We are pleased to present our list of the Top 30 Coffees of 2017, Coffee Review’s fifth annual ranking of the most exciting coffees we reviewed over the course of the past year.
Coffee Review’s goal, as always, is to celebrate coffee roasters, farmers and mill-owners who make an extra effort to produce coffees that are not only superb in quality but also distinctive in character. In particular, we want to honor the dedication of coffee producers large and small who, with the support of their roaster partners, are crafting a range of sensory excellence and diversity that has never existed before in the history of the beverage.
This year, as in past years, we tested thousands of coffee samples and published over 300 reviews of the highest rated of those samples. In 2017, nearly 100 of those reviewed coffees scored 94 points or higher, a tribute in large part to the ever-intensifying innovation and dedication of the world’s leading coffee producers and roasters. Obviously, all of these 94+ coffees are worthy of celebration, as are the exceptional coffees hovering just behind them at 93 and 92. However, we couldn’t squeeze them all into our Top 30.
Nevertheless, we recommend all of these high-rated coffees. Their reviews can be found on CoffeeReview.com using our advanced search, sorting by top-rated, by region or coffee type, or by roaster.
However, we did force ourselves to select from among them 30 we felt were worthy of particular recognition.
As in past years, we selected and ranked these exceptional coffees based on:
- quality and distinction, represented by rating.
- value, reflected by most affordable price per pound relative to rating.
- factors that include individuality or distinctiveness, uniqueness of origin or tree variety, certifications such as Fair Trade and organic, and general rarity
For those who are curious about how we conduct our testing and rating processes at Coffee Review, see Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Davids’ piece, How Coffee Review Works.
The Category Rankings
Continuing a practice we began in 2015, we also have created a separate list of superlative coffees that excel in various specific categories, such as darker roasts, decaffeinated coffees, coffees from origins that appear less often in our reviews, and certified coffees like Fair Trade and organic. Many of the coffees in the Category Rankings did not attract exceptional ratings of 94 points or more, but they nonetheless merit special recognition for their excellence.
Breaking Down the Top 30: Ratings and Prices
The average overall rating of the coffees on the Top 30 list for 2017 is 94.9 out of a possible 100, in line with the 95.0 average in 2016 and the 94.8 average in 2015.
One can’t directly compare the price of Top 30 coffees from year to year because the mix of coffees varies too dramatically. That said, the average price of coffees on the 2017 list is US $53.11 per pound, a new record. It is a dramatic 45% increase from the US $36.61 average price in 2016, driven by four coffees that were $100 or more per pound.
In part, this increase reflects the growth of a top end of the international coffee market that seems willing to pay almost any price for the very rarest and most exceptional coffees, particularly for rare and exceptional coffees that have won awards in prestigious green coffee competitions and auctions. Every year, for example, price records are broken at the annual Best of Panama competition and auction. In July of 2017 a 100-pound lot from trees of the rare and admired Gesha variety was sold at the Best of Panama auction for over $601 per pound as a green coffee.
Nevertheless, although the first- and second-place coffees in our Top 30 reflect this price-is-no-object trend with per-pound prices of $170 and $149, respectively, the third- and fourth-place coffees, despite their remarkable distinction, constituted almost crazy bargains at $24.80 and $19.33 per pound. For more on price and the Top 30 list, see the end of this report.
At the Top of the List
This year’s top coffee is the 97-point Yemen Port of Mokha Hayma Microlot roasted by Dragonfly Coffee Roasters in Boulder, Colorado. In the review published in February, this memorable coffee was described as “an exquisitely composed Yemen coffee, almost other-worldly in its array of fruit and floral notes, all enveloped in a crisp chocolate.” It also offered a piece of living coffee history. Although Ethiopia is the botanical home of Coffee Arabica, Yemen introduced the beverage to the rest of the world in the 16th and 17th centuries, and Yemen coffees are still grown from ancient heirloom cultivars of Arabica on stone-walled terraces encircling fortress-like mountaintop villages. Nevertheless, this particular Yemen also represents the new world of fine coffees because it embodies a very small, highly refined and selected example of that ancient tradition.
Other Winning Origins
For each of the five years we’ve created a Top 30 list, our top pick has been a single-origin coffee. This past year, however, saw the first time a coffee from Yemen topped the list. In 2016, a Kenya appeared in first place, and in both 2014 and 2015 coffees from Panama (both from trees of the Gesha variety) prevailed. In 2013, the number one coffee was an exceptional Ethiopia.
This year, six of the Top 30 selections were produced from trees of the Gesha variety, which, since its rediscovery in 2004, continues to produce rare, expensive, and generally stunning and original coffees. Five of the six Top-30 Geshas were from farms in Panama.
