'Tis the Season for writing lists. Every single year, Santa's "Naughty or Nice" list pops up in a December song or two, and seemingly incites mass panic. The end-of-year Lists switch gets flipped. Next things you know, everybody has lists. Gift lists. Card lists. Party lists. New Year Resolution lists. Final, last ditch "must accomplish!" lists. List and lists and lists.
I don't really understand the list-writing obsession... but I hate to feel left out. So today, I am writing a list, detailing five highlights from the year in coffee - From best new Seattle coffee shop, to most inspiring company, here we go: 2011 in Coffee.
1. Best New Cafe - Milstead & Company, 770 N. 34th Street.
Seattle had no shortage of coffee shop openings and closings this year, but in the mix, there were a scant few which truly stood out. First among these is Andrew Milstead's new venture in Fremont, just down the hill from the historic Fremont Troll.
Milstead & Co. is, among other things, a testament to the brilliance of calculated, high quality inconsistency. In an industry oft defined by its ability to produce the same product day after day, Milstead has chosen a different path. The cafe features different coffees from different roasters as it is available, focusing on the quality of each individual coffee and on the skill of his baristas, rather than on the ability of a cafe to offer predictability. If most high-quality cafes could be compared to a QFC or Town&Country... Milstead is the Farmer's Market of Seattle coffee. They don't always have the same thing in stock, but whatever they do have will be the best of whatever there is to offer.
2. Possibly the Best Espresso of 2011 - Water Avenue, 1028 S.E. Water Avenue, Portland, Oregon.
Reminding Seattle that good coffee often exists outside of its own city limits, one of the most outstanding espressos experienced this year came from Water Avenue coffee in Portland, OR. It was the single origin El Salvador Pacamara. Rich, dark, full flavored, and transitioning without the faintest hint of disconnect between aroma and finish. If you're heading south any time soon, the Pacamara may be gone, but it certainly indicates that this cafe is worth stopping to check out.
3. Most Influential Local Roaster - Velton's Coffee www.veltonscoffee.com
It would be remiss to, for any reason, leave Velton's Coffee off a best-of-year list. This tiny roastery, based out of Everett, can probably claim one of the broadest, sustained, and most unexpected influences in Seattle coffee throughout 2011. Velton's small-batch roasting rocked many a barista's world, blending hand-crafted precision with a passion for letting each coffee's natural strengths shine through in the finished product. I had coffee from Velton's this year that I instantly fell in love with. And, I encountered coffees that, after several attempts, I simply could not bring myself to like. With both categories boasting commendable roasts, I consequently learned a great deal about coffee itself from Velton's roasting this year - I also learned a great deal about my own preferences and palate.
4. Most Inspiring Company - Agros International, http://www.agros.org
Undoubtedly my favorite blog of the year to have researched and written, Agros International is one of the most inspiring companies I've had the honor of encountering this year. Why? Well, ultimately it all comes back to what I love about coffee in the first place.
Through richness of tradition and historical significance, as well as importance as a commodity in our own time, consuming coffee is something known, at its core, for building community. Growing coffee, however, has something of a different history and tradition, and its stories are often those of poverty and destruction: forests cut down, workers enslaved, wages unpaid, crops lost to weather or other tragedy. Agros, in response to these discrepancies, has successfully begun bringing the community building aspects of coffee to the growing side of its story. Coffee, where it once may have been a tool of oppression, is now being utilized for freedom. Land is being purchased, farms sustained, debts paid off, towns rebuilt, and the next generation educated.
Of all the stories from 2011 coffee, this is one of the most beautiful.
5. Most Exciting New Roaster - Handsome Coffee Roasters www.handsomecoffee.com
And finally, in closing, something to lead us out of the Old and into the New: What can I say? Relatively brand new on the scene, this roasting company (which I may have previously compared to a caffeinated version of the Backstreet Boys...) has already begun developing a huge and devoted fan base. The next year promises to be an exciting one for coffee. With some of the biggest names in the industry jumping on board, Handsome Roasters is the one to watch very closely heading into 2012.
Happy New Year, Seattle!