Each January, the coffee community and fans around the world turn their attention to the Sprudgie Awards. The Sprudgies reward the previous year’s greatest coffee achievements as determined by some of the world’s most accomplished coffee professionals. The Sprudge Academy members vote for the Sprudgies using secret ballots, which are then tabulated by the international auditing firm of DolcePump.
With no further ado, here are your thought provoking, powerful, and fabulous Sprudgie Award winners for 2012.
Blue Bottle Coffee Roasters, Bay Area / NYC
Oakland, California's Blue Bottle Coffee Roasters have had a hell of a year. Let's review: New cafe locations, like their gorgeous cafe in the Heath Ceramic facility in San Francisco. Impressive and unique lots of coffee, including a run that featured multiple processes from noted producer Aida Batlle (a Sprudgie Award winner herself). The year's most aesthetically sumptuous coffee book titled “The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee“, authored by Blue Bottle founders James and Caitlin Freeman. And a flush of investment cash from True Ventures. That's a big year by any metric.
But we're giving them the Sprudgie for Notable Roaster for one simple reason, and that's the coffee. The coffees being served by Blue Bottle these days are a consistent pleasure, enjoyable and exciting and at times even startling. We've noticed an exciting trend upwards in cup quality over the course of multiple visits to their cafes in NYC and Northern California, and we were blown away by the offerings they fielded at our Cupping California event last summer.
There is no gimmick at play here, just hard work, careful and informed green buying, and a demanding set of quality control practices at the cafe and roasting level. It amounts to a reassertion of Blue Bottle as one of the leading brands in specialty coffee's quality arms race. Sometimes investment is not such a bad thing…
Best New Cafe
2012 was a fantastic year for new cafes, making this one of the most hotly deliberated categories amongst our judges. Everyman Espresso SoHo, Bar Francis, The (Espresso) Bar, Wrecking Ball Coffee, The Mill, and G&B Coffee at SQIRL each received votes, but in the end, our experience at Pergamino stood out. Located in Medellin's sprawling, thumping, thoroughly cosmopolitan El Poblado district, owner Pedro Echavarria's vertically integrated business model makes for a cafe with enviable access to every last coffee touch point: he and his staff are producers, exporters, roasters, agronomists, green buyers, and baristas (and dishwashers, and consumer stewards, and gear geeks, and English-Spanish translators, and pastry connossieurs…)
The model is progressive, the coffee delicious. Pergamino is like the perfect expat bar in cafe form: it makes you want to run away from home just to become a regular.
Gilbert Gatali is the face of Rwandan coffee, and a symbol of that country's emergence as a world-beating high quality specialty coffee producer. Born a refugee in Kenya, raised and educated in Toronto, Mr. Gatali has worked previously as a project manager for Sustainable Harvest, and as the head of the Rwandan Smallholder Specialty Coffee Company (RWASHOSSCO). Today he manages 8 distinct washing stations in western Rwanda, including the Karengera, Kinunu, Rugamba, Nkora, Bulize, Cyebumba, Shangi, and Cyiya washing stations; between them, they purchase and process coffee from between 12,000 and 15,000 individual farmers.
Mr. Gatali has championed coffee quality as an economic and social driver for these washing stations, and the farmers who supply coffee cherry to them. Day lot separation, quality control via cupping expertise, and a drive to educate and promote form within the staff at his stations; Gilbert oversees it all with a sharp sense of humor and a tireless personal work schedule. Coffees managed by Mr. Gatali have already popped up at top roasters in the West, such as St. Ali and Wrecking Ball, and we predict this trend will continue in 2013 and beyond.
Best Subscription Service
Four Barrel Coffee, “Fifth Barrel Coffee Crew”
When you subscribe to Four Barrel's service, you're becoming a member in what feels like a pop singer's fan club in the 80s. You don't just get coffee shipped to you, you get a self-published zine, a membership card, and surprise products like local San Francisco preserves and chocolate. It's a joy to open the box, as it's always filled with wonder and merriment… just like the folks at Four Barrel.
Best New Product
Sprudgie jurors felt the Bonavita Bona Voyage kettle was the sleeper hit of the year. Its small footprint makes it easy to carry-on when traveling to far-off locales. Plus the Bona Voyage's low price point means it's the perfect entry level electric kettle for the average coffee fan.
Best Coffee Writing
Erin Meister's coffee writing employs a folksy, conversational tone that we find endlessly refreshing. A true insider, she's opening up her knowledge base and professional experience with Counter Culture Coffee to the masses. In the past we've called her “the Dorothy Parker of coffee”, but her role is actually much closer to that of the late Julia Childs – Meister demystifies the joys of coffee, conveying her enjoyment and appreciation of the beverage and its culture without a trace of ego or intimidation.
Liz Clayton is just a damn good writer; her gift guide was our favorite of the year, her dissection of the Starbucks Verismo is a hoot, and her guided tour through the Trader Joe's coffee aisle was one of the smartest consumer-facing coffee articles of 2012. It helps that Ms. Clayton is an excellent photographer, and capable of crafting blog vignettes that are as pretty to look at as they are pleasing to read.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee – Season One finale, featuring Michael Richards.
Jerry Seinfeld is a national treasure, and we laughed along with him throughout the first season of his web-only series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”. But the season finale was worth more than just a chuckle, as Mr. Seinfeld and his old collaborative partner, Michael Richards, cruised around Los Angeles in a 1962 VW Split Window Double Cab bus, in “dove blue, primer gray, and rust.” These two old friends goofed around, made unexpected house calls, drank some Peet's drip at the Malibu Kitchen, and addressed Michael Richards' 2006 Laugh Factory incident with candor and honesty. The results moved us to tears, and made for some of the best watching of 2012 – coffee or otherwise.
Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence
Gerra Harrigan, for her work with the Mid-Atlantic Northeast Coffee Conference (MANE).
This was our first year attending and participating at MANE, North America's premiere specialty coffee conference, and we were blown away. Incredible hands-on demos and workshops from industry leaders, including Katie Carguilo (USBC Champion with Counter Culture Coffee), Brant Curtis (Wilbur Curtis Co.), Scott Guglielmino (La Marzocco USA), and many more. Lectures and interviews featuring the likes of James Hoffmann (Square Mile), John Moore (Dallis Bros. Coffee), Dan Streetman (Irving Farm Coffee / USBC Head Judge), and the list goes on. The event cost just $100 to register, a price point that differentiates MANE from the more high falutin' conferences out there. It's a massive undertaking, and we were thrilled to be a part of it.
At the center of it all is Gerra Harrigan, formally of New Harvest Coffee Roasters, now a coffee trader for InterAmerican Boston. Events like MANE can't help but be a reflection of their organizer's personality, and in a very real way Gerra *is* MANE. Humble, dedicated to the specialty coffee community, and possessed of an egalitarian ethos (some might say “indie cred”), Gerra Harrigan has created something very special with her annual event in Providence – a truly American coffee conference, fiercely independent and affordable, open to all, and stocked with the very highest caliber of presenters and educational opportunities. No one company or group owns MANE; it's made possible by several different companies, with differing agendas and world views, coming together to collaborate on something special. This is a remarkable achievement, one that only gets better every year, and it happens because of the vision and patience and organizational wherewithal of Gerra Harrigan.
She is probably blanching right now, or turning beet red, and saying “Oh, I can't take credit, it goes to my staff, my volunteers, my bosses for letting me take the time to do this” – but trust us, Gerra, this Sprudgie Award goes to you.
Congratulations to all of this year's Sprudgie Award winners! View all past winners here.