Santa Barranza! There's something afoot out there in the world of mainstream media coffee coverage. Like a gust through the willows, or a wave crashing ashore, the last week or so we've been inundated with coffee list phenomena splashing across the front pages of some of America's most hallowed houses of journalism (or at least their blogs).
We would never grade coffee shops, but we are happy to arbitrarily rank those who attempt to for your reading convenience. Here's a survey of what's out there, and what they're getting right (and wrong) about coffee in 2014.
“8 of the world's great coffee cities” – Sarah Reid for CNN.com
What it gets right: Interviews with top international barista competitors like Nick Clark, Estelle Bright, and 2013 World Barista Champion Pete Licata; bothering to include the perpetually overlooked Kiwis; correctly noting that Vienna is not a modern coffee city, but still very worthwhile; mentioning Melbourne's massive MICE festival.
What it gets less right: The list for Seattle is uhh…curious at best, which is a polite way of saying “severely lacking,” most notably of Milstead & Co or Vivace; you'll find more babies and mums at Kaffismidjia than hipsters; Reykjavik is in general a cute but kind of strange choice, as the list bypasses much larger coffee scenes in the other Nordic capitals; Italians and frequent visitors to Italy are rolling their eyes at Rome's inclusion, as the city is known for being perhaps the worst coffee city in Italy (try Milan or Florence instead); the correct nomenclature is “Wellingtonian”, not “Wellington-ite”.
Overall Score: B-
“8 Best Local Coffee Chains Around The World” – Chantal Martineau for FoodRepublic.com
What it gets right: Solid choices throughout; worthwhile mention of Intelligentsia‘s tea offshoot, Kilogram; nice job giving love to Phil & Sebastian in Calgary, one of the most respected brands in Canadian coffee.
What it gets less right: Curious absence of Stumptown Coffee (now in four major cities) or Joe NYC, whose 10+ locations in New York and Philadelphia helped define the modern “chainlette” in boutique coffee; list would benefit greatly from more links, like to Roast Magazine‘s award for Gimme! and our own reportage on Todd Carmichael's Brewers Cup win and Verve's LA expansion.
Overall Score: Pass
“Stimulation Nation: America's 25 Best Coffee Shops” – Colleen Clark for Epicurious.com
What it gets right: We like the article's introduction quite a lot; there's no coastal bias here, as the article includes folks like Colectivo Coffee (Milwaukee), Oddly Correct (KCMO), Barista Parlor (Nashville), and Blacksmith (Houston); Ms. Clark appears to have done actual research for this feature.
What it gets less right: Although we're quite sure the brand could care less, it's weird for this list to mention multiple Portland companies without including Heart; the entries for New York City are thin, with notable absences of top shops like Everyman Espresso, Box Kite, Joe, and Irving Farm, to name just a few; regardless of masthead, there is an inherent fallacy to any list that proclaims itself as the “25 Best.”
Overall Score: Very Good Plus
“The Hottest Coffee Shops In 15 US Cities” – Kelly Dobkin for Zagat.com
What it gets right: Correctly denotes the “Bee House” dripper as two words; solid choices for Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles, and Houston; cool to see a list with multiple Texas entries; nice shout out for the wonders of batch brew at The Mill in San Francisco; we appreciate not having to reload the list for each new entry.
What it gets less right: Zagat editor Kelly Dobkin's sourcing woes have been well-documented elsewhere, and are clearly on display in this list's entry for Budin; we would have made very different choices for several of these cities, most notably Boston, Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington DC; some really notable absences from top brands like Verve, Stumptown, Colectivo, and more (apparently Portland, Milwaukee, and Santa Cruz aren't worthy enough cities).
Overall Score: Commodity Grade
“10 best coffeehouses across the USA” – Larry Blelberg, special for USA TODAY
What it gets right: The list consults industry veterans Chris Deferio and David Heilbrunn of Coffee Fest for their particular perspectives; “creating an atmosphere that's almost like wine service” is an apt descriptor for what they're doing up at Slate Coffee in Seattle; nice to see love given to shops not found anywhere else in these lists, like Muggswigz in Canton, Ohio and triple-OG Stumptown account Dog River Coffee in Hood River, Oregon; also glad to see mentions for Ipsento, a top cafe in Chicago often overlooked by list-makers.
What it gets less right: Once again, saying “10 best” is setting yourself up for disaster, and this list's somewhat narrow selection leaves out many whole genres of the best modern coffee shops in the USA; Palace Coffee in Canyon, Texas is not “on the West Texas plains”, but rather, in the state's coffee-loving Panhandle; entry for Klatch Coffee fails to mention the brand's big-time expansion out of Rancho Cucamonga and into LAX Terminal 7 and Seoul.
Overall Score: 472.5