To the uninitiated, CoffeeRatings.com might look more like a horse racing tip sheet than a coffee Web site. But there are very good reasons why we’ve gone through the effort to quantify things. Just look at the chaos that can ensue when you don’t follow a system nor a simple baseline set of evaluation criteria: The 21 Best Cups of Coffee in America – Digital City.

You may have forgotten about AOL ever since your computer could no longer accept their once-ubiquitous floppy disks, but they still exist. Digital City is the reheated leftovers of AOL’s stunted local directory efforts. Their article claims they “looked all over the country” for their coffee picks, but we really have to question how hard. After five years and over 600 reviews methodically scouring SF alone, we still admittedly have plenty of gaps in our review coverage.

You don’t know Jack

The article goes on to say, “Twenty-one is an arbitrary number, but the picks are not.” Or are they? Topping their list is Jack’s Stir Brew from the coffee backwaters of New York City.

Jack’s is no stranger to coffee accolades. They rated as the 2005 “Best Cup of Coffee” in NYC, according to New York Magazine. Of course, this is the same New York Magazine that admitted less than a year ago that they never before considered how to rank coffee bars. And as recently as 2002, New York Magazine claimed that the rather pedestrian espresso-peddler and 1990′s holdover, Espresso Madison (formerly at 33 East 68th Street), made the best espresso in NYC. Hence we liken them to the Grammy Awards: sometimes they get it right, but only about a decade after their picks became irrelevant.

However, our biggest suspicion surrounding Jack’s ranking on this AOL best-of list concerns Jack’s location: a 10-minute, three-city-block walk from AOL’s new Manhattan headquarters. In other words: AOL corporate HQ’s satellite meeting place and bathrooms. Let’s just say that when AOL merged with Time-Warner, it probably didn’t help their odds of winning a Pulitzer for investigative reporting.

Also on the list is New Orleans’ famous Cafe du Monde. OK, who doesn’t like strong coffee, beignets, people watching, and catching a glimpse of the #82 City Bus Named Desire? But why is one of the 21 best cups of coffee in America cut with chicory to historically keep the costs down? How much cheap Vietnamese robusta do we need to get on this list?

Shout out to the home team

As if to one-up New York Magazine and prove that AOL, too, can be decades behind the times, San Francisco makes this list at #9 with that 1950′s institution, Caffé Trieste. Now we like Caffé Trieste — that isn’t in question. But why is a place that doesn’t even rank in San Francisco’s 21 best (it’s currently tied for #54 on CoffeeRatings.com) make the cut for the nation’s 21 best?

Stranger still was the only other SF entry in the list: at #14 is Haight-Ashbury’s Coffee to the People (currently tied for #278 on CoffeeRatings.com). AOL’s City Guide has oddly always been partial to this café, so one might presume they must have offices around the corner.

Sure, it’s organic and fair trade and all — but should that be the sole criteria upon which a “best cup of coffee in America” be judged? At Coffee to the People, you can buy politics. You can even drink politics. But when it comes to taste, let us assure you: politics tastes like flat, careless drip coffee with a scant crema trying to disguise itself as espresso. And that’s a cause we cannot support.

Digital City, what were you saying about “arbitrary” again?