Top 30 Coffees 2018: We made the list!
Every year, Coffee Review compiles a list of the best coffees of the year. This year Branch Street made that list. Named to the #25 spot is our roast of Kenya Konyu! This is a huge honor, and we are grateful for the award. Today, the focus of this article is to describe how Coffee Review works, and the importance of independent review to the coffee industry. What are the top 30 coffees 2018?
In our previously published article, we discussed the concept of coffee grading. It is important to understand who is responsible for grading and judging coffee. This job is entrusted to a highly trained professional coffee taster called a Q-grader. What is a Q-grader, and how do they judge coffee?
The Q-grading system serves a very important role in the coffee world. A Q-grader helps to standardize the discussion on coffee quality, and to help us all understand the diverse offerings in the coffee market. It is simple for a coffee importer to tell a roaster about an “outstanding” offering that they have available. What is more difficult is determining just what “outstanding” means. What we really need to do is to quantify this coffee so both importer and roaster (and eventually customer) can understand exactly what quality to expect.
While the Q-grading system is normally reserved for buying green (un-roatsed) coffee, we also must find a way to apply the same concept to retail coffee. There is no shortage of coffee roasting companies world wide, so it is important to try and standardize this discussion of quality in the roasted product. While any roaster can claim that their coffee is “amazing,” how do we go about finding an unbiased review?
Coffee Review and the Role of Rating
For over 20 years, Coffee Review has been rating and judging coffees for roasters across the world. Coffee Review is responsible for rating thousands of coffees every year. Roasters across the globe rely on them to accurately rate these samples. This serves many purposes.
First, with so many options for a consumer to choose from, a rating from coffee review can stand out from the crowd. Having several verified reviews from an independent lab can show the consumer that the roaster is great at their craft.
Second, it allows a roaster to validate their expectations. If a roasters expectations do not match the independent review, it is time to re-examine our coffee program and learn how to improve their products. For example, last year we received a 91 point score on our Honduras (2017). We all expected this unique coffee to preform better (we were hoping for a 93). This revelation forced us to re-design our roast, and in the end it improved our quality and the flavor for that offering.
Finally, having Coffee Review act as an independent judge levels the playing field. Large companies like Starbucks and Nestle also submit coffee for review. When a small company like Branch Street achieves a highly rated score, it is published alongside these giant corporations. Many small roasters become household names because of the Coffee Review rating process.
How to Submit Reviews
Coffee Review accepts submissions for rating in two different ways. First, any coffee roaster at any time can contact Coffee Review to submit a commissioned review. For a fee, they can use the service to get an unbiased review using a blind tasting. (Read this article describing the process). Secondly, every month Coffee Review publishes a report for its readers. This report has a theme that changes every month. Samples are submitted for free, but only selected reviews will be published in the report.
So You Can “Buy” a Review?
Well, yes. The most common way to receive a rating on a sample is to commission a review. For a fee, anyone can send in a sample for a full sensory evaluation, including a rating. Most of the ratings published by Coffee Review follow this model. A coffee can be submitted when the roaster believes that the coffee is of high quality or a unique flavor profile. However, commissioning a review is no guarantee of a favorable review. Commissioned reviews are given the exact same sensory evaluation to ensure integrity and consistency of the review system.
As with a laboratory analysis in any industry, these results do come at a cost to the roaster. The analysis is preformed using laboratory grade equipment to give objective scores (Agtron score) as well as compensating certified professionals for their sensory evaluation. Commissioning an analysis is common in many industries outside of coffee (medicine, pharmaceutical, agriculture, food, etc.) and independent ratings from Coffee Review is no different.
Monthly Report Submissions
At the beginning of every year, Coffee Review will release a tasting calendar. Each month has a theme, and there is a window for accepting submissions. For example, January may be dedicated to coffees from El Salvador. Coffee Review will allow roasters to send in El Salvadorian coffee samples until the middle of January, free of charge. All of these coffees will be sampled and judged, and Coffee Review will select a handful of those to publish in their monthly report.
Publication of a review is not guaranteed with a free submission. Only a handful of samples will make it to the monthly report, and it is very difficult for a roaster to have a coffee that is of high quality that also fits the cupping calendar for that year. However, sometimes the timing works out just right and a coffee will be rated and reviewed with no cost to the roaster.
Top 30 Coffees of 2018
Being named in the top 30 coffees of 2018 is a great honor. Only a handful of the thousands of reviews will make it to this list. The majority of the samples sent in to Coffee Review are of tremendous quality. This makes choosing the best of the best a very difficult task. Among the factors for consideration are quality of roast, uniqueness of coffee, and cost (value) to consumer.
Our Kenya Konya offering is a favorite among both barista and consumer alike. When we first began to sample this coffee, we all agreed that this was very unique and flavorful. We did not wait long before sending in a sample. About a week later we received the full report and score of 95!
Even with this fantastic rating, we had no expectations regarding the top 30 coffees of 2018 list. Each year, many samples are sent for review from around the world. To have a coffee in consideration for this list means a lot for us, and we are honored for this award.
You can still enjoy this Kenya Konyu both online, and in our store while our supplies last. We expect that this offering will be around through the holiday season, and perhaps for a short time into the new year. However, once our supply is gone there won’t be any more of this coffee available until the harvest in 2019. One of the best parts of the specialty coffee industry is timing. We often only get to enjoy these rare offerings for a short time, while we keep our eye out for the next great import.