What does it take to be one of the best coffee roasters in America? To some critics, it’s innovation — the willingness to throw “rules” by the wayside and the skill to revolutionize new roasting practices, all in the name of better coffee. For others, it’s taste, perhaps best exemplified in a roaster’s selectiveness when hunting for the finest green coffees in the world. And sometimes, a roaster’s greatness is born by bringing troubling social issues to the forefront, putting life and well-being on the line to solve them.
For the 25 coffee roasters on this list, it’s, more often than not, a mélange of all of these things. From Maine to California, these roasters — chosen by a panel of coffee experts — offer the best coffee America has to offer.
How We Chose
To get our 25, we enlisted the help of five qualified coffee experts. We surveyed each person for a selection of their favorite American roasters, added up each expert’s selections, and were left with the 25 most-selected roasters.
Marcus Boni: Head of Coffee at Trade, a new coffee bean buying website. Before joining Trade, Marcus worked at Intelligentsia Coffee, Bonavita, Kaldi’s Coffee and the Specialty Coffee Association.
Phil McKnight: Before becoming Global Business Manager at Breville, McKnight owned and operated a specialty coffee and espresso bar in Melbourne, Australia. Now he heads up the engineering teams tasked with making some of the best home coffee makers in existence.
Alex Choppin: Now a Coffee Specialist at Baratza, Choppin has more than a decade of specialty coffee under his belt — he’s worked as a barista, barista trainer, machine technician and shop manager. He has also competed in the US Barista Championships, for which he’s now a qualified judge.
Kevin Sinnot: The creator, host and president of one of the biggest events in coffee, Sinnot’s own Coffee-Con brings in herds of powerhouse roasters to each of its quarterly expos. He’s also the author of The Art and Craft of Coffee, a well-sourced and well-curated 176-page handbook to everything from harvest to brew.
David Inman: As a senior coffee specialist at Espresso Supply and a former specialty coffee trainer, Inman’s coffee background lies in the mechanics behind making the best cups of coffee. Espresso Supply has provided the best coffee gear to baristas, shop owners and the coffee-enthused home brewer since 1993.
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Location: Chicago, IL
Big Shoulders’s appreciation and tenacious connection to farmers and flavor is an extension of its founder’s background. Tim Coonan’s résumé includes two Michelin-star restaurants, Chez Messonier L’Ermitage and Le St. Didier, but he grew up on a farm in Indiana. Sinnot said, “[Big Shoulders] eschews the hip pretension of many Third Wavers, and simply works to find the best coffees, continually producing bags you brew and wonder at their quality.”
Location: Oakland, CA
“Well you’d expect them to be on this list,” McKnight said. Named after Central Europe’s first-ever coffee house, Blue Bottle is one of specialty coffee’s true juggernauts. In fact, it got so big (much to the chagrin of the craft coffee world) it was bought by Nestlé. But, the innovative, perfectly-sourced, exacting roasts have not faltered (its director of coffee training is a world champion barista). “[Blue Bottle] prepares with green beans sourced direct from the farmer so they can offer unique coffee of the highest standard,” McKnight said. “It’s crazy good.”
Location: Bellingham, WA
Just a few months after shipping out its first beans, a Sprudge article asked this of Camber’s rise: “What does it mean for a brand to come out of nowhere? Or out of Bellingham, Washington?” As it turns out, it means one doesn’t need to be surrounded by skyscrapers to roast world-class coffee. The college-town coffee roaster offers eight separate roasts, and Choppin regards them all as “some of the most delicious coffee [he’s] ever tasted.”
Location: Durham, NC
The Sierra Nevada of craft coffee. A ten minute drive from Duke University, Counter Culture is one of specialty coffee’s old guard, but without the stagnation associated with that title. As its grown, it has continuously furthered sustainable practices, education and pure quality. Its training labs routinely crank out some of the best baristas in the country, and it pulls beans from every bean-producing continent on earth. “[Counter Culture] was one of the first roasteries to become certified organic, formalized their direct trade program… [They] are founding members of the Coalition for Coffee Communities and have expanded from coast to coast,” Inman said, “They also just offer crazy good coffees and train barista champions.”
Location: Minneapolis, MN
If it weren’t for sharing its city with another heavy-hitting roaster you’ll find further down this list, Dogwood would be the kings of the coffee north. As it is, the roasters are known most for their approach to blends a roast tailored specifically for cold brewing. “[Dogwood] roasts a variety of coffees that speak to a range of profiles… a very balanced Mixtape blend that changes season to season, and the impressive Zamboni Cold Brew blend, built for incredibly smooth iced coffee at home,” Boni said.
Location: San Francisco, CA
Equator started out of a garage in the Bay Area. Now it has more than 400 wholesalers (one of them being the French Laundry, who’s stocked with a roast all their own), 7 cafés and over 100 employees. It’s a leader in sustainable practices and environmental causes, and its coffee roasting is as high quality as it is prolific.
