UC Davis to Offer a Degree in Coffee?

uc davis coffeeIf going to a mainstream school to learn about coffee seems like a far-fetched idea, think again. The world of coffee research could be opened up to the masses at the University of California at Davis, which already operates a Coffee Center that “brings scientific inquiry to the quality, health, and sustainability of coffee,” as spelled out on its website.

Even though there are plenty of people who partake in the coffee industry, according to J. Bruce German, who works at UC Davis, there’s still a lot to be learned about our favorite beverage.

As an NPR article pointed out, “Given how much coffee people all over the world chug, there’s a surprising lack of academic research on the topic… There’s a lot we still don’t fully understand about coffee… What’s the best way to treat the beans while they’re still green? What’s the most environmentally friendly way to roast them? And why are we so obsessed with how it smells?”

Enter education, science, and research in the field of coffee. According to NPR, UC Davis offers a seminar called “Design of Coffee,” which interestingly enough was masterminded by the chemical engineering department. The course grew to over 300 eager students.

As it stands, you’ll only be able to take classes about coffee at UC Davis, as opposed to getting a full-blown degree. However, we could soon see an actual major in coffee emerge in the not-too-distant future. According to NPR, “For now, the center will offer classes, but not degrees. The next step is to reach out to the coffee industry and raise funds to expand the program… If all goes well, Davis might start offering a major in coffee science within the next few years.” Davis will apparently focus on processing coffee.

The university’s Coffee Center looks pretty involved. Its website details that its points of interest include coffee genetics, fermentation, sensory aspects, metabolic ramifications, and social features. It has over 10 scientists on staff and is fresh off a one-day Research Conference that was held on March 11. If you love coffee, then you would have probably been in Heaven with a few of these seminars held during the conference:

“Attracting Students to Science and Engineering with Coffee: A New Freshman Level Design Experience”
“What Can Coffee Genetics and Genomics Bring to the Cup?”
“The Microbiology of Coffee Production”
“From Wine to Coffee: The Role of Sensory Evaluation”
“Assessment of Host-Microbial Interactions to Enhance Our Understanding of Nutrition and Health”
“Enabling Technologies for Measure of Bioactive Compounds”
“Analytics for the Discovery of Bioactive Compounds in Agricultural Products and By-products”

You can see that the conference extended beyond coffee specifically in scope, but stuck true to its roots by offering two coffee breaks during the day. This conference was the first for the Coffee Center and we’re guessing it won’t be the last.

NPR added that the Coffee Center is not the only game in town when it comes to coffee research, which could mean more interest exists in the academic study of the drink than you might think. For example, Texas A&M runs the World Coffee Research program, which, according to NPR, “focuses on the agricultural aspects of coffee.”

A Sacramento Bee story quoted one gourmet coffee roaster who compared the coffee industry to the wine industry of many years ago: “I remember my parents buying jugs of wine. Now it’s down to farms and estates. There will always be generic coffee produced, but for coffee to evolve, it needs to get to that level – and to do that, science needs to be involved.” A small-scale coffee grower added, “There are a lot of issues in the coffee industry that really need to be addressed.”

Davis is located outside of Sacramento and has an enrollment of 34,000.

Report: Vietnam Already Sold Half of 2013-2014 Coffee Crop

vietnam coffee cropIn news coming out of Vietnam, the nation’s coffee producers have apparently sold more than half of their 2013-2014 crop – 55% to be exact – according to Bloomberg and Volcafe. Why the higher percentage than many people expected? As we reported a few weeks ago, trouble with supply in Brazil and South America has forced “a change of markets as retailers and wholesalers look to other countries such as Vietnam to assuage their coffee bean needs.”

As if we were psychics, Vietnam has become a hotbed for coffee and one of the epicenters of discussion. The same Bloomberg report detailed that coffee prices in Vietnam have increased 20%. Volcafe painted the picture of “another active week in Vietnam, with strong physical supplies of farmers and agents selling large volumes at rising local prices.”

It has been a rough go for the bean supply in South America and Asia, according to the article, which noted that arabica beans have nearly doubled in price, while robusta coffee, which Vietnam is known for, has seen its price boom by 26% on a London exchange. Is it only a matter of time before an increase in input cost trickles down to the consumer? Will Starbucks begin charging $10 for dark roast drinks?

The Wall Street Journal also took the opportunity to come aboard the coffee bean supply bandwagon, publishing content highlighting the adverse weather in Vietnam. The Journal quoted one analyst as saying that the country’s coffee supply is critical to the global market: “If robusta output is constrained, that’s going to contribute to more a bullish environment for [the] entire coffee complex.”

