Archive for the ‘Coffee Business: Roasting and Retailing’ Category

  • Preview of October Article and Reviews

  • October 1st, 2013
  • In the new world of high-end specialty coffee, botanical variety of the tree has become one of the main ways to differentiate and describe small lots of fine coffee. Grape variety has long been a differentiator in wine, of course, and increasingly dominates description and selling of certain fruits and vegetables. But botanical variety of coffee tree also has become an increasingly intensely explored path to higher return and more recognition for producers and roasters.

    This month we tested thirty-one such small-lot coffees, each produced only from a single botanical variety of Arabica. In many cases these small lots had been subjected to special, customized fruit removal and drying, particularly drying in the whole fruit. Given the care that was lavished on these small lots, it is no surprise that as a group they attracted such high ratings: twenty of the total of thirty-one coffees we tested rated 90 or higher. Fifteen of the very highest rated, with scores ranging from 92 to 95, are reviewed this month.

    The complete October issue is scheduled to post late this week.

  • Agtron Numbers: A Sweet Spot?

  • September 23rd, 2013
  • An Agtron machine reflects light on a sample of coffee in order to objectively and accurately assign a number to the beans’ roast color.  The smaller the number, the darker the roast.   If you’re interested in some additional background, refer to a blog we posted in 2010:

    The reason that I started thinking about Agtron readings is that it seemed like a lot of recent highly rated coffees had Agtron readings that were similar.  To test my hypothesis, I looked at all of the coffees that received a score of 94 points or higher so far in 2013.  There have been 50.

    Of the 50 samples, over half (26) had a whole bean Agtron reading of between 51 and 56, which is considered a medium to bordering-on-medium-light roast.  Given that Agtron scores range from less than 25 to more than 75, it was striking to me that more than half of the highest rated coffees fell in that narrow range.  One might argue that the narrow range is simply a reflection of Kenneth Davids’ favorite roast level.  And maybe these 30 or so roasters have figured out how to roast for Kenneth’s palate to achieve high scores?  Personally, that seems a bit presumptuous.

    I think it is more likely that quality roasters have found a “sweet spot” that frequently represents a tactful, appropriate  roast level that appeals to their own palates, that of their customers, and ultimately Kenneth’s as well.

    While I was under the hood, I tinkered a bit.  When I looked at Agtron readings by origin, there was clearly variation, though it’s hard to draw definitive conclusions from small sample sizes.  That said, the average Agtron readings for origins that have more than one 94+ rating (# of reviews in parentheses) were as follows:

    Panama (5) – 58.8

    Ethiopia (20) – 56.2*

    Sumatra (5) – 55.6

    Hawaii (3) – 53.3

    Kenya (9) – 50.9*

    Average – 55.1*

    * Excludes coffees reviewed as espresso

    In other words, the five 94+ coffees from Panama were roasted the lightest.  This may have been by design but I might also guess that roasters are especially careful with their expensive Panamas and err on the side of safety.  (Whatever you do, don’t burn the Gesha!)

    It’s interesting that the Sumatras were not the darkest roasted as a group.  Conventional wisdom suggests that earthy Sumatras can take a darker roast but it seems that some roasters have been successfully challenging that line of thinking.

    On average, the darkest roasted (mind you, still a medium roast) origin was Kenya.  Perhaps the usual big fruit character and acidity common to Kenyan coffees begs for a more aggressive roast than more delicate Ethiopias and Panamas?

    And, while the point of this piece was to look at Agtron readings and roast levels, it’s difficult not to notice that 20 of the 50 coffees that earned 94+ points this year were grown in Ethiopia.  Impressive!


  • Where is Coffee Hot?: Asia

  • September 18th, 2013
  • Earlier this year, we speculated that Coffee Review readership in Taiwan could exceed that of Australia if traffic growth rates continued.  Well, it has happened, at least for September.  Visits from Taiwan leapfrogged those from Australia, making Taiwan our fourth largest source of visitors, after only the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

    If Coffee Review readership is any indication, coffee is hot throughout Asia.  After Australia at #5, the rest of the top ten markets are also in Asia: Thailand, South Korea, Philippines, China, and Malaysia.  Visits from China have increased 150% over last September.

  • Is Coffee Bad For Your Health?: “Better is More”

  • August 16th, 2013
  • This week, the highly respected Mayo Clinic published findings that suggest excess coffee consumption, defined as more than four cups per day every day, increases the likelihood of early death in people under the age of 55.  The study concluded, in part: “On the basis of these findings, it seems appropriate to suggest that younger people avoid heavy coffee consumption (ie, averaging >4 cups per day).”

    Hmm?  That doesn’t sound like bad advice.  However, other equally legitimate recent studies from equally credible medical sources such as the New England Journal of Medicine suggest a positive health impact from moderate consumption of coffee.

    Alice G. Walton wrote a thoughtful, balanced piece in Forbes magazine this morning.

    What is a coffee lover supposed to do?  Give up coffee?  Drink more coffee?  From our perspective, the best course of action is to consume coffee, like everything else, in moderation (seemingly four cups or less per day?).  If you have any concerns, check with your doctor, who can provide advice about coffee consumption specific to your personal health condition.

