the best in the state, right now. Prone to keeping a relatively low profile, apart from maintaining one of the industry’s most enjoyable Instagram feeds, 2019 will most certainly be King State’s big year—by the time you read this, McTague and Young will have opened the all-day (and into the night) café of their dreams, a converted service station in Tampa Heights with what has been referred to as a tropical-punk vibe. There will be food, wines by the glass, and house beers, plural—head brewer Aric Parker joined the team last year.
Tasting notes There is no city in Florida quite like Tampa, and certainly on the coffee front—here, things go back really far, to the state’s oldest outfit still in business, Naviera Coffee Mills; their dark roasts fuel many a classic restaurant around town, including the significant, also very old La Segunda Bakery, home to some of the best cafe con leche in town. For every establishment sticking with tradition, it feels as if there’s another driving things forward—the unique, pressure brew cold coffees and coffee colas conjured up by Joel Davis at Commune + Co. (and served at his postcard-perfect Union coffee bar, inside the Armature Works market) feel a whole lot like the future. Over in St. Petersburg, Bandit Coffee Co. is another roaster on a short list of Florida essentials, while in Miami, besides your first stop, the extremely popular All Day, there’s a whole lot of buzz on Per’La, in part due to their fashionable Coral Gables café, with its toast menu, and endless potential for people watching. Speaking of good shops, more are opening up all the time, sometimes in the most unlikely places—the attention to detail at some of them, notably the new Deeply Coffee in downtown Orlando, is inspired.
Georgia: East Pole Coffee Co., Atlanta
Time and again throughout the past year, Jared Karr’s cool, out-of-the-way clubhouse, open and welcoming to anyone bothering to go looking, proved that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with brewing a big pot of coffee, providing you know what you’re doing. Pourovers have fallen out of favor in many corners of the industry, and it’s easy to see how some people might be disappointed, but outfits like East Pole serve up the excellent reminder that, when done properly, there’s little so satisfying as a fast, but also perfectly complex morning cup of coffee. Of course, it helps that Karr doesn’t mind brewing his very best stuff for those dropping in for a quick fuel-up—on numerous visits to Atlanta, there always seemed to be something new to try, and it was consistently the most memorable coffee of the trip.
Tasting notes For some time now, Chip Grabow’s Radio Roasters has been one of Atlanta’s top performers, but unless you were able to make the trek out to DeKalb County for the limited weekend drop-in hours, your only alternative was to stop by some of the cafés carrying Grabow’s coffees, and hope they were actually serving. This year, things got better—there’s now a bigger space, ever so slightly closer to town, and significantly expanded hours at a still-modest (but we’re getting there) tasting bar. Things are fairly mellow in the rest of the state, however, if you find yourself in Savannah, Perc Coffee continues to elevate the tone in that part of the world, bringing a potent dose of modernity to a city that’s very much into the past.
Hawaii: Kona Coffee Purveyors, Honolulu
With California officially now a coffee producing state—and, if things really take off, more land to work with than Hawaii—you have to wonder, could a little bit of healthy competition be just the thing this state needs to shore up its stubbornly catch-as-can coffee culture? So used to being chased after by deep-pocketed buyers elsewhere, first-time visitors to the state are often surprised by how difficult it can be to get a decent cup of coffee, let alone anything 100% Kona. There are encouraging signs, however—this sleek café (backed by a single estate) near most of the big Waikiki hotels tends to treat one of Hawaii’s most notable exports with the care it so very much deserves; also, thanks to a partnership with the exemplary b. Patisserie in San Francisco, they’ve also got some of the best kouign amann in the country. All in all, a decadent start to your Honolulu day.
Tasting notes If you’ve always liked the idea of an origin trip but haven’t gotten around to it yet, Hawaii is a great place to start; in the Kona district, over on the Big Island, the coffee’s always free for the sampling at the award-winning Hula Daddy, which also offers reservation-only tours. Of course, there’s more to Hawaii than Kona—also on the Big Island, the Ka’u district has really made a name for itself; the springtime K’au Coffee Festival, open to the public, offers a great introduction to the farmers, and their operations.
Idaho: Neckar Coffee, Boise
Don’t be fooled by the brand-new surrounds at Boise’s newest, most notable café—Grant Shealy has been roasting coffee for a number of years now, starting out, like so many others, in a garage; last summer, he took the brick and mortar leap, and plenty of coffee drinkers around Boise, who already had plenty of options, but also knew all about Shealy’s coffees from before, are really glad he did. (Shealy started out selling his coffee at a local farmer's market.) Everything has been carefully curated here; before you even get to the coffee, and you should, it’s difficult not to be slightly impressed by the look and feel of everything—the row of cushioned stools along the mid-height bar, a modern interpretation of the classic diner car seating arrangement, is a great idea more coffee shops might consider.
Tasting notes Neckar joins a vibrant scene in Boise—look out for Slow by Slow, a sharp multi-roaster outfit, and another local roaster recently gone brick and mortar, Form & Function.
Illinois: Big Shoulders Coffee, Chicago
Every once in a while, the coffee is so perfect, you don’t even notice the surroundings, which can be a good thing; the relatively no-frills Big Shoulders has six shops now, few of them doing much to push coffee shop design forward; heck, one of them’s a counter at Midway Airport. Never mind all that, because, when on top of their game, which seems to be nearly always, there are few roasters in this town capable of showcasing their own coffees quite so brilliantly—some of the most exciting moments from this year’s survey involved paper cups of batch-brewed black coffee, served at the pleasant-enough Big Shoulders shop on Lake Street with zero pleasantries whatsoever, cups of coffee that practically set our hair on fire with their precision. (2018’s Kenya Kirinyaga, you were particularly special.) In case you ever wondered, or if anyone ever asks you, where do you go in Chicago, for a really good, no-bull cup of coffee, look no further.
Tasting notes Chicago and its suburbs continue to be a magnet for roasting talent (never forget that Intelligentsia was already thriving here, decades ago), but you shouldn’t necessarily assume that you need to trek to the source, to see what’s doing—Fat Rice Bakery in Logan Square, to name just one example, has been serving a custom, dare-one-use-the-word exquisite Sumatra and Vietnamese Arabica blend by Sparrow Coffee that will likely make your day (it surely has done for us, once or twice). Coming here saves you a trip to Sparrow’s remote Naperville café. Beyond the ‘burbs, it’s relatively slim pickings, but out in Rockford, the Rockford Roasting Company is really starting to perk up.
Indiana: Tinker Coffee Co., Indianapolis
Mark it down—this is the year Indianapolis got serious. Steve Hall and Jeff Johnson may have hatched the idea for Tinker Coffee some time ago now, and they may have been supplying some of the city’s best cafés and restaurants for long enough that you’d expect them to have put down real roots, but it wasn’t until very recently that the brothers-in-law made it official, moving out of a cramped college dorm of a roasting facility into a 10,000 square-foot forever home, not far from downtown, where they are working on opening a very large café. Until then, the roasting plant is open to the public, a drop-in center for anyone who feels like wandering in for a chat, or a bag of one of their sweet, sweet, rotating Ethiopias. There was coffee here before Hall and Johnson showed up in 2014, but Tinker has turned the city into a player; best of all, it seems as if things are just getting started.
