16 Best Coffees of 2016

After trying one or more new coffees every-other-day, we found our top 16.

After trying one or more new coffees every-other-day, we found our top 16.

This is arguably the best time to be a coffee enthusiast in the United States; specialty roasters and shops are regularly popping up, new information and discoveries are being released daily, and we've seen a drastic increase in coffee-related inventions (...just search “coffee” on Kickstarter). All of us are on the search for the best cup and a huge part of that starts with the bean. At Flatlands, we aim to find that bean by constantly searching and tasting countless coffees. This last year, we tried at least one new coffee every other day and we'll be sure to keep better track of just how much next year.

After trying all these coffees, we're pleased to announce each baristas favorites (in no particular order) for "The 16 Best Coffees of 2016!"

Ben Vollmar

1. Phil & Sebastian Carlin’s Panama Geisha: I must preface I am a sour beer fan and not only did this coffee have an unusual surprising complexity than what I'd expect in a good Panama Geisha, but reminded me of an amazing sour! I got notes of cranberry, lime, tangerine, Pina colada, and a great cherry sour ale.

2. Intelligentsia Finca Takesi Typica Bolivia: Although there were a few other coffees I scored higher, this was such a fantastically memorable coffee, it had to make my list. This washed process coffee is grown on the highest elevation farm in the world and tastes like a perfect natural process Ethiopian coffee. Notes of blackberry, red grape, sugared sweet lime, & subtle licorice.

3. Parlor Kenya Kangocho: Subjectively, Kenyan coffees tend to be my personal favorite and Parlor Coffee excels at sourcing and roasting great Kenyan bean. This one in particular made the word “wow” actually escape my mouth with the first sip having heavy blackberry notes alongside lemon lime yogurt, pomegranate, and currant.

4. George Howell Colombia El Cairo Lot 00316: Unusual and surprising coffees with natural sweetness and delicious complexity are always my favorites. This coffee is definitely one of those with notes of angel food cake, nectarine, pine, spearmint, and lemon candy.

"The word 'wow' actually escaped my mouth..."

"The word 'wow' actually escaped my mouth..."

Richie Arndorfer

5. Madcap Yumbada Sidra: We were excited about this Ecuador coffee the moment it came in, since it was a rare, experimental varietal. However rare doesn’t always mean delicious, but the Sidra, with its subtly vibrant, candied lime, white-tea-like, floral flavor, did not disappoint! Seeing there were only a few cups available, two wonderful people (well aware of my love for Madcap) felt inclined to buy and split a cup with me. It is this perfect combination of flavor and fond memory that makes Sidra stand out above the hundreds of other coffees we’ve had this year.

6. Crema Costa Rica Finca Dragon Red Honey: This coffee had berry flavors reminiscent of a naturally processed coffee but was not overly sweet, toned down by the more nuanced, light aspects reminiscent of a washed coffee. However, what truly makes me prefer this coffee, is even though I had steadily been improving my home-brewing, this was the first that stood out and made me realize I could make incredible coffee at home. It has had me excited to dial in new coffees at home ever since.

7. Counter Culture Finca Nuguo Gesha: A close second for my favorite coffee of the year. It was used by Lem Butler to win the 2016 U.S. Barista Championships and was a beautiful, clean coffee that had notes of lemongrass, jasmine, hibiscus, and, believe it or not, an undeniable hint of Nutella.

Ben Hardy

8. Madcap Ethiopia Reko: This coffee holds some sentimental value to me as it marked one of my first third wave coffee experiences along with my first Flatlands experience. It holds a special place in my heart with unbeatable aromatics and a lemon-like sweetness.

9. George Howell El Salvador Montecarlos: With notes of rich syrupy candied nut and a (non-cliche) silky smooth finish, it's the perfect companion for a chilly and grey day. It whispers sweet nothings to your senses while showering you in silky sheets of comfort.

10. Madcap Guatemala Agua Dulce: The Agua dulce to me had a resounding note of simplicity that embodied its name in English: "sweet water". If there was a mountain that had a river of this sweet water flowing from its crest, I would drop everything and settle this mountain by building a log cabin 50 feet from its streams.

"It whispers sweet nothings to your senses while showering you in silky sheets of comfort"

"It whispers sweet nothings to your senses while showering you in silky sheets of comfort"

Zack Mickens 

11. Counter Culture Honduras Finca el Puente SL-28: I felt less like I was drinking coffee and more like I was drinking fruit punch. Ever since I had this coffee, I’ve been looking high and low for more coffees of the SL-28 varietal; it single-handedly changed my preferences.

12. Peixoto Natural Brazil: This Cup of Excellence Finalist was such an incredible experience with a great sweetness that finished up with a nice spice note. It was heartwarming, if I had to give it one word.

13. Actual Coffee Ethiopia Tchembe: There are a lot of things I can say about this stellar coffee, lovingly roasted just 15 minutes away from our shop where it repeatedly marked the favorite lists of many of our regular customers. With a smooth, jasmine tea front, and a strawberry finish, this coffee immediately launched itself onto my favorites list.