It’s not just the weather, however. As easy as it would be to blame Mother Nature for our every woe, it appears that farmers withholding crops is also contributing to the recent surge in bean prices: “Vietnamese growers began withholding stocks late last year due to low prices for physical beans and are still holding out for higher prices,” according to the Journal. What price represents the “sweet spot” for Vietnamese growers to bring beans to market in droves remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, according to Bloomberg, low supply is due to not being able to get the crop to market fast enough. Volcafe described the issue at hand: “Parts of the fly crop and old crop are still in the interior, with limited volume. The harvest is not expected before beginning of April from the lowland and in May/June from the highland.” Therefore, there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight due to the harvest’s schedule and the country’s challenging geography.

How bleak is the current coffee shortage? According to a separate Journal article, Brazil accounts for one-third of the world’s coffee. Moreover, “It produces a wide variety of beans, from robusta used in instant coffee to higher-end varieties of arabica coffee that end up in gourmet blends.” A drought and scorching temperatures have caused what rain that falls to evaporate rather speedily, according to the Journal, thus providing no relief.

Apparently, the effects on price might not be short-lived either. A Reuters report claimed that we could still be feeling the sting of the drought in Brazil and elsewhere two years from now: “An arabica deficit in 2014/15, compounded by the unquestionable knock-on impact on the 2015/16 season, given it is an ‘off’ and therefore potential deficit season anyway, would be fuel enough to increase the chances of the 300 cents/lb level.” The price is currently around $2, or 200 cents, so there’s a long way to go before we see $3.

If you’re an addict, buckle in. It looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride for the next few years.

Keurig Using DRM Equivalent to Protect Against Knockoffs

keurigK-Cup knockoffs, beware! Keurig, which is best known for popularizing the single-serve coffee concept, is using the equivalent of digital rights management technology, or DRM, in its Version 2.0. Yes, Keurig 2.0 will, perhaps wisely, attempt to stave off competition by using what The Verge called “interactive technology” to help detect and protect against knockoffs. Let the coffee wars begin; that’s quite a first warning shot!

The article explained, “Aside from offering a larger 28-ounce serving size, Keurig’s next line of brewers will contain ‘interactive technology’ designed to lock out unlicensed K-Cups… It will also protect Green Mountain‘s multibillion-dollar K-Cup business –assuming consumers see a need to upgrade their existing brewers.” That could be a big “if,” but we’ll see later this year when Keurig 2.0 is slated to roll out.

We could see many workplaces be the first adapters of the new Keurig product. As one commenter on The Verge’s website put it, “It makes for a great workplace machine. A few boxes of different varieties, one K-Cup machine, and no one in the office is complaining about someone leaving an empty pot.” This author’s wife’s office, for example, has a Keurig machine that gets quite a bit of use every day. And, yes, the leaser provides a steady stream of K-Cups.

The copycat problem stems from Keurig’s patent on K-Cups expiring at the end of 2012, an event that spawned the knockoff single-serve coffee market. In essence, one way to eradicate your opposition is to build a machine that won’t work if a competitor’s product is placed into it.

Will it be a challenge to persuade consumers to upgrade from the Keurig they have now that likely works well to a brand spanking new Keurig 2.0? A CNET article questioned, “They’ll need to convince consumers that Keurig 2.0 represents a legitimate upgrade and not a power grab designed to freeze competition out of the market.” We should point out that the new Keurig brewers will still be able to accept existing K-Cups, so a complete overhaul of your pantry won’t be necessary.

One shortcoming from Keurig that has garnered the attention of sites like CNET is the fairly disappointing Keurig Vue system, which, according to the tech site, was “originally intended to replace the K-Cup and extend Keurig’s patent-powered control of the market through 2021.” The Vue, according to Keurig’s website, allows users to brew stronger and hotter, with a wide range of temperatures and strengths available. Regular K-Cups are not compatible with the Vue system and vice-versa. However, its adoption has not been as strong as Keurig would have liked.

That’s not all of the news coming from Keurig. Earlier this month, Coca-Cola, the beverage Goliath, purchased a 10% stake in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Keurig’s parent company. The reason: Keurig is developing the Keurig Cold, which, according to CNET, is due out this year. Read the following description from CNET and tell us you’re not mildly curious about it. We dare you: “Keurig says the new cold brewer will make everything from sodas to sports drinks, all with the same sort of pod system that made the company famous.” Sign us up, please!