Tasting notes The most memorable café experience in Indianapolis during repeat visits last year took place in the suburbs—a morning at Carmel’s cheerful, highly competent Indie Coffee Roasters, the sort of place you want to return, again and again. Don’t forget that Indiana is home to Fort Wayne, which true nerds will know as the home of Modbar, manufacturers of some of the most fashionable brewing equipment on the market—once the company hit the big time, co-founder Corey Waldron found he preferred to spend his days running Fort Wayne’s Conjure Coffee. Drop by, say hello, ask all your Modbar-related questions, or just admire the equipment.
Iowa: Horizon Line Coffee, Des Moines
Southern California is currently home to one of the country’s most actively engaged coffee cultures—there are too many worthy destinations to name, many of them out in the suburbs of Los Angeles and San Diego, typically owned and operated by some of the most enthusiastic people in the business. This was the effervescent culture that inspired Brad Penna and Nam Ho, friends who met while working at Cal Poly Pomona, to get into coffee in the first place, but one problem. With modest means and experience, the risk of opening yet another coffee shop in high-stakes California seemed daunting. So, they did what so many Californians do, they left for someplace different, where they thought they’d have a better shot. They chose the Midwest, because they thought the region might offer a slower pace of life, and that the people would be kind—in 2016, Penna and Ho opened up shop (and began roasting) in the fashionable Western Gateway section of Des Moines. In short order, Horizon Line has proved itself essential to the increasingly cosmopolitan city. Anyone familiar with suburban Southern California coffee culture will find the whole experience transporting—natural light pours in, highlighting the bright, clean design, the typically good-natured baristas set the tone for the room, so often filled with lively little groups of people who seem really pleased to be there. West Coast, Best Coast, except smack in the middle of Iowa. No complaints.
Tasting notes After a successful first year in Cedar Rapids, the promising Dash Coffee Roasters plans a second location in Iowa City, due to open this spring.
Kansas: PT’s Coffee, Topeka
While there’s plenty to love about an industry where youthful enthusiasm never seems to run dry, in many towns and cities, the newest, least-experienced arrivals are often the ones telling the story, while everyone who has been around for more than ten minutes is suddenly invisible. Then again, anybody who developed a passion for coffee back in the dark ages—the 1990’s, or prior to—values the contributions made by pioneers from that era, notably Jeff Taylor and Fred Polzin, who founded one of the country’s most influential coffee roasters, right here in Kansas, back in 1993. Among the first group of roasters going the extra mile to trade directly with farmers, long before sustainability became a marketing buzzword, PT’s, which recently acquired fellow early-adopter Bird Rock Coffee (from San Diego), continues to perform incredibly well with their limited release coffees, in part thanks to the hard work of Q Grader Maritza Taylor (one of the first ever to be certified in Colombia, Maritza lives in Kansas and is married to Jeff now), and head roaster Mike Mazulo, whose relationship with PT’s began the same way it did for so many coffee lovers back in the day, as a customer in their original Topeka shop.
Tasting notes Sarah Leslie made the rounds on New York City’s coffee scene for over a decade, before heading back home to open Wichita’s Leslie Coffee Co. last year, while in the Strawberry Hill section of Kansas City, the little Splitlog Coffee has quickly become a highlight. Thou Mayest, a top name on the Missouri side, may have hopped out of the retail game for the time being, but their partnership with a Shawnee nursery has resulted in the visually appealing, flora-filled Cafe Equinox.
Kentucky: Good Folks Coffee, Louisville
How good is Good Folks? In a city where it feels like you cannot move for coffee roasters—coffee roasters, we’ll add, that are rather adept at the retail side of things, this town is in no way short on coffee shops,—it becomes increasingly clear, roughly two years after the crew behind this slow-build operation began selling their beans to the public, primarily online, that when we talk about Kentucky coffee, right now, what we are talking about is Good Folks. (Take a particularly close look at their Colombian coffees—Colombia is a country particularly near and dear to well-traveled founder Matt Argo’s heart.) Fun Kentucky fact: The roaster has done more than one barrel-aged collab with the bourbon industry, including cult distiller Pappy & Company.
Tasting notes In Cincinnati-adjacent Newport, Carabello Coffee is as enthusiastic about giving back to charitable causes as they are about coffee—tastings at their adjacent Analog Bar are a unique experience.
Louisiana: Congregation Coffee, New Orleans
The fact may not necessarily jump out at you during a visit to their somewhat sleepy Algiers Point roasting operation and café, but the work being done in the back at Ian Barrileaux and Eliot Guthrie’s relatively new operation (the duo met back in 2014) tends to cut straight through the noise of the New Orleans coffee scene—a scene that has grown significantly in recent years. There’s a reason you’ll find Congregation’s roasts at some of the most talked-about restaurants in town, starting with Donald Link’s restaurants—Barrileaux and Guthrie first connected while working under the same roof at Cochon.
Tasting notes Keep an eye on New Orleans—not only is Congregation due to open a second shop in the Central Business District at some point, Lauren Fink, owner of the growing Cherry Coffee empire, is easing into roasting after years of sourcing from elsewhere. Fink learned the trade in Portland before launching a pop-up in the Lower Garden District, back in 2013—now, she oversees two of the more impressive coffee shops in a city that’s never been short of them. Things were more down than up in the rest of the state this year, but one bit of happy news—Lafayette’s Rêve Coffee Roasters joined the lineup at the new White Star Market food hall in Baton Rouge.
Maine: Tandem Coffee Roasters, Portland
When Blue Bottle alums Will and Kathleen Pratt landed in Maine’s big city back in 2012 to realize their dreams, they knew they were entering a scene already in progress, and they knew—and just in case they didn’t, there were at least a few locals only too happy to remind them—that they had their work cut out for them. That they would have to prove they weren’t just bringing more coffee to Portland, but rather, very good coffee, coffee Portland couldn’t live without. In the end, seems there was plenty of room for everyone, though today, Tandem is certainly the city’s most recognizable brand; the two shops—the original, and the very design-y one opened in 2014, that doubles as one of city’s most popular bakeries—tended to skew super-cool at the start, but as the brand matures, there appears to be a certain mellowing in effect. Either way, it wouldn’t really matter, because the coffee continues to leap from strength to strength, from exciting small lots sourced through on-point importer Collaborative Coffee Source, to the smile-bringing Stoker blend, a “kinda dark” roast coffee—a welcome reimagining of the old-fashioned doughnut shop style.
Tasting notes In Maine, it appears you can roast coffee pretty much anywhere and find success, as long as it’s good—Melissa Raftery and Megan Wood launched 44 North Coffee on Deer Isle nearly a decade ago, and are going strong; more recently, Carley Mayhew and Mott Feibusch upped the ante with the launch of Monhegan Coffee Roasters, a year-round operation on tiny—and remote—Monhegan Island (population 68).
