In 2011 I spent several days at the Doi Chaang coffee cooperative in northern Thailand. There I encountered the extraordinary Wicha Promyong, the inspirational leader of the Doi Chaang coffee cooperative and its sister company, Doi Chaang Coffee. Shockingly and unexpectedly, Khun Wicha succumbed to a heart attack on Thursday, January 23, 2057 (2014) near Doi Chaang Village in Chiang Rai Province, Northern Thailand.
Wicha was, truly, an amazing guy. He seemed to have been everywhere, done everything, knew all of the songs I knew, but for the last twelve years had devoted himself with unstinting energy, intelligence and moxie to bringing the Doi Chaang community out of the isolation and poverty that has long oppressed all of the hill tribe communities of northern Thailand through the strategy of elevating the Doi Chaang coffee production to international specialty standards. During my visit I would bring some little nuance of the latest innovation I had observed among leading high-end boutique coffee producers to Wicha, and invariably it turned out he knew about it already. He carried this knowledge without pretension, without competitiveness, only with an eye to getting more recognition and more money for the Doi Chaang community and its steadily improving coffees.
Doi Chaang Coffee in Canada provided the following press release on Wicha’s passing.
Well-educated, articulate and world-travelled, Khun Wicha was the consummate entrepreneur, musician and artist. Following various enterprises which brought him into contact with hill tribe villages in Northern Thailand, he whole-heartedly embraced their way of life and regularly joined the tribes as they travelled on foot throughout the Golden Triangle without regard for borders or personal comfort.
Khun Wicha was a welcomed friend among many hill tribes providing a supportive voice and an active role in their struggles for equality and acceptance. Impassioned by their interminable plight of abject poverty, he dedicated the last twelve years of his life to the predominantly Akha hill tribe of Doi Chaang Village with particular emphasis on the protection and future of their vulnerable children. Khun Wicha guided the Akha in their quest for a better life, and through his sheer determination and dedication, he united them as a coffee-farming cooperative and was instrumental in transforming Doi Chaang Village from an isolated, impoverished community to one of sustainability and growth producing a world-class coffee that is recognized and respected worldwide.
Although he was the founder of Doi Chaang Coffee Company, Wicha’s passion and commitment to the company was never for his personal gain. Instead, he was driven by his fundamental belief that the company’s growth and prosperity was dependent on the well-being of all those involved and the rewards should be shared accordingly.
“It was Khun Wicha’s commitment to reinvest profits into the growth of the Akha farmers co-operative and their community that inspired us to create the unique Beyond Fair Trade partnership we established with Doi Chaang Village,” states John Darch, Doi Chaang Coffee’s co-founder. “We remember Khun Wicha as a man of integrity, warmth and incredible generosity. We feel privileged to have worked alongside him and we are resolute in our determination to honor his dream and to build on his legacy at Doi Chaang Village.”
We’re wrapping up our “Where Coffee is Hot” series by looking at Coffee Review readership by country. In 2013, we hosted readers from 233 countries and territories, which must be just about all of them.
We’ll look at our readership three ways: total readers in 2013, per capita readers in 2013, and percentage growth from 2012 to 2013. Total readers in 2103 is somewhat predictable. Countries with large English speaking populations will tend to rank higher on the list.
When we normalize for each country’s population, we see a slightly different picture, one not just based on population but also on passion for coffee. English speaking countries still have an advantage, but not over each other based on population alone.
Finally, we look at percentage growth from 2012 to 2013, where smaller countries and non-English speaking countries have an advantage because their readership is growing off of a smaller base. So, while the United States may have the most readers and most readers per capita, it is growing much slower than most other countries.
So, here are the lists….
Ranking by Readership in 2013
1. United States
3. United Kingdom
11. South Korea
12. Hong Kong
20. South Africa
It’s not surprising that the top four countries are the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. They all have significant English speaking populations, well developed coffee cultures, strong purchasing power, as well as high Internet access and literacy rates. As an aside, English-speaking population may not be as big of a factor as one thinks. I was surprised by the countries that have the largest English-speaking populations: 1) United States; 2) India; 3) Pakistan; 4) Nigeria; 5) United Kingdom. Canada is tenth on the list. Australia is 13th. Wow! View the full list on Wikipedia.
