The Year 2020 in Coffee: Challenges, Trends, Surprises & Knockouts

In 2020, COVID-19 devastated organizations and lives, challenging the worldwide specialty coffee community to its core. On the producing side, the pandemic added still another complicated obstacle to growers facing endemic low coffee rates and an ongoing fight with leaf rust illness in Latin America. On the consuming side, roasters saw the pandemic shutter their bread-and-butter café organizations while many once-nomadic coffee fans were required to become at-home buyers and brewers. But growers, roasters, importers and merchants prevailed and adapted, frequently in impressive ways. At Coffee Review, extraordinary coffees continued to show up throughout the year from an even higher series of origins than before the pandemic. Roasters and farmers are worthy of recognition every year, however specifically in 2020.

Enhancing the Top 30

As usual, we topped a year of celebrating great coffees and those who produce them with publication of our annual Top 30 list of the most amazing coffees we tested throughout the year.

It’s always hard, nevertheless, and even more so for 2020, to narrow the a great deal of dazzling coffees we evaluate to a yearly list of 30. In 2020, we tasted over 2,000 coffee samples and released more than 450 reviews. About one in four of these coffees scored 90 points or higher, and nearly 200, nearly 10% of the overall, rated 94 or higher. This is a tribute to the heightening capacity of the specialty coffee world, from growers through roasters to knowledgeable consumers, to produce, identify, and commemorate distinction in coffee.

(For those not acquainted with how we conduct our blind screening and score processes at Coffee Review, see How Coffee Review Works. For what ratings indicate in regard to the wide variety of coffee designs and qualities, see Interpreting Reviews.)

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More Just Than A Score

And although we aim to make our scores consistent and meaningful throughout all classifications of coffee, ratings and rankings taken alone have constraints. A high score is an important aspect in a coffee earning an area on our Top 30 list or our list of the top coffees by category. Keep in mind that our lists acknowledge the “most exciting” coffees, not always the highest-rated coffees. We consider other elements such as value (rate per pound), diversity of style, uniqueness of origin or tree variety, processing technique, certifications such as reasonable trade and natural, and basic rarity. That explains why a 91-point decaffeinated coffee can appear on the list in 2020, while lots of 94- to 96-point coffees do not.

Acknowledging A Broader Range of Excellence

We have actually come to feel that such flexibility is still not adequate to completely recognize the range of quality we are required to neglect in the course of identifying our top 30. In the early years of the Coffee Review Leading 30, a score of 94 was most likely to land a coffee on the list. This year, the vast bulk of 94-point coffees did not appear on the Top 30 list. Even some 95- and 96-point coffees lost out. In any given year, specific categories or types of coffees are undoubtedly underrepresented or ignored in favor of other high-fliers.

Lastly, individual tastes vary. We discourage readers from relying solely on a coffee’s general rating to make purchase choices. A somewhat lower-scoring coffee that fits one’s taste preferences, brew technique, or social inspirations might well show more desirable than a higher-scoring coffee that isn’t one’s cup of, er, tea.

Presenting Category Rankings

So, in 2015, we began the practice of identifying great coffees that merit recognition for quality in their category despite the fact that they may not have actually brought in the greatest scores of the year or landed a spot on our list of the Top 30 Coffees. This extra layer of recognition not only helps more coffee lovers discover the kinds of coffee they delight in, however it likewise rewards the farmers and roasters who achieve quality in a classification that may have been ignored or underrepresented. For more details, visit our broadened rankings post from 2015.

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From 2015 to 2019, we announced our leading coffees by category in conjunction with the yearly Top 30 countdown. The classification recognition always took a backseat to the more remarkable Top 30. So, this year, for the first time, we’ve dedicated the first tasting report of the year to acknowledging coffees that were amongst the best of the past year in their classifications.

Decaffeinated Coffees and Darker Roasts

The majority of years, we struggle to source and evaluate more examples of quality decaffeinated coffees and darker-roasted coffees. This year was no exception. We hope that consumers who value these coffees appreciated the quality, if not the amount, of the coffees appearing on this year’s broadened rankings list.

