State of SF Coffee (round 3 and final wrap-up)

(For the story up to now - read Round One and Round Two)

The final round (round 3) of cupping has now been completed.
We have the results - and we have some conclusions.

First the results from Round Three...

To start with - this table was very, very good. Most of the roasters really stepped up their games. The differences were noticeable.

For this third round, coffee selection was Roasters' Choice.
Each roaster was asked to suggest two coffees for the table - and each was informed about what was going on (State of SF Coffee, blog posts, cupping blind, yadda yadda).

The coffees provided were as follows:

Ritual Coffee Roasters:

Kenya Kanyoni (also cupped in Round Two, but according to Ritual now with a different roast profile)
Honduras La Pinona (the controversial "sour" coffee from Round One)

Four Barrel Coffee:

El Salvador Finca Los Alpes (part of the Ground for Health program)
Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Moplaco

Blue Bottle Coffee:

Ethiopia Yirgacheffe YCFCU Co-op
Nicaragua Pueblo Nuevo Co-op

Ecco Caffe:

Yirgacheffe Dama Co-op (the top ranked coffee from Rounds One and Two)
Colombia Loma Rodonda Auction Lot

Equator Coffee and Tea:

Ethiopia Sidamo Amaro Gayo
Kenya Riuki AA

Given the number of coffees from East Africa, I have to assume that some notice had been paid to the performance of the Dama Co-op Yirgacheffe in the first two rounds.

In addition to the coffees from these same five Bay Area roasters - this time there were two "ringer" coffees. In order to enable us to evaluate the State of SF Coffee as compared to coffee elsewhere - two coffees from Intelligentsia were sourced. Intelligentsia is one of the top coffee companies in the US - but more than that they are a very good "control" for this cupping. Pretty much everyone knows Intelligentsia and knows how good their coffees are. By comparing to these other coffees - we can derive an understanding of how SF Coffee in general compares.

The coffees sourced from Intelligentsia were:

Kenya Gichathaini
Colombia Finca Santuario Heliconias Bourbon

As always, the coffees were cupped blind - with no whole beans displayed and the coffees coded based upon playing cards to make sure there were no clues given. Coffees were roughly sequenced from light to dark roast - but with no other form of sequencing or sorting.

As noted at the start - the roasters stepped up their games for this one. There was not a single "failed" coffee on the table. Even the lowest ranked coffee would have been ranked out of the bottom 3 in either other round of cupping. In addition, there really were only a couple coffees that showed "issues" in their roasting - a big change from past rounds.

In the end we had an absolutely clear top coffee, a very tight group of coffees in the 2-7 places, a tight group in the 8-10 places and two nearly tied coffees as 11 and 12. In addition, as in Round One, we had one seriously "controversial" coffee - and this time the controversy did not divide the "coffee people" from the "non coffee people."

In this round, the top coffee was the Ritual Kenya Kanyoni. As noted above, the folks at Ritual said that they had changed the roast on this coffee - and that was very clear in the cup. The coffee was incredibly layered and deep - opening up beautifully as it cooled. It had tons of molasses and spice that revealed wonderful bright lemon rind and candied grapefruit over time. Lovely notes of dried berry throughout. A really wonderful coffee.

The 2nd through 7th coffees were as follows:

Ecco Yirgacheffe Dama Co-op (a clearly different roast of this coffee yielded pomegranate and kiwi acidity with tons of lavender and a nice lemon-verbena oil flavour)
Intelligentsia Kenya Gichathaini (a very unusual coffee. sweet roasted beets, leather, tons of dried stone-fruit, simple citrus acidity, complete but crazy. hints of horse-blanket funk as it cools.)
Four Barrel El Salvador Finca Los Alpes (the "controversial" coffee of the day. tons of berry and ferment that by some was considered to be "too much" and others to be "in control". incredibly sweet with lovely fruit and hard candy high notes like jolly ranchers)
Intelligentsia Colombia Finca Santuario (lots of of dried fruit and tropical spice on a very sweet dark molasses backbone. cherry candy and a little bit of "twig tea" flavour)
Four Barrel Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Moplaco (elegant with interesting Nori-like flavours. lovely lemon acidity and assam tea. hints of celery and scallion as it cools.)
Ecco Colombia Loma Redonda Auction Lot (lovely clean acidity with tons of lime and lemon and some sweet tangerine. a bit thin and some hints of ash.)

