As much as 18 billion dollars are spent on this beverage every year in the US alone. The seeds are found in berries, which grow on trees cultivated in over 70 countries. We certainly owe a lot to the ancient Oromo people of Ethiopia for bringing coffee to the world. Looking at the modest array of coffee beans in the office cupboard at mygola (we have our share of coffee purists here), we got to thinking, where can we find the world’s best coffee. Soon, we realised that “best” is a massively relative term. Especially when it comes to coffee.
I instead went on to concentrate my efforts on finding the world’s coolest independent coffee makers. The search led me to speak to people who have made the drink not only their livelyhood, but also the very purpose of their being. The trail led from Portland, Oregon to Berlin, New York and London. Here are the world’s coolest independent coffee makers:
Joe Coffee, New York City
We just had to start with New York, hadn’t we? From the time they set up their shop in 2003, Joe Coffee went on to being named among the “best u.s. coffee bars” by Food & Wine magazine. I spoke to Jonathan Rubinstein, one of the owners about the “coming of Joe” if you will and it’s one warm story!
It’s been a great journey- mostly slow and organic- We will be at 10 stores in 10 years which may sound like a lot, but honestly it’s deliberately been a very organic and careful trajectory- When we first opened, we were the first “3rd wave” shop to open in NYC and we got a temendous amount of attention right away- Within the first 4 months we had won 3 awards for best coffee (NY Magazine, time Out NY and Village Voice) – we kept plugging along and trying to push ourselves to be better and then being recognized in Food and Wine felt really great.
When Jonathan Rubinstein and his sister Gabrielle opened their first shop, there was nothing else in New York City like it. While busy creating a niche, the Rubinsteins came out with “Joe: The Coffee Book“ chronicling Joe alongside their little secrets on brewing coffee at home. Concerning the creation Indie coffe line, Jonathan is taking themselves to a whole new level come July:
We have bought roasted beans for the last 10 years- and for the last fur from the great Intelligentsia Coffee of Chicago- But as of July 22, we will be sourcing and roasting 100% of our beans, which is a very big step for us and a whole new part of our business.
Joe Coffee lives by the philosophy of “treating coffee as a culinary art and focusing on enlightened hospitality, making sure the whole customer experience exceeds expectations!” Don’t miss out on the slew of “pro” brewing and tasting classes.
Jonathan was thinking along a completely different line before coffee took over. And here we are thinking what would have been otherwise!
Honestly, I was in a totally different business- I was a talent agent and I was burned out and miserable- when I left that business, I made a dream list of new adventures and opening a coffee bar topped it- when I stumped upon the perfect space in Greenwhich Village, I quickly signed alease and remember thinking “well, I guess this is what my next adventure will be”
But there’s more than coffee out here. The folks at Joe firmly believe that the baristas are a part of their family and they are the reason that Joe’s so successful. Music and arts flow every once in a while on a public benefit ‘concert’ to raise money for charity – this year 14 baristas performed stand up, music, and dance to a sold out crowd of staff and customers.
Climpson and Sons Coffee Roasters, London
From New york, it is London. A place I personally thought (call me a novice) least likely to host a coffee revolution. My assumption was that Earl Grey was the supreme ruler here. Nicole from Climpson & Sons Coffee Roasters was going to prove me wrong faster than I could say “Tea!”
Climpson and Sons was born out of Burgil Coffee, a market stall established in the early noughties by an inspired Englishman, Ian Burgess, who returned from 5 years of drinking amazing coffee in Australia determined to offer the same quality coffee in London.
After a few years on the market circuit, he set up shop in East London’s Broadway Market, recognizing the potential of the location and taking on the name of the old butchers’ shop for the business: Climpson & Sons. In 2005 he purchased his first coffee roaster (a 3kg Whitmee) and created a new business supplying the busy café with freshly roasted beans.
Climpson and Sons brought more than just coffee to England. It’s the philosophy that is both so fresh and at the same time, intensely personal, that makes those beans give out their best. Here, coffee leaves the bed-side stool and the road-side table to take it’s shot at something bigger:
The backbone of a coffee roasting business is the dual commitment to supplying your public and maintaining quality whilst doing so. It can be dirty work at the coalface of the roaster and the way to ensure consistency is by logging and controlling as many variables as possible, to eliminate human error and smooth over natural variances in the roasting conditions.