Unlike SodaStream, which was the first company that popped into our minds when we heard about Keurig Cold, the latter won’t require any sort of carbon dioxide, one barrier to using SodaStream. Since Keurig Cold won’t employ CO2, therefore, you’ll probably see drinks like teas, infused water, sports drinks, and juice, according to Business Week.

For you “Shark Tank” lovers out there, the asking price for a 10% stake in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters came in at a cool $1.25 billion, which puts a valuation of the company at $12.5 billion. According to Yahoo Finance, Green Mountain has a market cap of over $16 billion. The deal officially closed on February 27.

NBC’s Sochi Starbucks: The Only Starbucks for 350 Miles

NBC logoIt’s pretty incredible that there’s a place on Earth where the nearest Starbucks is 350 miles away. No, it’s not Siberia, but it’s close: Sochi, Russia, the site of the recently completed 2014 Winter Olympics. It’s not like Starbucks has a retail outlet in Sochi in the first place. Instead, NBC, which broadcasted the Games to the United States, was responsible for its arrival… and departure.

The Starbucks in question served the 2,500 NBC staff on location in the Russian resort city to cover the Winter Olympics. Yes, all of the commentators, producers, directors, video editors, and interns need their daily fix too, and since Starbucks was nowhere to be found, NBC came armed with the Seattle brand in tow.

The effort to bring Starbucks to Sochi isn’t a small one. According to the Wall Street Journal, NBC “has erected the Sochi Starbucks in its cordoned-off area of the Olympic media center. Baristas serve the free java 24-hours-a-day to the roughly 2,500 people NBC says it sent here. Bringing in the joe is a delicate exercise. NBC flies in a rotating crew of some 15 baristas from Starbucks coffee shops in Russia, sets them up with accommodations in Sochi, and pays their regular wages.” All of this, mind you, is for the sake of having a Starbucks.

McDonald’s is the official coffee sponsor of the Olympic Games, according to the Journal, but Starbucks and NBC claim they aren’t breaking the rules because “the secret coffee shop is secluded within an NBC facility and isn’t open to the public… Though it looks like a normal outpost, the private kiosk doesn’t offer the full Starbucks menu. It indulges drinkers with an array of specialty espresso and chai drinks, but no plain black coffee.” It’s adjacent to NBC’s on-location cafeteria.

Interestingly enough, a few days after the Wall Street Journal let the cat out of the bag about the special Starbucks, the outlet reportedly “went on lockdown.” According to a separate Journal report, “NBC coffee enthusiasts showed up at their much-loved private Starbucks and found a new warning sign: ‘Please enjoy your Starbucks within NBC space only… Do not leave NBC space with your Starbucks cup.’”

The sign warning drinkers not to stray from NBC’s Starbucks location was written in all capital letters, with the words “Do not” underlined. There were security guards patrolling the perimeter of the Starbucks akin to bouncers at a bar making sure cups with green logos stay inside. The issue at hand, according to the Journal, is the Starbucks logo making appearances outside of the friendly confines of the NBC hospitality area.

Here’s a little history lesson for you. Starbucks entered the Russian market in 2007 in a shopping center in the metropolis of Moscow. The American chain has stores in the greater Moscow area and, as outlined by the Journal, also has locations in St. Petersburg and Rostov-on-Don, the latter of which is 350 miles from Sochi.

Starbucks is apparently planning a location in Sochi, according to Philly.com, but it’s not due to open until 2015. A little late there, Starbucks!

The Starbucks-NBC connection has been going on since 2000, according to the Journal, which detailed, “NBC has set up its own personal Starbucks at every Olympics since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney… But Sochi is only the second time NBC has brought Starbucks to a city that doesn’t have one. Turin, the coffee-rich site of the 2006 Winter Games, was the other.” A McDonald’s spokesperson quoted by the Journal simply remarked, “McCafe continues to be a popular beverage choice for athletes, media, and spectators who want to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.”

The next time you drive down the street and pass a Starbucks, think about the fact that there’s a place on Earth where the nearest location is 350 miles away.

Arabica Coffee Bean Price Increases Amid Brazilian Drought

DroughtAfter years of steady price decreases that has spurned a boon in the coffee industry, it now appears that Arabica coffee beans may be on their way up for some time after new information from the country of Brazil points to continued droughts in the Sao Paolo region. Coffee bean prices have generally been available at extremely low rates due to a glut in several important crops in the Central American and South American regions, yet there now seems to be a sudden shortage as a lack of rain in areas that typically receive loads of precipitation has coffee farmers (and their customers) worried.