Maryland: Thread Coffee Roasters, Baltimore
Hang around Baltimore for a while, and you will likely come across Red Emma’s, named for noted anarchist Emma Goldman, which is just such a Baltimore thing—a worker-owned vegan and vegetarian restaurant, and also a radical bookstore. During its relatively short life, Red Emma’s has been somewhat nomadic, most recently posting up at the nicest location yet, in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The road to Casey McKeel becoming Red Emma’s in-house coffee supplier began back in 2012, which is when McKeel began roasting in her backyard; it wasn’t long at all before she moved the operation over to Red Emma’s, and things began to get serious. Eventually, the coffee side of things took on a life of its own, spinning off—still within the Red Emma’s family—to become its own thing, a proudly woman-and-queer-owned worker cooperative, with its own brand, and now their own headquarters at a sparkling new maker space on a stretch of Greenmount Avenue that until recently was far from the first place you’d stop for your morning cappuccino. A community-supported subscription model has helped McKeel and her co-owners avoid having to chase down outside investment or loans, freeing them up to focus on other things, like building farmer relationships—Thread is notably passionate about showing real solidarity with producing communities around the world. This has led them to some interesting places, and the coffees (a recent natural Ugandan comes to mind) tend to stand out from the crowd, in the best way possible.
Tasting notes Women really are leading the way in Baltimore, lately—skilled barista turned skilled roaster Sarah Walker’s Vent Coffee Roasters now has a permanent home (and a popular café) at the Union Collective, while Reservoir Hill’s woman-owned Dovecote Cafe continues to be a model of how to build community through coffee. The most interesting Baltimore opening in 2018 was Gloria Hwang and James Park’s OneDo Coffee (that’s Korean for coffee bean), over in Canton; they have been roasting from the start, working closely with local importer Keffa Coffee, helmed by Samuel Demisse, a leader in the DMV’s active Ethiopian coffee community. Speaking of the region, one of the most popular names in the nation’s capital is headquartered just over the line in Maryland—Hyattsville’s Vigilante Coffee Roasters has now added a new café in College Park.
Massachusetts: Little Wolf Coffee, Ipswich
When twentysomethings Chris Gatti and Melissa Bartz decided to leave Seattle and head back East, there were two things they were pretty sure of—they were going to roast coffee, and they were going to live in a small town, somewhere pleasant, and so they chose Boston’s North Shore, notable for a great deal many things, but nationally competitive coffee roasters, not so much. Well, that’s all changed. While Little Wolf, named for the couple’s Siberian Husky, has only been around for two, going on three years, remaining a modestly-sized operation (with a great little café that’s by now a New England road trip essential), this has not stopped it from turning out some pretty superb coffees, drawing the industry’s attention back to a state that played a key role in the rise of modern American coffee.
Tasting notes While this hardly seems possible, looking around now, it wasn’t very long ago that the East Coast was basically a coffee wasteland—for the longest time, all throughout the 1980’s, there was basically George Howell, and then there was nobody. Moving back East from the Bay Area in the mid-1970’s, Howell was appalled by the lack of drinkable coffee, and decided to solve the problem. For years, Howell’s Coffee Connection was legendary both in Boston and other lucky communities around New England; Howell pioneered in so many ways that now just come naturally to American roasters—he went lighter on his roasts than most, he was passionate about relationships with farmers, he loved traveling to coffee-producing countries—you name it, he was doing it, working in close partnership with pioneering buyer and godmother of specialty coffee, the late Erna Knutsen, buying small and smart at a time when it was all about bulk, pushing consumers to demand more at a time when coffee was all about convenience. Best of all, he did it without a lick of pretense—the guy gave the world the Frappuccino, which was Howell’s take on the coffee granitas he’d tried at the gone-but-never-forgotten Torrefazione Italia in Seattle, way back when. Like the once-great TI, Coffee Connection was eventually snapped up by a quickly-growing Starbucks, and for the longest time, Howell was effectively sidelined—these days, he’s back to his old café tricks in Boston, and even if he’s now just one player on an increasingly cramped regional field, the coffees themselves, particularly the limited edition / single estate offerings, which you can order online, are some of the finest the East Coast has to offer, after all these years. Right now, the best café experience in Boston, however, comes via the tiny Gracenote in the Leather District, co-owned by one of the area’s most notable young roasters, Patrick Barter.
Michigan: Foster Coffee Co., Owasso
Musicians and high school pals Nick Pidek and Jon Moore could have contented themselves with just the one café, in their quiet hometown of Owasso, but that’s what makes them so much more than just another roasting outfit in a state that does some very fine things with coffee—starting the business on their credit cards because nobody would give them a loan, Pidek and Moore began selling on the farmers market circuit, which brought them enough success to land them that shop in Owasso, but they weren’t done yet, not by a long shot. In 2017, they made the decision to open up shop in Flint, which—despite the endless barrage of bad news—has recently been making some considerable progress with its downtown. Foster’s presence here has certainly contributed to the growing sense of cautious optimism; Pidek and Moore and their generally terrific crew here have created an open and inclusive gathering place you can’t help but love. A Saturday morning here, before or after a visit to Flint’s indoor market, located just around the corner, is an absolute pleasure. This year, look for Foster’s third shop, in East Lansing.
Tasting notes Since 2008, the hard-working Madcap Coffee has been spreading the gospel of good Michigan coffee from coast to coast; you’ll find their work featured in better shops around the country. This spring, the Grand Rapids-headquartered operation finally makes things official with Detroit, stirring things up a with a new café at the chic Shinola Hotel—incidentally, around the corner from the lobby of the Siren Hotel, where Bay City’s Populace Coffee has had a presence for some time now. Over in Detroit’s Eastern Market, after years in what was supposed to be a temporary space, local pioneer Anthology Coffee is currently moving into their forever home.
Minnesota: Wesley Andrews, Minneapolis
Even in this younger-skewing industry, Jared Thompson and Johan Podlweski stand out, and quite significantly—the ambitious duo were only just out of high school when they started roasting coffee, opening a shop by the time they’d both turned 21. While buying very fresh coffee from your local roaster is certainly a great way to go, these coffees—a recent, complex Myanmar springs to mind—are worth sending away for through the internet, if you’re not lucky enough to live nearby; keeping abreast of what Thompson (he’s the coffee side of things) is up to can be pretty fun stuff. In a city crawling with coffee shops (and coffee), the typically exacting, but also unpretentious Wesley Andrews remains a standout.
Tasting notes Onto a sometimes serious scene, Marcus Parkansky’s pointedly un-serious Misfit Coffee blew like a breath of fresh air last year. What was once a mobile operation known for nitro cold brew moved into its permanent Uptown home in 2018, and at a time when some fairly surprising (and fun-sounding) drinks are now creeping onto menus at some of the best shops around the country, Misfit delights in taking things one step further / too far—go on, have a bit of fun. Over in St. Paul, the new Keg & Case market is so much more than just another food hall—the presence of popular Five Watt Coffee has certainly contributed to the appeal. While you’re over this end, Roundtable Coffee Works isn’t new, but remains somewhat under the radar—for a pleasing, off-the-grid experience, drop by their roastery, which keeps morning café hours during the week.