In the 8th-10th places we had:

Equator Kenya Riuki AA (very savory, a dense and almost huge coffee that opens up with dried stone fruit and a bit of a roasty toasty finish. kind of flat and gets a bit flabby as it cools.)
Ritual Honduras La Pinona (tons of citrus acidity ranging from grapefruit pith to lemon zest to lime juice. sweet honey in the body. unusual flavours of mirin and bologna as it cools. lost some structure over time)
Blue Bottle Nicaragua Pueblo Nuevo (lots and lots of dried cherry and dried plum. a little roasty tasting and a bit flat and bland as it cooled)

And the 11th and 12th place coffees were:

Blue Bottle Yirgacheffe (initially round and dense and big and bold, as it cooled it became initially flat and then notes of smoke appeared and it became somewhat harsh and unbalanced)
Equator Ethiopia Sidamo Amaro Gayo (tons of blueberry but what were initially hints of inner tube became more and more phenolic over time. a great roast of a poor coffee)

A couple things to note from these results - some "take-aways" so to speak...

Blue Bottle and Ritual stepped up their games. While the Nicaragua from Blue Bottle was not to everyone's taste, it was still a good professional coffee. As compared to the two previous rounds of cupping, this was a big step up. And the difference in the Kenya Kanyoni from Ritual between the previous cupping and this was truly dramatic.

There are a lot of really good coffees available in SF right now. Of the 10 SF sourced coffees on the table, 8 of them are good to excellent. In addition, every one of the 5 roasters produced at least one coffee that was good or better.

In terms of conclusions.... there are again a couple of high level points to be made.

Coffee in SF can be quite good.
The top three roasters are producing coffee that is competitive with coffee from Intelligentsia - a clear measuring stick nationally. This is huge for SF. In many ways at this point, you can argue that coffee lovers are as well off in SF as anywhere in the US (other than perhaps Portland OR).

The top 3 coffee roasters in the SF area are pretty obvious.
In looking at the scores and the rankings across the three rounds - it is quite clear that the top three roasters in SF are Ecco, Four Barrel and Ritual. By both score and rank, Ecco would be #1 with Four Barrel and Ritual #2 and #3 but separated by a difference of less than 5% in total score. Ecco really rode the success of the Dama Co-op Yirgacheffe while Four Barrel showed impressive consistency across rounds and coffees and Ritual just knocked it out of the park with two coffees and had two that didn't show as well.

SF roasters for the most part are roasting to distinct personal styles.
Four of these roasters are roasting in their own style - and are incredibly consistent about doing so. This is a very good thing as it gives consumers a clear choice - allowing them to choose a style of coffee that pleases them and giving them choice within that style. Ecco is consistently round and elegant and balanced. Four Barrel is consistently developed and big and deep and balanced. Ritual is consistently bright and focused and layered. And Blue Bottle is consistently deep and rich and bottom-heavy with little acidity.

I think these results are at this point quite clear.
So rather than beating a dead horse, I'd like to thank some folks for making this happen.

Thanks to Tal, Johnny and Jeremy from Four Barrel for the feedback and the coffees.
Thanks to Ryan and Ben from Ritual for the thoughts, input and coffees.
Thanks to James from Blue Bottle for the feedback and concerns and for making sure I got the coffee I needed.
Thanks to Maria from Equator for the clarifications and help with sourcing the coffee.
Thanks to Andrew, Drew and Gabe from Ecco for the thoughts, feedback and helping me source the coffee.

Special thanks to my fellow cuppers for the time - the focus - the dedication - and the sense of humor. This was really fun.

Thanks to everyone who commented on the blog or who emailed or called me with feedback, support and input.

Most of all thanks to Valerie for keeping me sane.


Anonymous said...

and thanks to Keith, who is truly the brains of the roasting profiles at Ecco! Love to share the love man.

Unknown said...

Great series--thanks for posting.