Surprisingly, Epicurious had yet to make a notable entry in the obligatory culinary-magazine-rates-national-coffee-shops department. But that all changed this week with the rather ambitious title of “America’s 25 Best Coffee Shops — The ultimate guide to the best coffee shops across the United States”: America’s Best Coffee Shops | Epicurious.com.
We do have to give them an iota of credit. Unlike most of their ilk, they cover coffee without a brand name that suggests an exclusive concern for food, eating, meals, or anything else at the expense of beverages as some kind of frivolous, second-class diversion. But then they did have to ruin it a little by filing the article under their “Where to Eat Around the Globe” category. Facepalm indeed.
If it’s about quality, why do we still write about it as a crude caffeine fix?
Writer Colleen Clark also falls for many of the usual suspects among coffee house article tropes. Like a rapper with mad rhyming skillz just this side of 2 Chainz, she employed several examples of the journalistically lazy caffeine riff and liberally used the trite words “java” or “joe” as substitutes for “coffee”. Imagine if writers playfully used the term “alcoholics” when talking about wine lovers they way they effusively use “caffeine junkies” whenever talking about coffee lovers. Double standard, anyone?
Then there’s the tiresome barista-as-sommelier analogy. She also made several references to the rather dated topic of regional coffee “scenes”: the concept where which urban metropolis you’re in determines whether you can access quality coffee or not is becoming rapidly irrelevant if not already extinct. Now that even the world’s last holdout for terrible coffee — Paris, France — has worthy and redeemable coffee shops, there are no more “coffee cities” anymore than there are wine or tea cities.
All these negatives aside, the article is actually a rather decent assessment of great coffee shops — given Epicurious‘ magazine peers. (Even Forbes tried to get in on the act of reviewing the nation’s best coffee shops.) It might suggest that “it’s hard to separate the real-deal java joints from the flash-in-the-pan trendsters” — a problem that we honestly never knew needed solving. But they at least drew a line in the sand, laying down some of their criteria by which some coffee shops should or should not be included in their list:
So we’ve combed the country for the coffee shops that combine craft with hospitality, for inviting spaces that spark creativity, and for roasters who know how to make your morning brew tell a story. These are our picks for the USA’s top 25 coffee shops.
This beats most of the random nonsense we’ve seen in past magazine lists of this type. Even if some of these criteria are precisely the sort of fluff that frustrated us as distractions from a focus on the actual coffee as far back as 2003: telling stories, named architects, hospitality, etc.
So that you don’t have to turn 25 pages of ads on the Epicurious Web site, we’ve summarized their list here in one place as something useful (and as listed in no particular order):
- Blue Bottle Coffee – 12 locations in the SF Bay Area & New York City
- Verve Coffee Roasters – 3 locations around Santa Cruz, CA
- Four Barrel Coffee – 3 locations in San Francisco
- Colectivo Coffee (formerly Alterra Coffee Roasters) – 12 locations around Milwaukee, WI
- Oddly Correct – Kansas City, MO
- Trailhead Coffee Roasters – Portland, OR
- Daylight Mind – Kailua-Kona, HI (props to regular Coffeeratings.com reader, Shawn Steiman)
- Toby’s Estate – 2 locations in New York City
- Peregrine Espresso – 3 locations in Washington, D.C.
- Ritual Roasters – 3 locations in San Francisco, 1 in Napa, CA
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters – 10 locations in Portland, Seattle, New York City, and Los Angeles
- Intelligentsia Coffee – 11 locations in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City
- Barista Parlor – Nashville, TN
- Ristretto Roasters – 4 locations in Portland, OR
- Hi-Collar – New York City
- Panther Coffee – 2 locations in Miami, FL
- Handsome Coffee Roasters – Los Angeles
- Fair Folks & A Goat – 2 locations in New York City
- Coava Coffee Roasters – Portland, OR
- Espresso Vivace – 3 locations in Seattle, WA
- Linea Caffe – San Francisco
- Blacksmith – Houston, TX
- Go Get ‘Em Tiger – Los Angeles
- Victrola Coffee Roasters – 3 locations in Seattle, WA
- Sightglass Coffee – 2 locations in San Francisco
The rise of “independent chains”?
Risks of the No Coffee Left Behind Act aside, this is a solid list. We will be the first to admit that it is over-represented by San Francisco. But most curiously, although it does well to call out a few smaller independents such as Daylight Mind and Barista Parlor, this list is heavily represented by chains. For a Top 25 list, it’s actually cheating a bit as it actually represents a total of 85 coffee shops.
Has quality coffee in the U.S. reached a tipping point where the independents have come to be outnumbered by the chains? That’s hard to say just yet, but you can’t argue with the quality represented here.
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