Editor Picks: Top 5 Coffee Splurges of 2012

By Lawrence Marcus Posted December 21, 2012
Heart Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Yukro. Photo courtesy of Heart Coffee Roasters.

Heart Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Yukro. Photo
courtesy of Heart Coffee Roasters.

By liquid volume, I don’t drink a tremendous amount of coffee. More than a cup or two is usually overkill for me, caffeine-wise, so I’m fanatical about finding the best to brew each morning by pour-over or AeroPress. I’m looking for coffees that have sweetness without adding sugar, body without adding dairy, and the best will be aromatic and flavorful to the point that they’re almost wine-like. To me, that justifies a higher price.

Most coffees from the country’s best roasters are around $15 per bag—more than supermarket coffee, but comparable per cup to the utilitarian brew served at any doughnut shop. The ones that cost more, like the very pricey beans from Kenya and El Salvador below, are usually grown on the world’s grand cru-level coffee farms (and unlike open wine, will last most drinkers at least a week).

Some of these beans sell out faster than others, but they’re all subject to limited availability; because unroasted coffee beans only stay at peak freshness for so long, good roasters buy small batches. You can count on more great coffee from these sources in the future, but now’s the time to splurge on these specific beans.

1. Terroir Coffee Kenya Mamuto
Veteran roaster George Howell’s company is known for sealing green coffee beans in airtight packages and freezing them until roasting, an effort that seems to result in wildly flavorful brewed coffees. This one, from a legendary estate in Kenya, smells of lavender and has loads of currant- and blackberry-like sweetness.
$25 (roasted to order; next roast available to buy Jan. 3); georgehowellcoffee.com

2. Counter Culture Burundi Mpbepa
Counter Culture, a roaster that prides itself on developing fair business deals with producers, buys this wonderful apple-and-spice-inflected coffee from a cooperative of growers in the northwest part of Burundi. $15; counterculture.com

3. Stumptown Coffee Roasters El Salvador Kilimanjaro Kenya Process
The coffee world goes crazy when beans become available from superstar grower Aida Batlle’s coffee farms, particularly her award-winning Kilimanjaro property. This batch—which will not last long, even at this high price—was processed using methods typical in Africa to emphasize body and dark-fruit flavors. $42; stumptown.com

4. Heart Coffee Roasters Ethiopia Yukro
Any coffee nerd will tell you that roasting beans too darkly can destroy specific flavors, but some will also grumble that the trend for light roasts has become too ubiquitous—producing some barely browned offerings that have loads of acidity and not much else. But this super-light-roasted coffee isn’t one of them; its unusually pure, limey-citrus flavors are startling in a good way. $12; heartroasters.com

5. Toby’s Estate Decaf Colombia La Serrania Herrera
Decaf’s usual troubles are twofold: The most common water-based decaffeination process can dull flavors, which also means that few people are willing to subject great beans to it. The makers of La Serrania coffees, which decaf drinkers were ecstatic to find being offered this year by Toby's Estate, Sightglass, Gimme! Coffee and other roasters, address both issues—by sourcing excellent beans from western Colombia, and by decaffeinating them with a gentler process that uses ethyl acetate, a naturally-occurring compound extracted from sugar cane. $14; tobysestate.com

Related: Top 10 Food Products of 2012
Top 10 Hotels of 2012

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