MSN City Guides recently joined the ever-popular year-end parade of Internet-friendly Top 10 lists: America’s Best Coffee – 1 – MSN City Guides. As if to show Bon Appétit that they, too, can list their favorites without the bother of any supporting criteria, MSN’s editors also took an early holiday and let two additional nominees pass through to make a Top 12 list.

MSN City Guides picks their top roasters - or do they?MSN’s editors also let skip the slightly misleading headline of “America’s Best Coffee,” as their list consists exclusively of coffee roasters. The Bay Area irony being that “America’s Best Coffee” is synonymous with a local coffee roaster behind many of the most repulsive espresso shots in San Francisco.

Bay Area props in their list go to local favorites Ritual Coffee Roasters, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Ecco Caffè. None of the Ritual and Blue Bottle cafés made the Bon Appétit list, however. And yet MSN neglects the Four Barrel roasting operations that helped inspire their inclusion in Bon Appétit.

Confused? Good luck finding any reason behind this schism. Although roasting operations and boutique cafés are two different things, neither list gives any indication behind their ranking criteria for why their lists would be mutually exclusive. Compounding their credibility problem, MSN lists two New York City locations (Café Grumpy and Gimme! Coffee) known primarily for their cafés and not their roasted coffee. They even classify Portland-based Stumptown as primarily a Seattle roaster — and their only Seattle-based roaster, mind you.

Taking these lists far more seriously than they do

Of course, we honestly know why. We take these things far more seriously than a more general, mainstream publication. It’s our job to be incredulous when we see mainstream publications not taking the business of rating coffee operations seriously enough.

But these more mainstream publications typically spend all of one day thinking about coffee before they’ve moved on to their next Top 10 culinary subject. In that one day, they must deliberately choose a geographically distributed list to ensure readership representation — not unlike porkbarrel politics. This, and the lack of thoroughness due to time and budget constraints, leads to a number of omissions for reasons other than quality.

The inevitable user comments still amuse us. For every person who identifies a world-class roaster overlooked due to the editorial blindspots of a rushed publication deadline, there is an oblivious lout who never ventures beyond their neighborhood pet roaster and takes offense that the “Badass Coffee” chain (or similar) wasn’t listed. It’s for these reasons that has taken the deliberate effort to review some of the most foul espresso purveyors in the city. And it’s also why we use stated objective criteria to back it up.

UPDATE: Sep. 23, 2011
Fortune magazine made their odd swig at a top 17 of “boutique” American roasters: 17 of the nation’s best small coffee makers – A hill of beans (1) – CNNMoney.