In most metropolitan areas coffee aficionados can buy coffee from specialized coffee stores or from upscale (and sometimes some not-so-upscale) supermarkets. On the Internet, coffees can be ordered directly from roaster websites (for example www.starbucks.com, www.peets.com, www.buckscountycoffee.com; etc.) or through numerous retailers that sell a variety of coffees from roasters across the country.
For freshness nothing beats buying coffee from places that roast the coffee in the same store where it is sold. In-store roasting, as it is called in the coffee business, is a growing, if still minor component of the specialty coffee scene. Next up in size are small roasting companies with three or four stores, then medium-sized chains and wholesale roasters whose coffees appear in locations all around a given metropolitan area. Finally, a growing number of chains and franchises have spread themselves over an entire region, or sometimes two or three regions. Starbucks is perhaps the only truly national specialty coffee chain.
Although single-store roasters appeal deeply to the coffee romantic in me, the best coffee being roasted in the United States today is produced by medium-sized, regional roasting companies, the kind with perhaps five to thirty stores or outlets. I wish this were not so, and that the single-store roasters were staying up with their somewhat bigger rivals in terms of quality, but, at the moment, few are. I have to assume that they lack both the resources to compete for the best coffees and the technical knowledge to produce the best roast. Their main edge, and a very significant one, is freshness and customer satisfaction at buying close to the source.