This same dedication to the task of roasting also needs to be applied to “cupping” or tasting the coffee as often as possible, and developing the palates of our staff remains a constant priority. It also keeps the team inspired and motivated, the common goal being an amazingly good cup of coffee.
The Climpsons work very closely with their importer to ethically source sustainably produced green beans. Transparency with regards to farmer’s financial rewards has ensured the social impact of producing coffee in poor regions of the world is positive, with large percentages of profits being used for schools and water programmes.
There is a certain peace of mind that is gained by witnessing first-hand the primary stages of this much-loved product, and knowing that environmental and social factors for the more vulnerable parties in the path to market are being controlled ensuring the future will continue to be positive.
Step into their shop and the very way coffee is idolised will inspire you. The store rack is not just about getting your bag of beans. There’s a touch of glamour to it. Choose their “monthly coffee subscription” to take home the perfect collection for a connoisseur. Go for a ” sweet, complex and full-bodied” blend instead for the classic Climpsons taste. Made up of 60% Costa Rican Tarrazu, the seasonal summer blend leans toward a sweet, citrus flavour.
While they have grown considerably, Climpson and Sons have kept to their roots in many ways. For instance, they still set-up that stall on market day.
We love being a part of it as people from all over London (and the world!) come to visit. As we are also a coffee roastery (housed just down the road), it is also an opportunity to try out new blends and single origins and see how they are received with customers.
Cafe CK, Berlin
Speaking of world champions, Cafe CK owner Cory Andreen took home the title of “World Cup Tasting Champion” (indeed, there’s a title like that). Cory along with partner Kerstin runs the Berlin devision of the global independent coffee revolution. There are two establishments and the new one called the CK Pour Voo sits inside the Voo Store (the 300 sq m full of fashion, art and treasures from all over the world?).
Cafe CK is one of those places which some lucky morning runners find on their route and which turns their days into nescafe ads. You’ll find smooth fresh brews – the kind that make the idea of a second run seem completely natural.
The cafe earns some big boasting rights from their Aeropress coffee method, served in a glass. Cory Andreen with Kerstin Winkelbauer have made the place a minimalist affair but with that unmistakable rough-around-the-edges vibe which only Berlin can provide.
Many will jibe with ‘as it should be,’ since it is a café. However, with so many other coffee shops almost fetishize their interiors, their target clientele or even the speed of their Wifi, the only thing that’s obsessed over at Cafe CK is how you’d like your caffeine fix.
Coava Coffee Roasters, Portland
Back to the Americas, the hunt’s last stop is Portland, Oregon. Here lives Matt Higgins who has been in the coffee business for over a decade. However, he only opened his Coava Coffee Roasters in 2008 out of a humble garage. A few years down the line, Higgins still prefers to roasts his beans on his trusty Probats, but Coava has moved out of the garage and into a beautifully designed shop shared with Bamboo Revolution. If you are not form the eastern part of the world, bamboo furnishings can mean a great deal to many and the popularity of the decor with the locals is evident.
Higgins only sources his beans form farmers he personally knows and the mark for quality shines through easily enough. Patrons swear that they have never seen a sub-par or even lesser grade bean in any of Coava’s roasts. At Coava, blends are not part of the roasting repertoire.
It is not about choice but rather quality here. You’ll be hard-pressed to find more than two varieties on offer at any given time. Popular variations are the Finca Zarcero from Costa Rica, described to have “acidity with chocolate and floral taste”, alongside the very complex Benjamin Miranda from Honduras which happens to be “the extremely high elevation of the farm” and the “volcanic soil in the Montecillos mountain range contribute an incredible sweetness to this coffee.”
Coava’s principle of direct trade has more benefits than just brilliant coffee. It automatically also means a better life for the independent farmers. Without places like Coava, people like David Mancia, who only produces 25 bags of his premium coffee, would be lost.
Coava Coffee Roasters has taken David’s beans and made them shine on their own. This direct-market relationship has allowed David to expand his farm and produce even higher quality of coffee, and also buy the home he shares with his family now.
Coffee, or anything with a similar legacy almsot always has an inviting story to tell. Do you know of any similar independent coffee makers? Can be from anywhere. We’d love to hear about them!