10 Favorite Coffee Things of 2011

Dear Coffee Fiends,

We’re a trash-talky industry. I’m a trash-talky kinda guy too. In the spirit of the holidays, I wanted to give you all something positive to read. So, here is a list of some people doing amazing things that I wanted to highlight as my top 10 in 2011.

10. KONE 2.0 by Coava -The coffee world was pretty excited when the first KONE was released. However, it was 2.0 that really made the new device worth while. With a new hole design, the second variation of the KONE delivered the results that creator, Keith Gehrke, was looking for. Less sediment, cleaner cup, easier to brew… Score.

9. Jared Linzmeier moves to Caffe Ladro- I worked with Jared when he was first hired at Intelligentsia. He’s a sharp guy who just gets it. As of last week, Jared is now a Seattle resident and the new Director of Coffee for Ladro. Caffe Ladro is a Seattle institution, but has not been synonymous with high quality. From what I’ve heard, the plans are quite ambitious to update the company on all fronts. With 13 existing cafes, if done right, this could really elevate coffee in Seattle for 2012.

8. Pete Licata wins the USBC- Pete has always been a strong competitor and a hard worker. There are few competitors who know how to play by the rules and the score sheets quite as well as he does. He’s also been working hard at this for a long time. He was there during my first USBC experience in 2006. Not only did he win the competition, but he did it with coffee from Hawaii, something I’d say most of us had written off as gimmick and not quality. You cannot hate on someone when you’ve seen them work as hard as Pete has.

7. Extraordinary Coffee Workshop (Los Angeles)- This was the third year of Intelligentsia’s ECW event. What made this year special is that rather than go to the producers, Intelligentsia brought the producers to Los Angeles. In the past, there has been an open invitation for baristas to fly themselves to the ECW, but to have the event in LA gives the baristas such an opportunity on other levels. Yes, there are meet the producer events going on elsewhere, but this was a week of shutting down businesses for education and inspiration. Pretty rad if you ask me…

6. Milstead & Co. opens in Seattle- Andrew Milstead and I have known each other a good while. It’s extremely exciting to see someone I worked with open their own business. Even more so, it’s also exciting to see someone start what I’ll openly call the most progressive coffee bar in the Northwest Region of the US. There are few coffee bars here where I can order an espresso and get a proper volume. Andrew is also one of the few to bring an entirely brew-by-the-cup program to the NW. His menu is slim, you won’t find decaf, but you’ll get excellent service and a delicious beverage.

5. Heart Coffee Roasters- Until recently, I probably visited Heart more when I lived in Los Angeles than when I’ve lived here. But one thing really grabbed my attention… The coffee. Specifically, it’s the roast profiles. Owner, Ville, takes a much more Scandinavian approach to roasting. The coffees burst with acidity and sweetness. In a market where so many play it safe, Heart is a breath of fresh air. Heart’s espresso, Stereo, is getting great reviews around the country. They are working towards relationship coffee. Recently, Heart opened a second coffee bar across town inside a bike shop. It’s still a small company, but the coffee coming out of it is super exciting.

4. Intelli-Town-Both Intelligentsia and Stumptown have seen big changes in 2011. Intelligentsia has seen a fair amount of employees go for all kinds of reasons (See #’s 9 & 3), as well as, has taken on a new C0-CEO to work with Doug Zell. It seems like decisions are being made to shape Intelligentsia for growth and a bright future. A healthy chunk of Stumptown Coffee Corporation has been purchased by TSG, and with it, Stumptown is looking to put coffee everywhere it can. They’ve taken steps to boost benefits for employees, and we’ve all seen the cold brew bottles. Both companies will be exciting to watch in 2012 as things continue to develop… and you have to wonder if this kind of growth ever crossed the minds of Sorenson and Zell when they opened their first coffee bar/roastery operations in SE Portland and Chicago?

3. Handsome Coffee Roaster- Starting your own business seems like the thing to do if you win the World Barista Championship. But, if you had ever asked me if I thought Mike Philips would have been one to do it, I wouldn’t have even dreamed it. But that’s what’s great about Mike. He just comes off as content wherever he is. Bottom line. He’s got a brilliant team around him, too. Tyler Wells is more tenacious than a Honey Badger. Chris Owen’s is great at whatever he puts his mind to… What’s extremely significant about Handsome is the fact that they are in Los Angeles. See… whatever is cool in Los Angeles, will find it’s way into the spotlight of the entertainment industry… and the more cool, coffee companies can put themselves in that spotlight, the better it will be for all of us around the world.

2. Madcap Coffee- What a year it has been for a small roaster in Grand Rapids, Michigan! Two of the top six baristas in the US come from Madcap. Stacey Wieck, of Madcap, was in the 2011 US Brewers Cup finals. Now, the company is expanding to Washington DC! I’d say great things are certainly to come for Madcap!

1. Alejandro Mendez wins the 2011 World Barista Championship- One of the themes I remember seeing for Bogota, was something like “Baristas go to origin,” Well, they did, and then the competitor representing a coffee producing country took the prize home! Not only did Alejandro win, but he had one of the most inspiring and educational performances I’ve ever seen. His performance was the kind I hope many future competitors will steal from for inspiration.

There you have it… Epic things that occurred this year. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2012 will bring!

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