Many weather experts throughout the world have been pointing to a steady yet sure decrease in the amount of rainfall that Brazil and other South American countries will receive over the next five to ten years; meaning that the coffee crop in that area may be in more trouble than many have realized. The ramifications across the industry could be catastrophic, or it could force a change of markets as retailers and wholesalers look to other countries such as Vietnam to assuage their coffee bean needs.

Affecting The Coffee Industry

One of the main reasons why opening up a chain or independent coffee shop has been an attractive idea is because of the reasonable (sometimes more than reasonable) prices that retailers can obtain coffee beans at if they buy them in bulk. The machinery behind making fancy coffee concoctions has steadily become more expensive, yet it is still relatively easy to open up a small business that dedicates itself to a few coffee drinks and supplements it with teas, quick breakfast breads and sandwiches. This business model has allowed many to open up their doors while relaying on low sugar prices and a growing market to walk in the doors and try out their coffee.

Now however, this trend may finally be slowing down after what appears to be the possibility of a long term Arabica bean shortage. If Brazil continues to experience lack of rainfall in areas where coffee crops are rampant, customers will have no choice but to either look to other regions to fill their needs or pay higher rates for bulk coffee.

Climate change is being blamed by many experts who have warned of sudden precipitation changes that will be coming up over the next few years in areas that have typically not had an issue with lack of rainfall. After all, Brazil is known for its rainforests, yet it seems that coffee crops can be negatively affected not only by fungi but also by dryness.

Robusta And Colombia Coffee Beans

The Brazilian drought opens up the market perhaps more than ever for the Vietnamese robusta bean which is being mass produced and is quickly gaining traction among large chain retailers who are now seeing an opportunity to obtain coffee at cheaper prices while also exposing clientele to a different product. Robusta beans are also on the rise when it comes to the rates that customers are paying for them, but the price spikes aren’t anywhere near that of the arabica beans. Another option may be for retailers to go back to Colombia beans that were extremely popular throughout the 1980s when instant coffee and ground beans that were routinely used in coffee makers were a longstanding fad.

Home is Where the Roast Is

Thome coffeehis author recently took a trip to jolly old England. Yes, it’s a nine-hour flight back to American soil from London’s Heathrow Airport and requires a connecting flight, so I had a few minutes to reflect on my trip as it relates to coffee. You know what I realized? Home is where the roast is.

I tried Costa Coffee in London and a few other European towns. It’s like the UK version of Starbucks, only without that familiar green logo and Seattle flair. I found Costa mostly useful for free wireless internet to check my e-mail and look at the radar to see if it was about to pour again (spoiler alert: it did). Other than that, I wanted to leave Costa as fast as I walked in.

Once I got back to Heathrow to complete my journey home, I realized something: not only do I miss my local coffee shop back in Tennessee, but I also miss my local Starbucks. I found that when I ventured into a Starbucks in London and ordered what I normally get at home, I actually, for a few fleeting seconds, felt like I was back in my own home leashing up my dog for a walk in the snow. It’s truly amazing how one drink can evoke so many different memories.

That’s why home is where the roast is. Although my flight lands at 7:30 at night, I might just camp outside my local coffee and bagel shop in the snow salivating at the notion of ordering a mocha and a chocolate chip bagel. The coffee on the plane right now sounds, at best, nauseating. The flight attendants just passed through with a cart dedicated to coffee and tea. However, rather than have a touch of nutmeg or a hint of jasmine, the coffee was brewed in a plane that’s older than I am by people who are not baristas.

If you work from home, you might find that the coffee shop is your personal office. There are plenty of tables to utilize, ample chairs to pull around them, and enough broadband to power a wing of the FBI building. Yet, in London, that seemed to be but a memory. Although there were certainly plenty of coffee chops, chained and otherwise, there was barely enough room in any of them to walk in, order, and exit, more or less have a business meeting. Plus, there’s virtually no parking for any store in general, making the social aspect of coffee shops virtually non-existent.

There’s also the friendly, Cheers-like aspect of coffee shops. The old Cheers catch phrase, “where everyone knows your name” rings quite true at your local cafe. But, venture much beyond that and the personalization is quickly lost. Add in a big city feel like London and getting coffee almost, gasp, becomes like a chore – an exercise in waking yourself up every morning. Maybe a bucket of ice would be a better method?