It’s interesting to note that after the top 4 on the list, the next ten countries, starting with Taiwan, are all in Asia.
Ranking by Per Capita Readership in 2013
1. United States
4. Hong Kong
7. New Zealand
9. United Kingdom
13. Costa Rica
15. United Arab Emirates
16. Puerto Rico
Interesting to see Singapore, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Ireland, and Norway pop into the top 10.
Ranking by Percentage Growth from 2012 to 2013
One might argue that this list is the best measure of “Where Coffee is Hot.” Maybe not “big,” but “hot.”
5. United Arab Emirates
9. New Zealand
22. South Africa
China topped the list with year-over-year readership growth of more than 200%. We included 22 countries on this list, as they all grew more than 50% over 2012.
It’s impossible to predict what 2014 will look like, but we couldn’t help wonder but what 2014 readership would be like if we projected 2013 growth rates to 2013 traffic. In case you’re interested, the top ten would be: 1) United States; 2) Canada; 3) United Kingdom; 4) China; 5) Taiwan; 6) Australia; 7) India; Malaysia; 9) Philippines; 10) Thailand. It’s hard to imagine that readership in China would continue its torrid growth rate but Taiwan readership has already surpassed Australia in 2014.
It’s great to see coffee is hot around the world. We’re excited to see what 2014 brings. Please share your observations and comments.
In 2013, Coffee Review hosted visitors from 223 countries and territories, including countless cities and town around the world. Our readers hail from famous world capitals such as Rome, Italy and Nairobi, Kenya to lesser-known Nuuk, Greenland and Apia, Somoa. However, some cities have more visitors than others and none of the above cities ranked near the top for Coffee Review readership or per capita readership.
So, which cities get bragging rights, if you want to call it that? London, England tops the list of most visitors. Vancouver, BC, Canada tops the list of per capita readership.
In terms of overall visitor traffic in 2013, the top twenty cities outside the United States were:
1. London, England
2. Toronto, Canada
3. Hong Kong, China
4. Taipei City, Taiwan
5. Sydney, Australia
6. Bangkok, Thailand
7. Singapore (city-state)
8. Melbourne, Australia
9. Seoul, South Korea
10. Vancouver, Canada
11. Montreal, Canada
12. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
13. Brisbane, Australia
14. Calgary, Canada
15. Manila, Philippines
16. Athens, Greece
17. Jakarta, Indonesia
18. New Taipei City, Taiwan
19. Ottawa, Canada
20. Dublin, Ireland
As we noted in our ranking of American cities, population plays a big role in which cities have the most Coffee Review readers. Large cities lead the list above too. However, once we normalize for population and calculate per capita readership, we get a better idea of how passionate a city is about coffee (measured only by Coffee Review readership, of course).
In terms of per capita Coffee Review readership in 2013, the top twenty cities outside the United States were:
1. Vancouver, Canada
2. Dublin, Ireland
3. Toronto, Canada
4. Athens, Greece
5. Calgary, Canada
6. Taipei City, Taiwan
7. Ottawa, Canada
8. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
9. Sydney, Australia
10. Manila, Philippines
11. Brisbane, Australia
12. Melbourne, Australia
13. London, England
14. Singapore (city-state)
15. Hong Kong, China
16. Perth, Australia
17. Bangkok, Thailand
18. New Taipei City, Taiwan
19. Seoul, South Korea
20. Jakarta, Indonesia
So, while Coffee Review hosts more visitors from London than any other city outside the United States, Canadian cities appeared an impressive five times on the total visitor list and four times on the per capita list, each of which were in the top ten. Australian cities appeared three times on the total visitor list and four times on the per capita list. Two cities from the United Kingdom (London, England and Dublin, Ireland) appear on both lists.
Keep in mind that Coffee Review is only published in English, so perhaps it isn’t surprising to see cities from Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom appearing on the per capita readership list. Cities where English isn’t the primary language are at a distinct disadvantage, which makes it even more impressive to see cities such as Athens, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, and Seoul on the list.
We look forward to hearing your observations and comments about our lists.
Last summer, we looked at Coffee Review readership by state for the second quarter of 2013. We calculated per capita readership, that is, readers normalized for each state’s population, to get an idea where people are most interested in coffee (at least as measured by Coffee Review readership.) We’ve just re-crunched the data for the full year of 2013.