Mississippi: Bean Fruit Coffee, Jackson
Growing up in a Taster’s Choice world, coffee was never something Paul Bonds figured he needed in his life, and it wasn’t until the first sip of something very good—he can tell you, it was an Ethiopian, Yirgacheffe, washed, with bright, citrus notes—that he woke up to what he’d been missing. One of the South’s most talented coffee people has been at it for nearly a decade now—his experience shows in cup after cup, particularly among the rotating cast of single origins, but even in the regional market-friendly blends, as well. Bonds appears only too happy to keep a lower profile, so you’ll need to content yourself with the Jackson shops that stock his coffees, at least for now—a recent joining forces with another local coffee company could mean greater visibility in future. As long as Bonds continues roasting, that all sounds fine.
Tasting notes When passing through Clarksdale, a stop at Meraki Roasting Co. is essential, and not just for a cup of coffee—this cheerful outfit (backed by their own small-batch roasting program) provides job training for local youth, with 100% of the profits going straight back into the Mississippi Delta community. Exploring Natchez? Start your day at Steampunk Coffee Roasters, probably not the first thing you were expecting to find in the Antebellum architecture capital. Back in Jackson, Taylor and Anna Triplett’s il Lupo coffee bar, tucked into one corner of Jackson’s new Cultivation Food Hall, is a welcome addition to the local scene.
Missouri: Monarch Coffee, Kansas City
Way back in the 1990s, when there wasn’t much to talk about in this part of the country, even before PT’s Coffee began roasting in nearby Topeka, Kansas City had Danny O’Neill roasting coffee in his basement and dreaming about what would eventually become the very successful Roasterie, a regional mini-chain retaining the loyalties of a good portion of the regional population. Over the years, one roaster after another dipped their toes into the already stirred regional waters, right up until very recently—Kansas City likes coffee, it knows plenty about coffee, and so much solid work has been done here, over the years. So, then—why should a youngster who opened up shop in 2017 with his artist wife and partner so quickly blow past the rest to number one? Tyler and Jaime Rovenstine, first of all, are far from just another let’s-do-a-café couple—when the doors opened to this sparkling shop, modern and bright but with warming accents (the design—all Jaime), Tyler had already accrued an impressive amount of experience in the coffee business, winning his share of good notices along the way. In less than two years at Monarch, the Rovenstines have demonstrated, over and over, that for them, coffee is about so much more than good roasting and exacting preparation, things that from the start appeared to be second nature—it’s about hospitality, it’s about community, and in challenging times, it’s about how coffee can step up and be a force for positive change.
Tasting notes KCMO’s Messenger Coffee Co. recently celebrated one year at their rather spectacular flagship, a project which continues to earn them a great deal of deserved attention, but there are plenty of smaller shops scattered around town that feel special, in their own way—the coffee/record store combo at Sister Anne’s, the biker-themed Blip Coffee Roasters in two locations, but best experienced down in the grandly post-industrial West Bottoms, and the very young Cuento Coffee, are just three that offer completely different experiences, all revolving around the city’s common love.
Montana: Treeline Coffee, Bozeman
For Natalie Van Dusen, a visit to Colombia—specifically, a trip where she motorbiked across the country, befriending her first coffee farmer—was the event that set the wheels in motion; the Californian came home and began roasting, with nothing more than a stovetop and a cast iron skillet. For years, coffee was a hobby; it wasn’t until after she made the move to Montana that things got real. In 2013, Van Dusen began roasting, and in 2016, realizing that while focusing on the roasting process was all well and good, there was still something missing, she opened her first café, a very nice one, combined with the roasting operation, at the edge of town. These days, Treeline feels like a Bozeman fixture; in 2018, Van Dusen and partner Deejay Newell opened a café at the heart of the city, inside the popular Lark Hotel, a designed-to-the-nines space that’s quite the stride forward for the state. The product matches up, very much so—two recent, bouyant offerings from Burundi were not only worth seeking out, they also came with a great backstory: woman-grown, woman-imported, and, finally, woman-roasted.
Tasting notes There are heavily populated states with a fraction of the roasting talent Montana takes for granted—pretty much every town or at least each region boasts a great one (and sometimes more) to call their own, from Drum Coffee Roasting and Black Coffee Roasting Co. in Missoula to Caffeic in Helena; in Billings, it’s the low-profile but award-winning Revel if you can find them. Some of the state’s smallest towns punch above their weight as well, from Big Creek Coffee Roasters in the remote Bitterroot Valley to Fieldheads Coffee Company in tiny Bigfork. One small-town notable, Folklore Coffee in Conrad, recently made a move toward the spotlight, hanging a shingle in the tourist town of Whitefish.
Nebraska: Archetype Coffee, Omaha
Isaiah Sheese didn’t have to do much more to impress—now going into his fifth year of pushing the coffee conversation forward in Nebraska, his simple, effective shop in the Blackstone District had already proved a worthy showcase for his roasting talent. But this apparent disinterest in sitting still is one reason Sheese continues to make an impression—last year, Archetype opened a second shop, just about the prettiest Omaha has ever seen, a Scandinavian-inspired spot in the Little Bohemia neighborhood, just south of downtown. There was a significant amount of movement on the local scene in 2018, but this was easily the biggest news of all. Besides a strong core offering, Archetype is one of many good cafés across the country going all in on unique, seasonal coffee drinks—let them whip out the shakers and make one for you.
Tasting notes The opening of Omaha’s diminutive Amateur Coffee Parlor was a welcome coming-out party for a local roaster; in Lincoln, the Meta Coffee Lab retail collaboration with a local brewery may have been short lived, but it served as a reminder to keep an eye on one of the city’s most promising outfits.
Nevada: Vesta Coffee Roasters, Las Vegas
There is only so much a town squatting on the high desert floor will ever be able to conjure up in the way of window dressing, in order to make us feel cozy and at home, but recent years have seen encouraging developments, with Las Vegas working overtime, particularly in some of its older, often character-filled neighborhoods, at the concept of placemaking. Coffee has been a big part of this ongoing effort—from on-point modern bars pushing avo toast (PublicUs) to one pretty spectacular Korean café and roaster (Gabi), there are more and more civilized spaces that don’t revolve around drinking or gaming, and Las Vegas is more livable for these efforts. Then again, there are also plenty of pretenders, and at the start, it was difficult to tell whether or not Jerad Howard’s minimal Arts District roaster and café, which appeared (or seemed to appear) out of nowhere, was just another trend surfer; with the benefit of more than two years in the rear view, it seems important to admit that not only was it wrong to ever doubt, it also feels as if Las Vegas finally has coffee that locals should be proud to call their own.
Tasting notes Mustn’t forget Reno, where things have settled in nicely—now you have three roasters, each with their own merit, plugging along—look for Old World Coffee Lab, Magpie Coffee Roasters and Hub Coffee Roasters.
