Coffee roasters occupy a vague, obscure place in the popular American food culture. Most of the well-known coffee brands are recognized by their name or logo, often associated with the cafés they operate in, rather than their roasting practices. While the Global Coffee Beans Market is said to increase at a 6.1% CAGR during 2017-2014, we bring you the real taste-blenders behind the best of popular cafes in America. Today, we’re living in the best era ever for quality coffee, as the below mentioned coffee roasters in US devote extreme levels of obsession to their beans.
Blue Bottle Oakland, CA
The brewed journey for Blue Bottle Coffee began in 2002, when the founder James Freeman started selling roasted beans at the farmers market in San Francisco. A freelance musician fond of coffee, James vowed to bring the people of Oakland fresh and responsibly sourced coffee beans, roasted no longer than 48 hours prior of serving. This strict timeframe, coupled with Blue Bottle’s ingenuity on single-origin coffees, speaks to a sense of purity. New varieties of coffee beans are introduced three to five times every month, and each batch is scientifically curtained for its “peak flavor range”. Hence, grinds and whole beans are sold only when this ideal flavor period has been achieved that has come to epitomize third-wave coffee production, from bean terroir and source to brewing and roasting time, temperature, and method.
Intelligentsia, Chicago, IL
With its first location in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, Intelligentsia has been going 21 years strong with presence spread across Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco. Started way back in 1995 (when freshly roasted beans were hard to come by), Doug Zell and Emily Mange established their brand of “coffeebars” with a vision to bring freshly roasted beans to the public through its cafes.
They offer wide variety of coffee, such as; single origin, sourced from family-owned farms and smallholder co-ops and estates; decaffeinated through a chemically-free process; blends; and Intelligentsia In-Season, roasted for brewing at peak sweetness. Their specialty is Black Cat Project Espresso, which turns single origin and seasonal coffees into bold espressos in all its forms.
One major leap forward in Intelligentsia’s approach was “direct trade”, in which the company partners directly with coffee farmers to exclude middleman profits. Direct trade is an epicurean decision, since it liberates to select coffee beans as discerningly as possible. Also, it helps in supporting growers directly, rather than through distributors. Even its name, Intelligentsia, suggests the lifestyle of a growing coffee elite—urbane, sophisticated, single-origin pour-over drinkers.
Stumptown, Portland, OR
Another popular brand of the Pacific Northwest, Stumptown has gone to great lengths in the service of direct trade, offering bottled cold brew in grocery stores across the country.
With a stanch belief in local leadership to address local issues, Stumptown has deployed its Green Team of coffee sourcers, who visit coffee growers year-round to hand-select coffee beans as thoroughly as possible. The company generously pays “up to four times” the market price for the perfect produce. This encourages the Green Team to ask the growers for more than just simple farming, such as; hand picking each cherry at ideal ripeness, or implementing a new piece of equipment. Stumptown isn’t terribly far out of pace with other independent roasters with healthy sourcing methodology, but the role of growers in the company’s practices is notably foregrounded. Their aim is to bring the bean from commodity to artisanal beverage with responsible, sustainable roots.
Stumptown is famous for blends like the Hair Bender along with single-origins from Indonesia, Latin America and Africa. Stumptown’s smooth, creamy Nitro Cold Brew is also popular on draft at Stumptown cafes. Their cold brew offerings are available on draft and in cans at select cafes and retailers.
La Colombe, Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee Roasters was founded in Philadelphia by friends J.P. Ibera and Todd Carmichael. The company gained popularity when Todd appeared on Travel Channel’s Dangerous Grounds as one of the country’s largest independent coffee roasters. With presence at over 29 locations locally, La Colombe café has been admired coast to coast among coffee lovers for a long time.
Its signature cornerstone blends, espresso, pour over, cold brew on tap, seasonal single-origin coffees on drip are some of the popular sells. The creamy, plastic-rimmed Draft Latte are perfect pick-me-ups when the fresh stuff isn’t an option. Not to miss their Italian-style artisan-baked breads and pastries with sleek-looking canned offering. Moreover, La Colombe is said to be the earliest independent roaster to adopt a broad-based “direct trade” arrangement with coffee growers.
Counter Culture, Durham, NC
The first East Coast coffee epicenter, Counter Culture is about more than sourcing and roasting exceptional coffee. Founders Fred Houk and Brett Smith began building their business with restaurant supply in mind, creating what today is one of the most visible roasters in the US. When Counter Culture was founded in 1995, the company set out to achieve sustainability across all parts of its business: environmental, social, and fiscal. Headquartered in Durham, the company has made coffee education a priority of its mission.
In recent years Counter Culture has built 11 training centers across the US, where regional support teams and wholesale partners can train and practice coffee roasting techniques. Counter Culture’s training centers offer free weekly coffee tastings on Friday mornings under the “Tasting at Ten” program, where curious customers and passersby can learn about brewing methods and coffee varieties.
The coffee roaster market is now crowded with established, inspiring inventors. Each of the above roasters made some definitive contribution to the beverage, and have remained influential on the contemporary American coffee niche.