Here are the top ten states for 2013:
7. New Hampshire
9. New York
Frankly, there weren’t any big changes or huge surprises.
The top four states were unchanged. Hawaii remained in the #1 spot. That may seem surprising at first glance but, when you consider that Hawaii is the only state that produces coffee commercially, it makes sense that a lot of people have a vested interest in coffee news and reviews. Washington in the #2 spot is consistent with our city data, which shows that Seattle has the highest per capita Coffee Review readership of any city in the United States.
Oregon moved up two spots, leap-frogging California for the #5 spot. New Hampshire moved up 3 spots to crack the top 10. Minnesota moved up 1 spot to enter the top 10 as well.
What was the biggest gainer since last summer? Michigan, jumping 9 spots from #30 to #21.
If some states moved up the list, obviously others moved down. The biggest drop was North Carolina, from #15 to #25. Texas and Montana each dropped 7 spots.
Please share your observations and explanations.
Last summer, we took a mid-year look at Coffee Review readership by U.S. city and state. We normalized readership figures to account for population differences and produce a more accurate picture of each locale’s interest in coffee, at least as measured by Coffee Review readers per capita. We normalized for Internet access and literacy too, but frankly, it didn’t change the results much at all.
This month, we started crunching our readership data for the full year of 2013. Last week, we shared a sneak peek of the results because we noticed that Seattle edged out San Francisco (a reversal of the mid-year data) and couldn’t help but make a connection to the NFC Championship football game played last weekend.
Here are the top 25 coffee cities in the United States, based on Coffee Review per capita readership:
1. Seattle, WA
2. San Francisco, CA
3. Alexandria, VA
4. Cambridge, MA
5. Atlanta, GA
6. Madison, WI
7. Minneapolis, MN
8. Washington, DC
9. Hialeah, FL
10. Denver, CO
11. Honolulu, HI
12. Portland, OR
13. Boston, MA
14. Irvine, CA
15. Salt Lake City, UT
16. St. Louis, MO
17. Pittsburgh, PA
18. San Diego, CA
19. Sacramento, CA
20. Orlando, FL
21. Miami, FL
22. Chicago, IL
23. Austin, TX
24. Los Angeles, CA
25. Arlington, VA
For those interested in our methodology, we considered only the 50 U.S. cities with the most Coffee Review readers. That means some deserving smaller cities and towns might have been left off the list. On the other hand, it reduces the prospect of smaller towns unfairly appearing high on the list due to some local traffic anomalies rather than genuinely strong readership.
We welcome your observations and perspective on the list. For example, it’s not surprising to me that Seattle and San Francisco top the list. But, how did Alexandria, Virginia, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, make it into the top 5? I can’t imagine Harvard students would move the dial that much.
In the coming days, we’ll share 2013 readership data and trends by U.S. state, international city, and country. Any predictions?
At the beginning of each month, we publish a new feature article with reviews. The planned cupping calendar for 2014 is shown below:
January – Top 30 Coffees of 2013
February – Real Blend: Blends Produced from Three or More Origins
March – Specialty Coffees of Brazil
April – Specialty Coffees of Colombia
May – Coffees of Central Africa: Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania, Congo
June – Coffees of Hawaii
July – Specialty Coffees of Indonesia and East Timor (excluding Sumatra)
August – Decaffeinated Espresso Blends and Single-Origins
September – Natural- and Honey-Processed Coffees from Central America & Mexico
October – Coffees of a Single Variety, from a Single Lot
November – The New Competitive World of K-Cups
December – Seasonal Offerings for the Holidays
Please note that the previously listed January 2014 review subject (Real Blends: Blends Produced from Three or More Origins”) has been postponed one month. Cupping will occur in January and the article will appear for February. The schedule is subject to further change.
The window during which we accept coffees for these review articles is the tenth day through the twentieth day of the month prior to publication. For example, we will test coffees for the May article during the period April 10 through 20. However, professional travel or other distractions may lead to modifications of the 10th through 20th schedule, so we request that all roasters submitting coffees for a given article first query Jason Sarley at Jason@CoffeeReview.com before sending their coffees.
We welcome feedback regarding our proposed cupping calendar for 2014.