“[Equator’s]” mission has always combined quality, sustainability and social responsibility in perfect harmony… and recognizes the responsibility specialty roasters have in the intersecting position between farmer, consumer and economically and environmentally sustainable practices,” Inman said.
Location: Boston, MA
George Howell may very well be the most well-respected name in coffee. He is the godfather of American specialty coffee roasting, and time has not passed him in the slightest. His first run of roasteries and shops, The Coffee Connection, was bought by Starbucks in 1994 (a good sign you’re doing something right). His specialty is bringing the idea of terroir coffee to the mainstream. Inman said it simply and succinctly: “The man, the myth, the coffee company.”
Location: Chicago, IL
Chicago’s craft coffee heavyweight is classic, progressive, charming and exacting all at once. What started as a couple folks huddled around antique roasting equipment is now an industry leader. Intelligentsia was one of the few roasters selected by almost every expert we surveyed, and was among the first to introduce and fully commit to direct trade practices. It’s on the forefront of coffee science and long-term sustainability and, as Boni puts it, makes “classic, genuine, and damn good coffee, every time.”
Joe Coffee Company
Location: New York, NY
Though Joe, the coffee shop, was open a decade before, Joe, the roaster, is only a few years old. The Brooklyn roast house turns out classic and progressive roasts, including a surprisingly well-received instant coffee. “I first tried Joe when they supplied coffee when we launched our Dual Boiler espresso machine in 2011, and the coffee was absolutely stellar,” McKnight says. “Always count on quality, consistent coffee from these guys.”
Location: Oklahoma City, OK
In a city not traditionally known for its coffee, KLLR and its sister café, Clarity, prevail. The two-person roasting team is roasting a variety of small batch, hyper-specific roasts that are equal parts surprising and explosively flavorful (try the sun-dried Ethiopian for a very special treat). Inman said, “Their packaging, roast and bean quality is through the roof, and they’re already gaining national attention for such a young company.”
Location: Los Angeles, CA
“Naturals can be tricky,” McKnight said, “but these guys know what they’re doing.” LA Mill (pronounced “luh-mill”) is one of the few roasters that roasts naturally-processed beans at the same level as washed or machine-processed beans. As McKnight noted, this is no simple feat. The California roaster’s beans have found their way into Michelin-starred restaurants, a multitude of coffee shops and cafés and have even opened a shop in Waikiki. “The coffee they provide is stellar. Juicy, sweet, with great length and a balanced finish.”
Location: Westchester, PA
Don’t be fooled by its recent founding date, Máquina is run by anything but novices. Roaster and founder Gabe Boscana has nearly two decades of coffee experience, from green coffee buyer, to barista, to educator, and at establishments like Intelligentsia, Sightglass, Gimme! Coffee and Ritual. “Maquina presents each coffee in a kind and approachable way,” Boni said, “and has recently partnered with coffee industry veterans Ant Walach and Rita Kaminsky to create a simply unstoppable force.”
Location: San Antonio, TX
Texas’s lone representative casts a large shadow. Merit is a company built up and down with the coffee rabid, but the company isn’t in your face about its nerdery. The only sign of the obsessive approach to roasting in its branding is a gold-lettered “Carefully Selected” stamp on the side of the bag. Like most of the best roasters, Merit isn’t a passive bystander waiting for whichever bags of whichever green coffee to arrive — it dispatches its team to the far reaches of the coffee-growing world to personally find the greatest crop on the planet. Merit was one of the few roasters recommended by nearly all the experts we surveyed. Boni said, “I ordered up a bag from their website and was blown away at how clean and lush the Honduras Miguel Guzman was.”
Location: Olympia, WA
Whereas many roasters are content with perfecting the classics, Olympia goes the other direction. “[Olympia] goes out of their way to find hard-to-make, high-quality crops and make sure the farmer who put in that work gets paid a fair, high price,” Choppin said, “The result is better quality of life for coffee farmers who partner with them, and better quality coffee for those of us who drink it.”
Olympia, one of the most picked roasters by our experts, has café locations all over the town its named after in Washington, as well as establishments in Seattle and Tacoma.
Onyx Coffee Lab
Location: Fayetteville, AR
Removing Alaska from the equation, there’s few states more surprising to find a competition-level craft coffee roaster and coffee lab than Arkansas. But Onyx Coffee Lab is no fluke. Hundreds of bean varieties are tested to find one, maybe two, the Ozark’s coffee champion might go for. Its barista routinely place highly in competition, as do its roasts, and the upstart roaster has only just begun.
“The coffee I tasted [from Onyx] was one of the best espresso coffees I’ve tasted,” McKnight said, “sweet, balanced flavors of ruby grapefruit and apricot with a great finish. Clearly the exposure to competition at the highest level in the US is paying dividends.”