Laura Skebba 

14. Actual Coffee Ethiopia Abi Arya: This was my first experience with a natural process coffee and I was blown away. It tasted like blueberry pancakes and to this day it is still my favorite cup I have ever had. I highly recommend drinking it with actual blueberry pancakes as well.

15. Crema Yemen Matari: I remember this coffee tasting like fall in a cup. It had notes of fig and cinnamon which made me look forward to my favorite season even though we had this coffee over the summer. I'm sad I only got one cup of it, but glad I got to try it.

16. Counter Culture Papua New Guinea Sea Change: To be honest, I don't remember much about how this coffee tasted because I had it before I was even hired at Flatlands. What I do remember about this coffee though is I was sitting across from my friend drinking it, and I said to her "Dang, I really need to work here." I was hired a couple months later and it has been the coolest and most inspiring job of my life!

Keep your eyes peeled for these coffees in 2017 and share your thoughts!

The Mustache Effect: Groomed for Success

Should Baristas Have Mustaches?

Should Baristas Have Mustaches?

When you think of the term 'hipster,' some things that come to mind may be flannel shirts, tattoos, edgy haircuts, coffee, artsy critically-acclaimed music, and yes, mustaches. They are the icon of hipster,  a signifier of embracing hipster culture, an emblem for all a part of that lifestyle. Where are you most likely to find them? Quite possibly within today's hipster-associated coffee culture. But we must ask, what kind of psychological effect does a mustache have when in context of the coffee industry? Should baristas have a mustache and would it effect how much a customer may tip?

effects of a mustache: altering customer perception

effects of a mustache: altering customer perception

To find the answer, I decided to put myself to the test, serving customers with and without a curled handlebar mustache and logging data for four months. For two months, we tracked average tip per transaction while having a mustache and two months without. I also took note of days I groomed and waxed the mustache versus the lazy days I did not. Ultimately I hoped maybe there would be some sort of effect my mustache would have on customer tipping for fun, but hypothesized there would be no significant correlation.

Turns out I was wrong! The average tip without a mustache was $0.97 versus a $1.12 tip with a groomed mustache, for a shockingly significant 15% increase. Also a surprise $65 gift from a customer wasn't factored... so maybe a mustache also has magical powers? However, average tip was only $0.90 with an non-groomed mustache, so simply having a mustache did not increase customer tip unless it were groomed. This study seems to indicate a well-groomed barista mustache does have a psychological impact that positively affects tips, while an non-groomed mustache is worse than none at all.

"Without a mustache in the coffee industry is like career death" -2016 USBC Champion Lem Butler  |  Photo by Sprudge.com

"Without a mustache in the coffee industry is like career death" -2016 USBC Champion Lem Butler  |  Photo by Sprudge.com

A second way we gained insight into the psychological effect of a barista mustache was through an interview with the famous Lem Butler. Lem works for Counter Culture Coffee in wholesale customer support and Barista training. He's set record of five wins at the Southeast Regional Barista Championships and this year, won first place at the 2016 United States Barista Championship and fourth place at the 2016 World Barista Championship. When asking about his big wins of this year, Lem said "I owe it all to my mustache because this is the first year I didn't shave." Lem happened into a mustache as he explained he is incapable of growing a full beard, but discovered "without a mustache in the coffee industry is like career death." Once again the mustache seems to have a physiological effect that generates positive impact for baristas as it did for Lem.

added credibility may come to those with a nice mustache

added credibility may come to those with a nice mustache

So to understand why a mustache has positive impact for baristas, I interviewed a couple customers I served both with and without a mustache. Although both seemed unsure if the mustache caused them to tip more, they did seem to agree it affected their perception of me as a Barista and of the shop. "A nice curly mustache automatically tells me they care about their appearance and makes me feel better about where I'm at ...they're most likely going to care about everything," said Meredith Heber. She added "a curly mustache isn't something you see everyday... uniqueness helps me remember experiences I have, especially when in correct context of atmosphere, like the mustache in a coffee shop." Similarly, Jordan Marsman explained, "a good nice mustache, especially nice curly mustache, adds credibility to a high-end coffee shop." The mustache created a memorable positive experience for Meredith and Jordan due to its uniqueness while strongly fitting into what Jordan says, "the stereotypical coffee shop hipster vibe."

creating positive perception: beyond the mustache

creating positive perception: beyond the mustache

It's shocking how strongly a Barista with a well-groomed mustache positively alters perception. It causes a significant increase in customer tipping and may even help baristas in competition. We understand when fitting the atmosphere, unique and intentional attention to appearance creates powerful experiences, like a nice curled handler mustache in a coffee shop. So would things like suspenders, a vest, bow-tie, artistic dresses, lipstick, and/or stylish hipster hats also be appropriate ways to show unique and intentional attention to appearance? With a few days testing this, it seems these alternative ways to enhance the hipster image do have similar impact as the mustache. Ultimately the most unique, classy looking hipster Barista will generate the best customer perception and get higher tips... and yes, that could mean growing that iconic curled handlebar mustache, but also may not be necessary. 

 

Written By: Ben Vollmar