This month, we launched a new membership program at Coffee Review. As Kenneth said in our formal press release: “We’re pleased to offer our readers the opportunity to enhance their engagement with Coffee Review and its commercial partners. The program provides members with numerous value-added services including discounts from elite coffee roasters, exclusive access to rare top-rated coffees, and insider news such as previews of the Coffee Review’s Top 30 Coffees of 2013.”
What’s in it for readers? The headline of the press release sums it up pretty well: “Coffee Lovers Save Big Bucks on Best Beans.” Members can save up to 20% or more on purchases from participating coffee roasters and retailers such as Barrington Coffee Roasters, Doi Chaang Coffee Company, GreatCoffee.com, Paradise Roasters, Path Coffee Roasters, PT’s Coffee Roasting Co, and Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea. Two other roasters – CQ Coffee Roasters and Temple Coffee and Tea – will be on board next week. More roasters are expected to participate as the program is rolled out. Readers can view current offers any time but only members have access to coupon codes.
When members sign up, they receive a password to gain access to the members-only portion of the website where they will find coupon codes that can be used for discounts at partner websites. Members may also opt to receive emails with insider news and special offers from participating roasters.
Membership costs $35 per year. Mr. Davids explained that, “Proceeds from the membership program will support Coffee Review’s mission of helping consumers, retailers, and trade professionals identify and purchase superior quality coffees while helping drive demand and increase prices to reward farmers and roasters who invest time, energy, and capital in producing high quality coffee beans.”
Mr. Davids added, “It also allows Coffee Review to more directly support charitable organizations that serve coffee growing communities that produce the exceptional coffees that we all enjoy. Coffee Review is delighted to contribute $5 from each new membership to Coffee Kids or Grounds for Health.”
Regarding the business aspect of the new membership program, Mr. Davids explained “We’ve operated the Coffee Review as a traditional advertiser-supported publication since we first launched in 1997. However, as the Coffee Review has become increasingly popular, now hosting roughly one million unique visitors every year, we’ve found that we need to find additional sources of revenue to continue operating a coffee lab, maintaining a website, and publishing articles and reviews every month. We believe many of our readers and supporters will be excited to become members.”
We considered a more traditional subscription model, like Wine Spectator and Consumer Reports, where ratings are only available to paying subscribers. However, our hope is that enough coffee lovers and industry professionals will choose to become members such that Coffee Review articles and reviews can remain available to all readers.
I’m here in El Salvador for “Let’s Talk Coffee,” a yearly meeting of mostly small-holding coffee producers, roasters, importer and exporters, and development agencies. It’s sponsored by Sustainable Harvest, a long-time pioneering American importer of cooperative and small-producer coffees.
I came here in part to deliver a presentation on Robusta coffees. It was part of a string of presentations and cuppings focused on exploring Robusta in a specialty coffee context. Conversations on Robusta are increasingly urgent in specialty coffee events for several reasons, all of them at bottom pushed by anxiety about the impact of global warming on Arabica production, particularly production of lower elevation Arabicas. Arabica is a very fussy plant in respect to temperatures, and as global temperatures rise more and more regions of Arabica production are being stressed by changes in rainfall patterns, higher temperatures, and intensified pest infestations like the latest leaf rust outbreak here in Central America. Robusta, of course, grows at a much wider range of elevations (though it cups best when grown at higher elevations) and is much hardier than Arabica.
So some specialty roasters, in fact, quite a few, are asking – can Robusta truly be developed as a viable fine coffee? They want to know more about Robusta, understand it better, and perhaps support its development as a complement to the best Arabicas. The very best Robusta producers, like those in India, feel that they have achieved that goal of making Robusta specialty. Others of us, like me, feel that, although some producers in India have done very well, in order for Robusta to truly contribute to specialty a new attitude is necessary, an attitude of interest, openness, and experiment.
Which was the focus of my talk. I don’t want to rebrand Robusta; I want to unbrand it so we in specialty can finally find out what it is and can be. The Arabica world is not static – look at the development of new varieties, like Gesha, the successful experiments with unorthodox processing methods – the new naturals, honey-processing, etc. We don’t really know what Robusta is from a potential specialty perspective, only what it is now, as represented by the dispiriting output of the current relentlessly quality-destructive industrialized Robusta supply chain.
