Top Twelve Coffees of 2004
Here are twelve of the most exciting coffees that we reviewed over the past year. Perhaps they illustrate a paradox, a version of the old saw about when the going gets tough the tough get tougher. Although green coffee prices generally spent a good part of 2004 exploring all-time lows and growers as a group suffered greatly, more really distinguished coffees showed up in our reviews than every before.
Top Twelve Coffees of 2004
• At a time when the Kenyan coffee industry is suffering through the greatest crisis in its distinguished history owing to the stress of low prices, two great Kenyas and several very, very good ones turned up, led by the year's highest-rated coffee, the 95-rated Bucks County 2003 Kenya, followed by the superb 94-rated version from Green Mountain.
• At a time when industry pundits declare a state of irreversible consolidation of the specialty industry and its inevitable domination by fewer and fewer larger and larger companies, our 'boutique espressos' review turned up a startlingly fine assortment of very fine and distinctive espresso blends from tiny roasting companies, including the Paradise Roasters Espresso (highest rated espresso of the year at 93) and Flying Goat's Espresso Ticino (92).
• Although Ethiopia, with Kenya the other giant of East Africa coffee, has been suffering through its own price-generated crisis, several fine examples of the great floral and citrus Yirgacheffe cup turned up on the review table this year, including the 93-rated Bucks County Yirgacheffe and the tactfully dark-roasted Yirgacheffe from the Supreme Bean (91).
• Initiatives to assist coffee growers in their time of crisis grew in number and impact throughout 2004. Although several outstanding Fair-Trade, organic, and relationship coffees turned up in our reviews, the most striking of all for the second straight year was the lavishly fruity, fragrant Organic Maragocatur from Nicaraguan farmer Byron Corrales, roasted by Thanksgiving Coffee. This coffee highlighted still another trend, which is increasingly close relationships between growers and roasters, and a tendency for globally savvy growers to take a more proactive role in creation of unique coffee types, in this case a farm-generated hybrid of the big-beaned Maragogipe and the dwarf caturra varieties of arabica.
• At a time when prices paid for green coffees generally hit all-time lows, the prices paid for some lots of green coffees hit all-time highs, owing to the success of the Cup of Excellence and other competition/auctions aimed at identifying the finest green coffees of the year produced in participating growing countries. Our November 2004 review of Cup of Excellence competition winners from Central America produced the year's highest collective ratings, as well as the year's highest prices. Three of the many highlight coffees from that article are revisited here: two El Salvadors, one from Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea (El Salvador Montecarlos, 94) and one from Stumptown Coffee Roasters (El Salvador Las Nubitas, 92), together with the delicately elegant Nicaragua Madriz (93) from Terroir Select Coffees.
• Finally, the Kona Extra Fancy from Bayview Farms at 92 proves again that, despite the conviction among many coffee professionals that Hawaii Konas do not live up to their sand-and-sun-driven reputation, the finest Konas from the best mills and farms in fact are well able to hold their sensory own against the best coffees from the rest of the world.
A last word of caution to the coffee buyer: In many cases the actual lots of green coffee on which these reviews were based have been roasted, consumed and enjoyed. Currently they exist only in the memories of those fortunate enough to have tasted them. New lots of the same coffees, or new versions of the same blends, may be just as good as the ones reviewed here, perhaps even better, but they will not be quite the same. Even more so than wine, coffee is a teasing, seductive child of the ever-changing collaboration between changing culture and the unpredictable whimsies of nature.