Cold Black Coffee: Simplicity Rules the Post-Pandemic RTD Landscape

SImple, unadorned, black cold-brewed coffee is a summer ready-to-drink favorite.

While so much in the world of coffee gets “curiouser and curiouser” each year, to echo the protagonist of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland — from increasingly complex, mysteriously named green coffee processing methods to new hybrid varieties of Arabica born of necessity to respond to climate change — specialty coffee is a living entity, its success defined by an ability to adapt, both to consumer desires and geo-political realities. So, it’s refreshing, literally and metaphorically, to find that the ready-to-drink (RTD) market of cold black coffee, unadulterated by sugar or other additives, is — well, simple — or at least aspires to simplicity. Because simplicity is clearly not the coffee norm, these days. And yet, it suits the primary aim of each and every roaster we spoke with who submitted an RTD coffee for our July report: to achieve … Read more

African Great Lakes Coffees: Quality in the Face of Adversity

Coffee drying on raised beds in Nyaruguru District, Rwanda. Courtesy of Kakalove Cafe.

By now, most readers of Coffee Review are familiar with the win-win-hypothesis of specialty coffee: If consumers pay more for better coffee from dedicated producers, and if some of the high prices paid by consumers make it back to those producers, they will be encouraged to generate even better coffees, which will please even more consumers, who will gratefully continue to pay higher prices, and everyone, from farmer to consumer, will benefit. This is roughly the hypothesis upon which Coffee Review was founded in 1997, and it remains central to our mission.

This report is not the place to evaluate this hypothesis or its overall success, but in regard to the impact on producers, it is important to note that accumulating statistical evidence suggests that North American specialty coffee roasters do pay significantly higher prices for the … Read more

Fun With Ferment: Anaerobically Processed Coffees

Anaerobically processed coffee cherries drying in the whole fruit at Elida Estate in Panama. Courtesy of Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea.

In early April, some rather odd-smelling packages began arriving at the Coffee Review lab. Describing the collective aromas that wafted from them is difficult. And describing those aromas continued to be difficult once we started actually tasting the coffees inside the packages. Certainly, there was lots of fruit and chocolate. And fragrant cut cedar, and sweet flowers. But along with these more familiar coffee aromas came some that we do not usually associate with coffee. Maybe soft cheeses, like the mild goat cheese one eats in salads. Or, occasionally, more pungent cheeses like feta or blue cheese. Sometimes kefir, that gentle, tangy-creamy liquid version of yogurt. Sometimes fresh earth, tobacco or mushrooms. And occasionally, notes that we may not associate with food at all. Musk, for example, the deep, pungent, … Read more

Spring Break In a Cup: Finding Great Coffee Roasters In Coastal Communities

One of Hala Tree Coffee’s farms in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Courtesy of Hala Tree Coffee.

Every year, Coffee Review organizes a report focusing on roasting companies from various regions of the U.S.: in 2018, the Mountain States, in 2019, New England, and in 2020, the Northwest. Given that it’s been a difficult winter, to say the least, this month’s report celebrates coffees roasted in U.S. coastal communities, particularly beach towns and tourist destinations. We put out our general call for samples, augmented by ordering coffees from roasters not on our email list but situated in U.S. seaside communities known for their vacation appeal.

We ended up with 40 coffees. Once they came off the table, we discovered, partly to our chagrin, that several usual suspects had risen to the top — namely, roasters we know from Hawaii and San Diego, along with one … Read more

Coffee as a Force for Good: Roasters Who Give Back

Producer Tesfaye Bekele, owner of Suke Quto Farm in Guji, Ethiopia. Courtesy of Street Bean.


Like everything bought and sold, coffee can be a vehicle for profit or a tool for changing the world. Sometimes, it is both. 2020 was, unequivocally, a difficult year for the coffee industry, globally speaking, as it was for many of us working in that industry. One response to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is to help others make it through the storm. Our report this month shines a spotlight on those kinds of coffee roasters, folks who have either been community-minded since their companies’ inceptions, or those just getting on the philanthropic wave.

We take a look at roasters who are contributing some portion of proceeds from the sale of their coffees to causes that are meaningful to them — from non-profits that feed local communities to scholarship funds for women of … Read more