Coffee Review introduced 100-point reviews to the specialty coffee industry in 1997. Over the years since then we’ve cupped tens of thousands of samples and produced reviews for nearly 3,500 coffees.
We are often asked, “What is the best coffee?” To which we give the obvious answer: “There is no single ‘best’ coffee.” Of course, visitors to our website can sort through the reviews to draw their own conclusions about which coffees are best, or at least best for them. Nevertheless, we’ve concluded that it’s reasonable for readers to expect us to identify coffees we’ve tasted over the past year that we’ve found particularly exciting and worthy of note.
So, with a nod to publications like Wine Spectator, which issues a top 100 wines list annually, we are pleased to introduce our first effort to rank the top coffees we reviewed over the past year in the “Coffee Review’s Top 30 Coffees of 2013.”
More than Rating Alone
Of course anyone can search our site for the top-rated coffees, but in compiling our Top 30 list we decided to apply a more holistic approach that combined quality (represented by overall rating), value (reflected by most affordable price per pound), and a ranking of other factors that include distinctiveness of style, uniqueness of origin or tree variety, sustainable certification, and general rarity.
Why did we choose to limit our list to thirty coffees? There is no magic to the number. It just seemed about right. In 2013 we will publish reviews of about four hundred coffees. Roughly sixty of these will score 94 points or higher. Obviously all of these 94+ point coffees are exceptional. But some are more unusual or noteworthy in one way or another than others. We are very fond of Ethiopian coffees, for example, but nearly two dozen coffees from this extraordinary, seminal origin earned 94 points or higher. We couldn’t include them all on the list. Our final list of top thirty coffees includes about half of all those coffees that scored 94 points or higher over the past year. Obviously some outstanding coffees were left off the list; on the other hand, every coffee on the list is remarkable or exciting in some way.
Some Top-30 Statistics
Regular Coffee Review readers will recognize many of the roasters and origins on the Top 30 list. Eleven of the coffees were roasted by Coffee Review advertisers, though that played no role in their original scoring or in their selection to the list. The average overall rating of the coffees on the Top 30 list is 94.4. The average price is $35.00 per pound, although many coffees high on the list cost considerably less.
Not surprisingly, the most frequently-appearing origin on the list is Ethiopia, with six appearances. Other origins with multiple coffees on the list are Kenya (4), El Salvador (3), Hawaii (3), Sumatra (2), and Panama (2). Coffees from Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Rwanda also made the list, along with four blends.
Roasters from only two countries appeared on the list: United States (28) and Taiwan (2). Canada was noticeably absent. We reviewed many fine coffees from Canadian roasters, most notably Fratello Coffee Roasters, but no single Canada-roasted coffee cracked the Top 30. The same could be said of excellent coffees we’ve reviewed that were roasted in Thailand, Hong Kong and Korea.
Roasters from California and Washington State dominated the rankings, with six and five appearances respectively. Other states with multiple roasters on the list were Hawaii (3), Massachusetts (2) and Wisconsin (2). Ten other states placed one roaster on the list.
The Cost Factor
The average price of $35.00 per pound for coffees on the list is certainly not cheap compared to other unrated specialty coffees on the market. However, keep in mind that one of the selection criteria for the Top 30 coffees was value, or affordability, measured by price per pound. Many of the coffees on the list are priced in line with other specialty coffees, including a dozen at $20 per pound or less. Given that a pound of coffee produces the liquid equivalent of close to one case of wine, this means some of the best coffees in the world are priced less per serving than the famous (or infamous) Charles Shaw “Two Buck Chuck” wine.
Higher scoring coffees tended to cost more:
The three most affordable coffees on the list are the 94-point Tony’s Ganesha Espresso ($13.99/16 ounces), the 94-point Mr. Espresso Ethiopia ($12.10/12 ounces) and the 95-point Velton’s Holiday Blend ($17.00/16 ounces).
We hope you will find our list of top coffees interesting, informative and provocative. We welcome your observations and opinions about the Top 30 Coffees of 2013. Please tweet us or post your comments on our blog or Facebook page.
You will find outstanding coffees, great values, emerging origins, and outstanding farmers and roasters that deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts. Use the list as a guide for purchasing the coffees that remain available for sale in the market this season and to seek out the origins, farmers, and roasters that deserve a first look in 2014.
Top 30 Coffees of 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.