Decaffeinated Coffees

Readers thinking about reasons, both technical and commercial, why decaffeinated coffees often fail to match the sensory difference of without treatment coffees will find some answers in our 2015 report on decaffeinated coffees. We cupped fewer than a lots decaffeinated coffees in 2020 and evaluated simply the two outstanding samples noted here, with one cracking our Top 30 list.

Darker Roasted Coffees

Close up photo of darker roasted coffee beans Over 25 years of reviewing coffees, Coffee Review has actually not awarded numerous really high scores to dark-roasted coffees.

And even those that have made high scores of 94 to 95 points tend to be medium-dark to dark-roasted rather than the ultra-dark “French”roasts that many customers take pleasure in. As noted in our newest tasting report including darker-roasted coffees( Darker-Roasted Coffees: Confessions and Amends, August 2017), we wish to assist readers “find the very best darker roasted coffees produced today, coffees they will really delight in without changing their essential expectations about how a coffee must taste. This is why, whenever we discover an undoubtedly darker-roasted coffee on the cupping table, we discover ourselves pulling for it.”

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For the previous several years, Coffee Review has actually had a hard time to source and evaluate more than a handful of definitively dark-roasted coffees. A number of these coffees are espressos and lots of are roasted by business in Taiwan. Coffee drinkers who are interested can utilize our sophisticated search tool to discover darker-roasted coffees that have made 90 points or higher.

In 2020, we recognize the following fine darker-roasted coffees and espressos:

Other Coffee Types That Often Fly Below the Radar

Blends (Non-Espresso)

The understanding and the reality of non-espresso blends have actually altered significantly since our first tasting report– House Blends— was published in February, 1997. Then, blends for brewed coffee were frequently merely a method for roasters to provide coffee drinkers with a consistent, straightforward cup at a sensible rate. Today, we see top roasters producing far fewer blends, as they focus their efforts on roasting distinct and interesting single-origin coffees. On the other hand, the blends we do see are frequently aspirational efforts aimed at creating a sensory experience as surprising as any great single-origin coffee, yet less predictable. Witness the following top-rated blends from 2020:

Certified Fair Trade or Organic

Red Rooster’s 96-point Ethiopia Shantawene, the No. 8 coffee of 2020 and a leading coffee in the Organic and Fair Trade category. Courtesy of Tony Greatorex. The topic of fair-trade and organic-certified coffees is far too complex to address in a significant way here. Those who have an interest in exploring the organic-certified classification even more may begin by visiting our most recent tasting report on the subject: Organic-Certified Coffees from Africa: Complexities, advantages and obstacles.

Suffice it to say that we reviewed a series of impressive organic and fair-trade qualified coffees in 2020, including the following that benefit particular acknowledgment:

Geographic Regions

About four years back, we discovered that our Top 30 list was beginning to be dominated by coffees from Ethiopia and Kenya together with Central America coffees produced from the Geisha range. The primary reason for this imbalance is tree range: Ethiopia, the birthplace of Arabica, grows an abundant selection of really distinctive-tasting, often indigenous varieties; Kenya coffees come generally from the terrific SL28 and S34 varieties; and the Ethiopia-derived variety Geisha stays the source of some of the world’s most striking coffees, particularly as it is grown in Panama.

Starting in 2015, we decided to extend special recognition to coffees from geographical regions that tend to rely on similarly exceptional but less distinctive-tasting tree varieties, plus include a classification for coffees from Central America not produced from trees of the Geisha range. We continue this practice for 2020, despite the fact that a lot of (however not all) of these regions turned out to be well-represented on our 2020 Top 30 list.

Asia-Pacific (Not Including Hawaii)

No coffees from this varied and large region appeared on our 2020 Top 30 list, a change from previous years in which Sumatra coffees in particular figured plainly. In 2020 we did review 2 exceptional Sumatras that hovered just at the edge of the Top 30; they are recognized listed below. And for the very first time we honor a coffee produced in Taiwan, in the growing district of Alishan, long prominent for its tea and now producing small volumes of distinct coffees.