    So, is coffee bad for your health?  Based on recent studies, it seems coffee might be good for you and it probably won’t hurt you in moderation.  Our advice: Drink moderate amounts of quality coffee… that is, better is more.

  • Washington Loves Coffee, But Not As Much As …

  • July 23rd, 2013
  • Based on reader feedback regarding last week’s  “Who Cares About Coffee Anyway” blog post, it was clear that we needed to dig deeper than a top 10 list of coffee cities (based on per capita Coffee Review readership).  Numerous readers asked where their hometown ranked.  We decided that we needed to expand the list, perhaps to a top 100.

    But it occurred to us that readers not residing in the top 100 cities would continue to wonder where their city or town ranked.  Instead, we ran the numbers by state (for April – June 2013) so no one, in the United States anyway, would feel left out.  Here’s what we found… breaking news: Washingtonians loves coffee.  No surprise there.

    However, the state of Washington was NOT #1 in terms of per capita Coffee Review readership.  Hawaii is #1!  That seems surprising at first glance but, when you consider that Hawaii is the only state that produces coffee commercially, it stands to reason that a lot of people have a vested interest in coffee news and reviews.

    Here’s the top 10:

    1. Hawaii

    2. Washington

    3. Massachusetts

    4. Vermont

    5. California

    6. Montana

    7. Oregon

    8. New York

    9. Colorado

    10. New Hampshire


    It was interesting to see where people are NOT reading Coffee Review.  The lowest per capita readership by state is as follows:

    50. Mississippi

    49. Arkansas

    48. West Virginia

    47. Kentucky

    46. Idaho

    45. Alabama

    44. Utah

    43. South Carolina

    42. Louisiana

    41. Oklahoma


    Obviously, if you don’t have access to the internet, you can’t visit   Many of the states ranked 41-50 have lower internet connectivity rates than those in the top 10.   The above results were normalized for internet connectivity.

    Now, keep in mind that plenty of folks in Mississippi, including my sister-in-law, read Coffee Review.  However, as a whole, Mississippians just aren’t as interested in reading about coffee as people from Hawaii.  To put it in perspective, if you live in Hawaii, you are five times more likely to read Coffee Review than if you live in Mississippi.

    The remainder of the ranking is as follows:

    11. Minnesota

    12. Illinois

    13. Alaska

    14. New Jersey

    15. North Carolina

    16. Virginia

    17. Kansas

    18. Maryland

    19. Florida

    20. Connecticut

    21. Missouri

    22. Georgia

    23. Wisconsin

    24. Pennsylvania

    25. Maine

    26. Texas

    27. Arizona

    28. Indiana

    29. South Dakota

    30. Michigan

    31. Nevada

    32. New Mexico

    33. Rhode Island

    34. Tennessee

    35. Nebraska

    36. Iowa

    37. Ohio

    38. North Dakota

    39. Wyoming

    40. Delaware


    Later in the year, we’ll revisit the readership data and incorporate some additional factors, such as concentration of roasters and cafes, to add some texture to these admittedly one dimensional rankings.







  • Who Cares About Coffee Anyway?

  • July 17th, 2013
  • Well, Coffee Review certainly does.  Given that you’re reading this post, you probably care.  The roughly one million people who visit each year care, at least enough to visit.  But what we’re really trying to get at is which cities are most interested in coffee… most passionate about coffee, if you will?

    To answer that question, we looked at Coffee Review visitors by city (using Google Analytics; data for year-to-date 2013).  Not surprisingly, the top cities in the U.S. were New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle.  Internationally, the top cities were London, Hong Kong, Toronto, Bangkok, and Sydney.

    Obviously, a big driver of traffic is the population of each city.  For example, you would expect New York City to have more readers than Seattle just based on the large difference in population, roughly 8.2 million versus 650,000, respectively.  So, we normalized for population to calculate visits per capita, which is a better measure of how “passionate” a city is about coffee.  Granted, there are many other, perhaps more meaningful, ways to measure how crazy a city is about coffee but here’s what we found based on Coffee Review traffic.


    1. San Francisco, CA

    2. Seattle, WA

    3. Washington, DC

    4. Minneapolis, MN

    5. Atlanta, GA

    It’s not surprising to see San Francisco and Seattle at the top of the list.  Both cities have great coffee communities with plenty of outstanding roasters and cafes.  In fact, there are probably coffee lovers in cafes in these cities reading this post on their laptop or mobile phone right now.  Shoot us a tweet (@coffeereview) if you are.


    1. Vancouver, Canada

    2. Toronto, Canada

    3. Taipei City, Taiwan

    4. Melbourne, Australia

    5. Sydney, Australia

    Vancouver is another great coffee city.  There must be something about the Pacific Ocean or Pacific time zone that makes people passionate about coffee.  Thanks for visiting, Vancouver.  Take note, Toronto, your readership is growing much faster in 2013 than that of Vancouver (64% vs. 37%) so you may well surpass Vancouver soon.

    We’ll refine our ranking process and revisit the data later in the year.  For example, we can look at roasters and coffee shops per capita.  Send us your thoughts on how to improve the rankings.  Perhaps, with your help, we can crown a U.S. and world “coffee capital” for 2013?