New Hampshire: Horseshoe Cafe, Newmarket
Ask Nori and Sarah Kozuma what led them to leave the Bay Area, moving to a town of 9,000 people in New Hampshire, and they might give you the usual answers that people give, when they talk about leaving California, but in the one, going on two years that the couple’s coffee roaster, café and bakery has been a presence here in little Newmarket, it has become clear that what they wanted, more than anything, was room to breathe. Room to slow down to a pace where they could indulge their shared, healthy obsessions with quality and precision. They needed a place where they could spend hours poring over every single green bean that passed through their front door, throwing away anything that didn’t meet Nori’s exacting standards. Nori started in on the coffee, Sarah began baking beautiful milk breads, and they opened up shop to immediate raves. While the Kozumas know they’re doing more than they have to, and that Nori’s industry peers might laugh at the prospect of paying what really might be too close attention to detail, that’s the whole point—they changed up their lives to take back the time they needed to do the things they wanted to do, the way they wanted to do them, and the results speak for themselves. Nori Kozuma already knows a great deal about coffee, but he’ll tell you he’s just getting started, and that it will probably take him at least ten years to master the craft—he’s definitely in it for the long haul, though; Kozuma says he wouldn’t mind in the least if he ended up one of the best in New England, or even the country. No need to wait until then—this place is already plenty special.
Tasting notes Get to know Flight Coffee Co., one of the state’s more prominent roasters, at the Bedford tasting lab, or their popular Dover café; up north, Wayfarer Coffee Roasters continues to do great things in downtown Laconia.
New Jersey: Penstock Coffee Roasters, Highland Park
Think back to the height of the last recession in the Northeast, specifically the Tri-State, a time when New York City was just waking up to the idea that it was perfectly okay to demand a better cup of coffee. The surrounding area? New Jersey? Forget it. But Princeton Theological Seminary student Ben Schellack, whose sole connection to coffee at the time was working at Starbucks to make ends meet, had this moment one day, at a particular shop in Manhattan, where he realized that not only could coffee be spectacular when done correctly, it also had this terrific power to draw people together. That. He wanted more of that. In 2009, with the support of his wife, Jessica, Schellack began roasting, and by 2012, the couple had opened a café—known as OQ Coffee, until recently—in Highland Park, just across the Raritan River from downtown New Brunswick. The notion of community, part of the inspiration for the business, remains at the core of what they do; the couple is proud of their ongoing relationships with farmers and mills throughout Central and South America. In a state still largely hooked on convenience coffees, to be going on ten years, and to have really pushed themselves to be excellent, without very much local competition at all—witness their 2018 Good Food Award, for the delicious Kayon Mountain Farm, a particularly berry-forward Ethiopian—Penstock ought to be celebrated.
Also try There’s no shop attached to Royal Mile Coffee Roasters, but serious drinkers in Philadelphia and South Jersey ought to add one of the Haddon Township operation’s regularly scheduled tasting events to their calendar. Rojo Roasters is one of the state’s earlier modern operations; their cafés in Lambertville and Princeton still stand out among the state’s growing number of worthy coffee shops. (One new spot that’s really pushing things forward is The Peccary in Millburn, serving coffees from Tandem in Portland, Maine.)
New Mexico: Cutbow Coffee Company, Albuquerque
After thirty years of hard work in their chosen fields, some people like to take it easy. Paul Gallegos, who spent an entire career roasting coffee in California—Gallegos was right in the thick of the action at Peet’s, back when it was still mostly just a Berkeley thing—decided to open a business. And so, the New Mexico native came home, launched his own roasting operation and café in early 2018, and just one year later, even though Gallegos was far from the first person to open a coffee shop in this town, it’s already just the tiniest bit difficult to imagine Albuquerque without him.
Tasting notes Nearby, Prismatic Coffee is Albuquerque’s resident youthful enthusiast, favoring lighter roasts (their own) and the now-familiar modern/minimal environment and menu; downtown, Espresso Fino remains one of the city's most enjoyable coffee bars, thanks to the charm (and know-how) of owner Greg Flores. Speaking of the Flores family—if you're up in Taos, son Pablo now has his own shop and roasting operation, The Coffee Apothecary, which he owns with wife Lydia McHaley, a one-time Espresso Fino barista.
New York: Sey Coffee, Brooklyn
One of the finest cups of coffee during the last year: the Elida Panama from this quickly emerging Bushwick operation, one of those elegant, serve-it-on-the-fine-china coffees, so much more than your typical morning punch in the mouth. Of course, this ought to have been close to perfect—the rare Gesha was only one of the most highly-prized lots in 2018. The careful handling of this delicate varietal showed Sey to be a master of the lighter arts, and a welcome one, when you think of all the klutzy pretenders, currently crowding this particular corner of the playing field. Business partners Lance Schnorenberg and Tobin Polk have been roasting coffee for some time now, but Sey is relatively new, and there’s still room for growth, but even now, this feels like a leap ahead for a city that consumes large amounts of caffeine, but often remains too busy to slow down and ask the question, is what I’m drinking any good?
Tasting notes You’ll find their work all over town, but it’s worth planning a Sunday visit to Brooklyn’s Parlor Coffee, purveyors of some of the best coffee New York City has to offer; their snug tasting room is one of the top destinations in town for people who are serious about coffee, you just have to remember to get there, the one day a week that they’re open to the public. One of the most inspired developments of the year happened way upstate—Sam and Kelsey Bender’s well-loved Peaks Coffee Co., which the young couple launched in the small town of Cazenovia, has moved to an appealing new home at the heart of Syracuse.
North Carolina: Black & White Coffee Roasters, Wake Forest
Competition circuit kings Lem Butler and Kyle Ramage are best known around the industry for their consecutive wins at the United States Barista Championships—Butler placed first in 2016, then coached Ramage to the same spot the following year. But the road to where they are now—co-owners of one of the country’s most intriguing new outfits—started long before that, and they met, as you can imagine many other people working in coffee in this part of North Carolina met, because of Counter Culture Coffee. (Butler was working there, at the time.) This was nearly a decade ago, now; in the fall of 2017, Black & White was created, and within a relatively short period of time, their coffees have gained a considerable amount of national attention. When in Raleigh, make the half-hour detour to Black & White’s Wake Forest shop—you’ll be awfully glad.
Tasting notes Hawaii-raised Cabell Tice had never been to the mountain town of Waynesville when he decided to move his growing family there—all he knew was, he had found a building he liked, and that he wanted to be his own boss, after getting a very early start in the industry, where he quickly became something of a star. (Winning the World Latte Art Championships not once, but three times certainly helped.) This month, he’ll open Orchard Coffee, on the ground floor of the building that inspired the move. Things are really picking up, down in Charlotte—a long-time roaster finally took the plunge into retail last summer with the community-focused Enderly Coffee Co.; meanwhile, the year-old Basal Coffee feels like a nice leap forward for the city.
North Dakota: Youngblood Coffee Roasters, Fargo
What a difference a year makes. Back in early 2018, Tim & Elisha Griffin, recently arrived from San Francisco and armed with a considerable amount of industry experience, were running what was easily the most modern shop in Fargo—certainly not the first, but definitely the most cutting-edge. Apparently, this was just a preview of coming attractions, because everything has changed now, and frankly, it’s better—the Griffins are roasting their own coffee, and baking their own bread, and they’ve moved to a bigger space, big enough for a bread oven, and an extremely prominent Probat roaster, taking pride of place directly on the shop floor.