Location: Miami, FL
While lines aren’t the best way to ascertain quality, those outside each of Panther’s Miami cafés do provide us some understanding of the power behind Florida’s best (and Miami’s first) specialty roaster. What began as a simple, small café has become the pedagogical coffee epicenter of a state where coffee previously held little ground.
“No-nonsense, precision oriented small batch roasting… [Panther] has quickly gained national attention for their incredible selection of coffees and wholesale benefits,” Inman said.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Philly’s ReAnimator prides itself on an ever-increasing commitment to aggressively vetting and sourcing rare and special green coffee, and a borderline obsessive drive to serve only perfectly in-season coffee (roasts are introduced every four to six weeks to keep things timely). “A Philly staple,” Inman said. “[ReAnimator’s] coffee is ridiculously delicious — single origin and blends.”
Location: Atlanta, GA
Inman summarized the South’s most celebrated roaster simply: “[Revelator] has populated much of the South (and a bit of the Northeast) with incredible coffee and amazing spaces to enjoy it.” With locations in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee, Revelator is likely the South’s most prolific and most impressive roaster. Its exceedingly open and roomy cafés are devoid of stuffy pretense, and its roasts are sourced from Burundi to Perú to Colombia to Ethiopia.
Location: Nelsonville, WI
There are less than 200 residents in the sleepy town of Nelsonville, but that hasn’t been much of an issue for roaster and founder Jared Linzmeier. An Intelligentsia and Seattle coffee scene alumnus, Linzmeier planted down with a goal to make the best coffee in his native state. According to our experts, he’s accomplished just that.
Inman said: “[Ruby Roasters] is making a dent in the coffee community, working with importers, farmers and exporters that share their passion for sustainability and
transparency, they’re able to offer a varied range of ethically sourced, high-quality coffees.”
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Spyhouse prides itself on being the first and last link between coffee farmers and you. It routinely tries its coffees and employees in competition format, and shares the Twin Cities with another on this list. “[Spyhouse] has a penchant for barista
competitions and a national presence in the specialty industry,” Inman said. Along with the beans it sources, the roasts lean complex and clear, and they aim to bring a drinking experience as rich as it is educational.
Location: Portland, OR
Born in America’s coffee cradle, Portland-headquartered Stumptown sits atop the third wave movement along with Intelligentsia, Counter Culture and Blue Bottle. Its Hair Bender roast is one of the most used house roasts in independent cafés. “Duane Sorenson founded Stumptown and made it legendary,” Inman said. In 2015, Stumptown was sold to Peet’s Coffee, but, according to our experts, Stumptown’s brand, dedication to direct trade, employee satisfaction and innovative brews haven’t changed at all.
Location: Lakewood, CO
Helmed by a two-time Barista Cup winner and World Brewer’s Cup runner-up, Sweet Bloom’s coffee chops rest firmly in its leader’s industry-defining nose for truly great cups of coffee. Andy Sprenger’s Colorado establishment goes a step further than merely touring farms — Sprenger brings coffee farmers to its roastery to build a network of farmers who know what he needs from their crop. The name is a reference to the beauty of both the blooming phase of brewing coffee and the white flower of the coffee plant.
“Andy exudes incredible passion for the craft of roasting and brewing,” Boni said, “he takes ownership of representing his coffee to it’s highest quality from origin to the cup.”
Location: Portland, ME
Nestled in arts and culture-rich Portland, Maine, Kathleen and Will Pratt’s Tandem Coffee is a revelation. The couple first cut their teeth in San Francisco’s specialty coffee scene long before opening their extra-small batch roastery, and their experience shows. Roasts are rotated in and out (like the one pictured above) according to the harvest season, and each batch is roasted to perfection. From its home state to New Orleans to Brooklyn, the couple’s roasts are some of the most sought after in the country.
Partner’s Coffee (formerly Toby’s Estate)
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Though originally founded in Australia, Toby Smith’s cutting edge coffee outpost has carved out far more than a stateside side project in Brooklyn. “They haven’t dropped their search for perfection,” McKnight said. Apart from caffeinating thousands of New Yorkers a day, Partner’s (formerly Toby’s Estate) runs a series of coffee classes out of cupping labs that educate would-be baristas and enthusiasts alike on the finer points of pour over technique, espresso and how to run a cupping session. In 2012, Smith went as far as buying his own coffee farm in Panamá, creating a seed-to-cup coffee production system tailored for making the finest craft beans in the world.
Location: Santa Cruz, CA
“Verve Coffee is relentless in providing excellence,” Chopping said. “Verve is anything but chill when it comes to great coffees,” Boni said. “A force of nature in the specialty coffee community,” Inman said.
California surfers turned some of the best coffee roasters in the US, Verve exploded onto the specialty scene from Santa Cruz in 2007 and hasn’t slowed since. With cafés in Tokyo, across California and legions of loyal devotees, Verve is going nowhere, and no list of America’s best coffee roasters is complete without them. Verve was the only roaster on this list roundly chosen by our experts.