Alternative Africas (i.e. not Ethiopia or Kenya)

Boon Boona’s Burundi Karahe was produced by Karehe Cooperative and imported by JNP Coffee, both of which are lead by women. Photo thanks to JNP Coffee. We originally created this award category to balance the yearly profusion of great coffees from Ethiopia and Kenya, origins that have actually tended to dominate the greater ratings for Africa coffees at Coffee Review . Over the past few years, nevertheless, the African Great Lakes region– Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and the far eastern Kivu Province of Democratic Republic of Congo– have generated a growing number of distinct and excellent coffees. Peace is slowly returning to struggling parts of this region and the excellent regional Bourbon-related tree ranges, outstanding terroirs, hard-working producers, and coffee-savvy advancement efforts have conspired to produce more and more exceptional coffees. Here are only 3 of many we evaluated in 2020. (For more on this region, see our 2018 report on African Great Lakes Coffees.)

The Caribbean

We seldom see many coffees from the Caribbean in the Coffee Review laboratory. Considering that we started evaluating coffees in 1997, we’ve just released evaluations for a number of dozen coffees grown in the Caribbean, the majority of which were from Jamaica. And simply 6 of these coffees earned 90 points or greater. Increasingly more frequent and more harmful typhoons and tropical storms have actually maimed whole Caribbean coffee markets in brutal ways that can take years to fix. Include the 2010 Haiti earthquake, one of the most harmful in history. Aside from the special scenario of Jamaica Blue Mountain, a common style amongst other Caribbean origins is high internal consumption of coffee paired with low production. Local markets soak up many coffee produced regardless of quality, discouraging the advancement of better, export-quality coffee.

In the last year or 2, we’ve seen a small however collective effort by innovative, entrepreneurial, and socially progressive manufacturers and roasters to reenergize the production of quality coffees in the Caribbean. In truth, for each of the past two years, a coffee from the Caribbean has actually made an area in the Coffee Review Top 30 (No. 18 in 2019; No. 22 in 2020). In 2020, we evaluated simply two coffees from the Caribbean, both of which made 90+ points and both still readily available for sale on roasters’ websites since January 16, 2021:

  • Café Kreyol, Organic Red Honey Ramirez Estate [Dominican Republic]– 92 points (No. 22) Review|Buy
  • Davila Kafe, Jacmel Haiti– 90 points Review|Buy

Central America (from Non-Geisha Varieties)

Coffees of the popular Geisha (also Gesha) variety have concerned dominate the highest scores we award coffees produced in Central America. Here, however, we acknowledge 3 superb Central America coffees that were produced from ranges other than Geisha:

South America

A major trend affecting South America in 2020 was an ever-increasing variety of coffees distinguished by experimental processing approaches. They showed up from all nations, but particularly from Colombia, where coffee authorities are now permitting export of coffees processed using alternative methods in addition to the familiar Colombia wet-processed style. 2 of these brand-new design Colombias are honored below. We also acknowledge a characteristically sweetly mild and chocolaty conventionally processed Peru carrying both fair-trade and organic accreditation.

Espressos

Fewer coffees than usual meant for espresso brewing appeared on our 2020 list, perhaps owing to the impact of the pandemic shutting down or restricting café activity while encouraging sale of coffees planned for standard developing in your home. Plus, at Coffee Review we canceled our typical annual report dedicated to espressos due to the fact that of the problems involved in applying the espresso approach to a large number of samples using remote treatments.

Michael Johnson (left) and the masked-up JBC Coffee Roasters group, roasters of the 96-point Karimiuki Espresso, the No. 7 coffee of 2020. Image courtesy of JBC Coffee Roasters.

We did handle to review a broad range of great espressos in 2020. The continuing trend to concentrate on recognized single-origin coffees rather than on blends seems to be as increasingly at play worldwide of espresso as it remains in brewed coffee. Here we honor three remarkable 94-rated espresso blends that did not make the Top-30 list, along with 3 amazing single-origin espressos that did.

Espresso Blends

Single Origin Espressos

Despite complications the COVID-19 pandemic injected into the challenge of coffee production currently under tension from low costs and the Latin-American coffee rust disease crisis, coffee producers and their exporter/importer and roaster allies managed to produce an aspirational and extraordinarily diverse series of fine coffees in 2020. We were privileged to sample a number of them, and to report on them here and throughout the year. We dedicate this and future reports in 2021 to the tenacity and imagination of the specialty coffee world in the face of continued overwhelming obstacles.

This post was inspired by the article at Coffee Review, a website specializing in coffee reviews, espresso ratings, informative articles, and coffee blogs written by coffee experts.