Tasting notes Coffee drinkers in North Dakota’s second city have a friend in Brian Jackson—he’s the founder of Mighty Missouri Coffee Co., quickly becoming a part of the daily routine in Bismarck, North Dakota’s diminutive capital.
Ohio: Branch Street Coffee, Boardman
There are so many places in Ohio where encouraging things are happening right now, but too often, it feels like Youngstown is not one of them—still nursing the worst kind of Rust Belt, post-industrial hangover, this is not a place that large numbers of people are banging down the door to visit, or moving to be part of something big, and that is just one reason why Matt Campbell’s modest-looking operation, in a strip shopping center out near the Ohio Turnpike, continues to be so damn endearing. But this isn’t about being charitable, not in the least—Campbell’s work speaks loudly for itself, as does his appreciation for the community that has kept him in business; when Branch Street’s Kenya Konyu brought home an astounding Coffee Review score (95), Campbell invited everyone around to taste the stuff, for free. While recent plans to open a Youngstown-proper shop have been scrubbed, there are rumors of good things coming, in 2019—for now, at this modest shop out in the suburbs, there's plenty to smile about.
Tasting notes Could Youngstown end up being a whole thing? Late last year, the tasteful Culturehouse Coffee opened its doors on a block that could use the civilizing touch—more than a pretty face, the new operation is backed by a decade of experience; the couple that owns the place has been roasting since 2014. Elsewhere, looking beyond the more talked-about operations seems to be the best policy; in Cleveland, it’s the tiny Duck-Rabbit Coffee that continues to impress the most, while Brett Barker’s Wood Burl Coffee (served at Barker’s near-perfect Press Coffee in Dayton) outshines most other shops in the state, without asking for a great deal of attention. Great news: Press will open a second Dayton location, hopefully very soon. Speaking of huge openings—this spring, look for Cincinnati’s Mom n’ Em Coffee, an all-day café just about ready to launch in the resurgent Camp Washington neighborhood; Tony and Austin Ferrari, proprietors of one of San Francisco’s best little neighborhood cafés (Potrero Hill’s Provender) have moved back home to get their dream project off the ground. Up in Bowling Green, one of the state’s most enthusiastic multi-roaster cafés, Flatlands Coffee, is worth the short detour from I-75.
Oklahoma: Clarity Coffee/KLLR Coffee, Oklahoma City
Suppose you were strolling the center of Oklahoma’s largest city, just in town for a visit from someplace else—you might not even give Steve Willingham’s simple coffee bar a second glance; there are more photogenic coffee shops around, not even that far from here—is this the one you really want? Certainly, yes. Opened in 2015 after Willingham had paid his industry dues (not to make him sound old, he’s still pretty young), Clarity found its feet as a multi-roaster operation, only going into roasting for themselves in 2017, under the KLLR Coffee name. A handful of rotating single origins, sometimes deliciously obscure, and a great espresso blend (recently, a harmonious balance of Ethiopian and Colombian) are pretty much the extent of things, but it’s enough—enough to get people talking, far away from Oklahoma.
Tasting notes Oklahoma City isn’t the only town with outsized talent—the word on Tulsa’s Cirque Coffee continues to spread far, while at the local level, Cirque’s home base has become a focal point not only for the neighborhood, but for coffee lovers from all over town. (They’ve added a bar over the winter—could that have something to do with it?)
Oregon: Good Coffee, Portland
There are coffee bars in hotel lobbies, and then there is the arrangement between one of Portland’s best new hotels, and Oregon's best coffee roaster. Rather than being shunted off into a corner somewhere, the Woodlark’s lobby has essentially been taken over; the place you check in is the same counter where you order the first espresso of your day, and you’ll have to get up awfully early to beat the rush: this place is popular, and justifiably so. The fact that it all works seamlessly is a testament not only to the hotel, but to the café, as well—since 2014, brothers Nick and Sam Purvis have been rather quietly building an empire, smack in the middle of one of the most competitive (and most advanced) markets in the country. Time and again, Good has shown—the Woodlark is the fourth location—their commitment to hospitality, as impressive as their talent for putting out exceptional coffees, in a region hardly short on them. You will not go far in this town without encountering a coffee shop; for the whole package, consistently, it’s Good.
Tasting notes Very few cities in the United States offer more roasters firing on all cylinders than Portland—anyone looking to get up to speed on what’s happening right now should absolutely find themselves at Roseline Coffee, a sought-after operation that’s just finding its feet in their first (finally!) retail space—this is an essential stop, and so is Upper Left Roasters, their Southeast flagship (walking distance from Roseline, by the way) remains one of the city's most appealing cafés, serving some of Oregon’s finest coffee. The fun doesn’t end when you leave Portland, in fact it’s just getting started—in the Willamette Valley, drop by Tried & True Coffee (two locations in Corvallis) to sample the coffees from Bespoken, while in Bend, the buzz right now is on Clint Rowan’s Still Vibrato, an award-winner with a coffee bar tucked into a local market—worth seeking out. And speaking of worth a trek, way down in the Rogue Valley, they’ve got plenty of coffee, but the conversation continues to begin with Noble Coffee Roasters.
Pennsylvania: Passenger Coffee, Lancaster
The distance between one of America’s oldest—and to this day, finest—public markets and one of the country’s most modern coffee shops can be measured in mere steps, no more than ten of them, not very many at all, when you consider how many years forward you’re going. Inside, it’s all bright and beautiful, the coffee couldn’t be better (the offerings coming via Burundi’s Long Miles project, and Brazil’s sustainable Daterra estate, to name two), and the welcome couldn’t be warmer. The precision of it all, beginning with the effortlessly good and patient service, the look, the feel, it’s so energizing, like a master class in modern coffee culture, in what you always wanted it to be, but in so many cities, still aren’t sure how to ask. Occupying the ground floor of a stately Masonic Hall (this being ye olde Lancaster, plenty of the buildings around here will impress you) and serving as one of the historic city’s most appealing third places, Passenger is worth a visit from anywhere.
Tasting notes Philadelphia is proudly home to one of the most layered scenes along the Northeast Corridor—never forget, La Colombe was absolutely nailing it here, a generation ahead of other cities in the region. There are so many places to try now, but if you need to choose just one, just follow Elixr Coffee Roasters around town, wherever they go, like a puppy—they’ve got four locations now. Hungry and thirsty? Res Ipsa is a strong entry within the growing all-day café trend, a partnership between ReAnimator Coffee and the chef/owner of local restaurant Stock; Blind Tiger Coffee keeps limited weekend hours at their Howard Street roastery, and serious coffee drinkers should drop by. Gabe Boscana at Maquina Coffee Roasters still prefers hiding out behind the roaster in suburban West Chester to public interaction, but his coffees remain an industry favorite; after roasting and serving inside Harrisburg’s Broad Street Market for a number of years now, Andrea Grove’s Elementary Coffee will make a splash in 2019 with the opening of a second, standalone location, right in the middle of town.