Other origins with multiple coffees on the list are Colombia (3), Ethiopia (3), Kenya (3), Sumatra (2), Hawaii (2), Rwanda (2), and El Salvador (2).
The Winning Roasters
Twenty-four of the coffees on the Top 30 list were roasted by companies in the United States, including roasters in 11 U.S. states. California roasters led once again in numbers, with five representatives overall. Multiple coffees from roasters in Wisconsin, Colorado and Connecticut appear on the list, along with coffees roasted by companies in Taiwan, Canada, Australia, and Rwanda.
Three 2017 Top 30 coffees were roasted by JBC Coffee Roasters (Wisconsin), and two each by Dragonfly Coffee Roasters (Colorado), Hula Daddy (Hawaii), Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea (Connecticut), and Kakalove Café (Taiwan).
All five of these roasters advertise on Coffee Review, and, altogether, 16 coffees on the list were roasted by advertisers. But it is important to note that status as a Coffee Review advertiser has no bearing on review ratings or selection to the Top 30. We cup all coffees blind, identified by number only. We do this consistently and rigorously. It is not advertising that leads to consistently high ratings, but rather consistently high ratings often lead companies to become advertisers, presumably to further capitalize on the success of their coffees.
The Impact of Tree Variety and Processing Method
Tree variety continues to play what appears to be a crucial role in the success of many coffees on this year’s Top 30 list. We noted earlier that six Top 30 selections were produced from trees of the Gesha variety. Four more were mainly produced from the heirloom, Bourbon-related SL28 and SL34 varieties responsible for the finest coffees of Kenya; two came from trees of the rare, big-beaned Pacamara variety, and four from heirloom varieties grown only in Ethiopia. A coffee produced from the very rare Pointu Laurina mutant of Bourbon appeared at number 10 on the list, and at least three more selections were most likely produced from the great Bourbon-related varieties responsible for most of the finest coffees of the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
Processing method also appears to play a significant role in the sensory differentiation that helps qualify a coffee for the Top 30, although a less important role than tree variety. On this year’s list, for example, at least five selections were dry- or “natural-”processed, meaning the beans were dried inside the fruit rather than after the fruit has been removed, as is the case with the more orthodox wet-processed or “washed” method. Until relatively recently, dry processing was seldom applied to high-end specialty coffees like those that appear on our Top 30 list. In addition, one selection, the #6 El Salvador Finca Kilimanjaro, was wet-processed using a rather radical experimental variation applied to the key fermentation step, and two others were processed using the “wet-hulling” variation of wet processing practiced in Sumatra. If the details of the processing were mapped for all of these Top 30 selections, we most likely would see additional variations in the basic wet method surfacing as crucial influencers of sensory style. At any rate, this year’s selections are evidence of continuing attention to processing methods and details as creative tools in the crafting of distinctive cup profiles.
Categories Rare or Missing
Three espressos appear on this year’s list. Two are single-origin coffees and one is a blend. Red Rooster’s 95-point Flight Seasonal Espresso is the only blend of any kind to appear on the list. Numerous espresso and non-espresso blends earned 90-93 points over the year but did not ultimately make it to our Top 30. We recognize some of the best on our list of Top Coffees by Category.
The absence of certain types of coffees from the Top 30 list is also notable. Despite our extensive efforts to recruit quality decaffeinated coffee samples, no decafs earned a position on the list. We identified just one 90-point decaf over the course of the year. Two others earned 87 to 89 points.
In an attempt to identify more distinctive dark roasts, we dedicated our August tasting report to darker-roasted coffees. Amavida’s Finca El Obraje Colombia Gesha earned 95 points and appears at number 21 on the Top 30 list. A more decisively dark-roasted Gesha—San Francisco Bay Coffee’s Panama Geisha—earned 94 points and appears at Number 27 on the 2017 list.
The Cost Factor
Returning to value considerations, the average price of coffees on the 2017 Top 30 list is $53.11 per pound. As in past years, higher scoring coffees garner higher prices, certainly in part due to higher production costs but primarily due to rarity. In 2017, the price differential by score is striking, as shown below:
97-point coffees (4) = $154.68/pound
96-point coffees (3) = $64.22/pound
95-point coffees (12) = $43.83/pound
94-point coffees (8) = $24.61/pound
93-point coffees (3) = $19.69/pound
One of the selection criteria for the Top 30 coffees is value or affordability, measured by price per pound. Many of the coffees on the list are priced in line with similar single-origin specialty coffees in the marketplace. Half (15) of the
coffees on the list cost less than $25 per pound. Eight coffees are priced under
$20 per pound. We compiled a list of the top value coffees of 2017.