Rhode Island: Bolt Coffee, Providence
Huge news this past year, from the littlest state—what was once one of the most perfectly-formed coffee shops for miles around is now one of the region’s most notable roasters, too. With two unique, well-run locations in town, one an essential morning hangout spot in the lobby of the Dean Hotel, the other an all-day café at the RISD Museum, Bolt didn’t need to try much harder, but now, Mark Hundley and roaster Justin Enis have rather successfully steered the operation in an exciting new direction. Suddenly, it feels like the sky’s the limit.
Tasting notes Alaska-born Brian Dwiggins started roasting coffee almost out of necessity, when he moved to New England and couldn’t wrap his head around the sort of coffee that most of the people around him in his adopted home were drinking. For a little more than two years now, Borealis Coffee Roasters has been comfortably at home in a vintage train depot along a popular rail trail, just over the Providence River from the big city.
South Carolina: Methodical Coffee, Greenville
Still only in his mid-twenties, Will Shurtz has already accomplished more than most people do in twice the time; Shurtz is the head of coffee at a company he co-founded just a few years ago, after having made a name for himself in the industry as a traveling barista. When you try the coffees here—come in, to one of two memorable locations, sit down, and have your drink served to you on their collection of Blue Willow china—you’d swear that Shurtz has been behind the roaster for a lot longer than two years and change, and so would plenty of other people around the country who are trying Methodical’s beans for the first time, in coffee shops as far away as California. Just weeks ago, Methodical dove headlong into the all-day café fray; if the food is anything like the coffee, it should have no trouble standing out in a town already full of places to eat.
Tasting notes South Carolina continues to make it very easy for coffee drinkers on the hunt—each major city boasts one roaster you really should know, each uniquely suited to that particular town. Columbia, the state capital, is home to Indah Coffee; their unassuming Cottontown café (one of two) is secretly one of the best in the Southeast. Meanwhile, Charleston has a potential winner in Second State Coffee—repeat visits during a recent stay were most encouraging.
South Dakota: Coffea Roasterie, Sioux Falls
When you’re as far ahead of the game as South Dakota’s finest roasting operation (fine enough to net them a growing customer base, well beyond Sioux Falls), there has to be the temptation to take things easy, but apparently, the thought hasn’t yet crossed Bryan Kegley’s mind. Already having opened three cafés around town, each featuring an array of creative seasonal drinks and some rather fine pastries, there’s more, lots more—late last summer, Kegley moved his roasting plant into a space immediately adjacent to the Louise Avenue shop, where they’ve got room for cuppings and classes and the like, while in 2019, they’re preparing to launch a fourth café, a coffee bar inside a new downtown hotel.
Tasting notes Rapid City is hardly a small town, certainly not by South Dakota standards, but the city’s ability to support at least three coffee roasters over a number of years now continues to impress—if you’re here, begin at Pure Bean, moving on to the Australian-owned Essence of Coffee (South Dakota is certainly a long way from Perth), and then wrapping things up at Harriet & Oak, which took over an old automotive showroom in 2017. (It’s the one with the VW bus on the shop floor, can’t miss it.) Driving through the Pine Ridge Reservation? Stop in for a cup at the Higher Ground Coffee Shop.
Tennessee: Crema, Nashville
Like many other states, Tennessee has a great deal going on, but at a certain point, you look up from the twentieth cup of coffee and you realize, you’d trade them all for one truly great one. A considerable shift on the Nashville scene during the last year led to some soul-searching, and then one day, we realized that the truth had been out there, all along—sometimes the answer to the question, who is doing it best, is the answer to the question, who’s been doing it just long enough to know exactly how it’s done? Crema, it feels good to be home. Founded around the beginning of the last recession and proudly celebrating more than a decade in business, Ben and Rachel Lehman’s passion for coffee appears as strong as ever—one building block at a time, they’ve become the roaster that other roasters around the country mention the most frequently, when you talk to them about Tennessee. Keeping to a modest footprint in a city that tends to like things big and bold, Crema recently announced a much-needed expansion—more space for roasting, over in East Nashville.
Tasting notes When in Nashville, you’ll want to keep one eye open for the new coffees at Stay Golden—in less than a year, this splashy operation has already grown to include two all-day cafés, and the whole thing is backed by some significant roasting talent. Memphis has been perking up of late, and while you’ll still have to scout around for the coffees from Vice & Virtue, it’s worth doing so. (While you're here, poke your head into the new Comeback Coffee, a welcome addition to that strip of North Main Street.) There are a number of towns and cities in the eastern portion of the state supporting what appears to be a coffee culture, but so many experiences proved disappointing, this time around—still, there are bright sparks, particularly in Knoxville, where it’s good fun chasing the 1970s Winnebago that’s home to local roaster Brynn Coffee around; if a proper cappuccino in civilized surrounds is what you’re after, Wild Love Bakehouse can do that—they also happen to be one of the state’s best bakeries.
Texas: Greater Goods Roasting, Austin
Like barbecue joints and recently-arrived Californians, you will find no shortage of coffee shops in Austin, but even still, stepping into the East Fifth Street flagship of this relatively new arrival on the regional scene, it might be the slightest bit difficult to conceal your amazement. The space, bathed in natural light, has been designed to the nines, but in that very Austin way, with lots of neutrals and plenty of wood. Also, the coffee is quite fine, and frankly, it’s enough. But what really pushes this operation past others in Texas right now, is the way it all works—co-founders Khanh Trang and Trey Cobb have partnered closely with four local charities, who benefit directly from the sale of many of the coffees Greater Goods offers. Licensed Q Grader Trang’s well-chosen array of limited offerings—Yemen, Mexico, Kenya, for example—should go on your list of things to try.
Tasting notes In Texas, as in so many other states, enthusiasm for coffee continues to outpace expertise, not to mention consumer know-how; coffee shops are everywhere, some of them quite attractive, but the perfect combination of roasting prowess and retail excellence remains frustratingly elusive. Local Coffee in San Antonio has been coming mighty close for years—this is the public face of Merit Coffee, one of the state’s best roasters; they’re now branching out to Austin and Dallas, and they’ll no doubt do particularly well in the latter. On the whole, it’s small-town (or, at least not big city) Texas that tends to provide the most repeatable coffee shop experiences, right now, from the fine Silver Grizzly Espresso in Longview to the roaster-backed Pinewood Coffee Bar in Waco.
Utah: La Barba, Salt Lake City
Since 2012, Utah’s best has been on a mission, multiple missions, actually, working not only to make great coffee accessible to everyone, without pretense (yes, they did just suggest that Ethiopia was tasting a lot like Fruit Loops), but also to keep their sourcing sustainable, with the goal of producers earning a living wage for the beans that La Barba buys. There are three locations now, each one sparkling brighter than the last, but it’s the original downtown spot—lately sharing their address with a natural—with its rich, moody decor that still seems to serve as the most fitting showcase for these very fine coffees.
Tasting notes After a solid run in the music business, Meg Frampton and Nick Price left Los Angeles to come home and open Three Pines Coffee, Salt Lake’s most precise, most modern, and very best little café, sourcing from some of the country’s finest. For visitors, it couldn’t be any easier to find—the shop is right at the heart of everything, about a block and a half from Temple Square.
Vermont: Carrier Roasting Co., Northfield
Vermonters have known the Carrier name for some time now—beginning as a coffee CSA, the last couple of years have been decisive, leading to a sparkling new café and roastery in the small town of Northfield, a short ride from Montpelier and worth a trip for pretty much anywhere in this part of the state. Definitely on side for those sweeter, cleaner light roasts, Carrier is also part of that growing cohort of roasters across the country, individually working to rethink what exactly a modern dark roast might look like—deep, full-bodied, but without a hint of the bitterness. Research worth supporting.
Tasting notes Johnny Steverson was once in charge of the coffee at New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns—now, he and wife Charlotte (they met at Blue Hill) have moved to Vermont, where they recently launched Kestrel Coffee Roasters in South Burlington. A new café (their first) has only just opened, and big things are expected. At the heart of Burlington, if you’re in the market for a cup and didn’t stop at Onyx Tonics, one of New England’s better coffee bars, kindly correct your error—this sophisticated tasting lab features a different roaster each week.
Virginia: Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Co., Richmond
David Blanchard has indeed come far from his father’s garage, where he first began roasting coffee, back in 2005, which is an awfully long time ago now, coffee-wise. For years, Blanchard preferred to spend his time behind the roaster, rather than the espresso machine, which was fine, assuming you knew the good news about Blanchard’s, and how they seemed to be so passionate about—and so excellent at—all of it, from the popular darker roast, to an admirable series of single origins. But there were so many people who didn’t know, after all this time—great news, then, that in 2019, Blanchard will debut not only one, but two Richmond cafés, bringing them right to the forefront, which is where they belong.
Tasting notes High up along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Floyd’s Red Rooster Coffee continues to impress, but also consider a handful of relatively new arrivals—the appointment-only Aperture Coffee up in the small town of Woodstock, the promising Vessel Craft Coffee in Norfolk (now there’s a region that could use more coffee), as well as Lone Light Coffee in Charlottesville, which upped their game this past year with a new roastery and more retail, in partnership with a local bakery.
Washington: Olympia Coffee, Olympia
Modern coffee is still in its experimental phase, and so many otherwise talented roasters are, as one industry notable pointed out recently, still chasing the next big thing, rather than consistency. So, at the end of a very long few months of sampling coffee at multiple shops every day, coming back to the Pacific Northwest, to the world of Olympia Coffee, felt something like the caffeinated equivalent of a warm hug, a safe harbor. In every right-on-the-money sip, from obscure micro-lot coffees to the organic and obsessed-over house espresso, you can taste knowledge, experience, and passion for detail. Co-owners Oliver Stormshak and Sam Schroeder have sensitively grown the company in recent years, opening game-changing shops in both Tacoma and Seattle, and they’ve doubled down on sustainability, too, leading one of the industry’s most ambitious transparency efforts, all while managing to maintain a customer experience that easily ranks among the best in the business.
Tasting notes Bellingham’s Camber continues its streak as one of the Northwest’s finest, and while their busy, all-day café at the heart of town continues to be a great place to stop for a bite, the most effective advertisement for the work being done here will be a simple cup of something black—either in the shop, or at home. Seattle’s world-famous scene continues to evolve, but too often feels like it's now just following, rather than leading. For the moment, the pioneering Espresso Vivace, where the usual pleasantries are typically forgone in favor of speed and precision, still delivers the city’s essential cappuccino. Then again, the flagship La Marzocco Cafe is always a fine time—rotating, typically month-long residencies bring some of coffee’s most accomplished roasters to town, year-round.
West Virginia: Quantum Bean Coffee, Morgantown
The story of the charming corner hangout on Kingwood Street, deep into in a pleasant, hilltop residential section of Morgantown, begins all the way west in California, where owner Samuel Bonasso had his first brush with real coffee, during a multi-year stint away from the Mountain State. After returning home, WVU grad Bonasso, along with wife Susan, began roasting and selling at local farmers markets, with enough success to encourage them into making it official. And now they have—after the usual round of delays that seem to afflict pretty much every coffee shop launch, Quantum Bean moved into their new home, last year. A big leap forward from those early years, when Bonasso began roasting coffee in his kitchen.
Tasting notes The state’s most fully-formed multi-roaster operation, Tip Top in the tiny, very seasonal (and outdoorsy) town of Thomas, has branched out to the larger town of Elkins, while in Charleston, Bridgette Kidd’s Void Coffee Company is pushing things ahead in West Virginia’s capital city.
Wisconsin: Ruby Coffee Roasters, Nelsonville
With the benefit of a lot of experience and plenty of people rooting for him, Jared Linzmeier moved to a tiny town in Central Wisconsin five years ago, fired up the roaster and started turning out some of the most respected coffees in the country, a welcome reminder that if you’re doing a thing really well, you can do it pretty much anywhere these days, and people will find you. A modest space for tasting on the Ruby compound is open Saturday and Sunday mornings, and if you’ve found yourself unexcited by coffees from Peru before, get in here and try the Mendosayoc, which also happens to have a pretty cool backstory. In 2019, Ruby returns to the grid, so to speak—a proper café is now in the late stages of construction, over in nearby Stevens Point.
Tasting notes Milwaukee’s relatively dense scene received a timely wake-up call back in 2017 with the arrival of Pilcrow Coffee, and their popular nitro cold brew—until recently, fans of Ryan Hoban’s roasts (and there are a few) have contented themselves with weekend tasting hours at the Bronzeville plant. With the opening of Interval, Hoban’s new all-day café, where chef Travis Cook brings years of experience in top San Francisco kitchens to a rather impressive food menu, Pilcrow finally has the showcase it deserves. If, like so many other Midwesterners, you find yourself in Door County, at some point during the coming summer or fall, the best cup of coffee on the peninsula will be found at the Ephraim Coffee Lab, the diminutive retail arm of Randy Isely’s capable roasting operation, where you might find the owner himself slinging the drinks.
Wyoming: Pine Coffee Supply, Pinedale
You don’t typically blow into a town of about 2,000 people—even in a sparsely populated state like Wyoming, where that many people is definitely a crowd—looking for a very modern coffee shop with all the bells and whistles, and if you ask Jim and Cody Hamilton, the father and son duo at the helm of one of the most remote shops to make the list in 2019, they honestly had their doubts, about whether or not the whole thing was going to work. A chain of events led them here, happily for Wyoming, and to open for business; since their appearance on last year’s list, when they were sourcing from elsewhere, the Hamiltons are now roasting their own, starting out with one of those Taiwanese one-kilo roasters, recently upgrading, rather significantly, to keep up with demand.
Tasting notes Coffee is once again a family affair over in Thermopolis, where Jackrabbit Java has garnered good notices for a handful of their medium and medium-dark roasts, going back a couple of years now; you can easily get your hands on their coffees at the family bookstore and café, Storyteller. Seeking out a morning brew with a great story? Mystic Monk sells a range of coffees roasted at a Carmelite monastery in Powell.