I’m done bagging on British coffee shops, I promise. Instead, I want to spend the last few paragraphs talking about the positives. British coffee shops are packed full of pastries and other goodies that make them worthy of a visit even if you’re not in the mood for coffee. While Starbucks and other shops in the US have food as well, the food can come off as manufactured and visually unappealing, whereas in Europe, you can safely guess that the pastries were baked earlier in the day and, depending on where you go, even made when you order.

Maybe someone from Britain, flying back across “The Pond” with the wind at their back, would write an article about how Americans are informal and hold meetings at coffee shops instead of oak-laden board rooms with views of Buckingham Palace. Maybe coffee is so diverse culturally that every nation and every group of people has a different place in their hearts for our favorite brew. On that note, the beverage cart is back, so it’s time for some free airplane coffee. Yummy!

Time to Throw Down Coffee Cocktails

coffee cocktailSay your morning isn’t going so well. The boss just chewed you out for double-parking, your computer gave you the blue screen of death, and your wife is still upset you left the toilet seat up three nights ago. We have a cure for you: coffee cocktails. We’re pretty sure you’ll never have a case of the Mondays again.

We got the idea to explore what coffee cocktails exist from an interview a site called FoodGPS did with the Co-Founder of Octane Coffee in Atlanta, Diane Riffel. Besides the general coffee and bakery items, Octane has become known for its coffee cocktails, dubbed the Espresso Flip and Octane No. 1.

Riffel told FoodGPS about the origins of the two alcoholic contraptions: “We started out with an espresso martini, basically, years back, and we’ve just kind of developed that. That’s been pretty popular for us. We do an espresso infused vodka that is part of that beverage. And then we have another cocktail as well that involves a dry shake with an egg white. They’re both just really delicious.” We’re pretty sure that the word “delicious” doesn’t even begin to do the drink justice.

The Espresso Flip has egg white, espresso vodka, and vanilla and comes in at a price of $10. To top that off, Octane Coffee’s menu notes that you’ll have to wait a little bit of time in order to get an Espresso Flip, so be prepared not to receive instant gratification. Octane No. 1 has tito’s vodka, espresso vodka, and espresso and will set you back $9. That’s two types of vodkas if you’re keeping score at home. There’s no elongated wait time for an Octane No. 1.

A “Cosmopolitan Magazine” article also dove into some of the top alcoholic coffee drinks out there. Among them was a very simple espresso martini, which requires 1.5 ounces of Kahlúa, one ounce of Absolut Vodka, and one ounce of espresso. It’s only 3.5 ounces total, but we’re pretty sure that after two or three of these, it’ll feel like you drank a gallon. It’s served cold in a martini glass. Olive optional.

One of the most disgusting combinations we found when scouring “Cosmopolitan Magazine” was a pumpkin spice margarita. We’ll preface this paragraph by saying we’re big fans of regular margaritas, especially jumbo-sized ones, but adding pumpkin spice and hot coffee to the ingredients for a margarita makes us want to hurl. Here are the instructions: “Combine cream, pumpkin spice syrup, sugar, vanilla extract, and pumpkin pie spice in a cup and stir. Pour into coffee and add tequila. Garnish with whipped cream and cinnamon.” Let us know if you like it.

We don’t see many coffee-related articles from Zagat, but one we found highlighted a drink that combined the tasty trio of wheated bourbon, Dark Matter coffee essence, and a “hint of pipe tobacco.” The article called the beverage “surprisingly delicious.” You can find it at the Berkshire Room in Chicago.

For you heavy drinkers out there, another beverage in Chicago caught Zagat’s eye. This one can be found at iNG and combines coffee with Founder’s Breakfast Stout. We’re not sure whether we’d be wired or sleepy after drinking this bad boy. Zagat outlined, “The rich drink begins with High West Campfire Whiskey, tawny port, La Colombe espresso, Contratto sweet vermouth, and egg white. The secret ingredient is a bit of chicory-infused agave nectar.” It’s probably not secret anymore.

For the last word on coffee cocktails, we’ll turn to the Huffington Post, which featured a drink called Monk’s Coffee. The brew combines amaretto, crème de cacao, Frangelico, orange liqueur, and coffee. You can even top off the so-called “sophisticated drink” with whipped cream.

Opening Of “Dumb Starbucks” Tests Intellectual Property Laws

Dumb Starbucks LogoIn case you haven’t heard, a brand new “parody-like” coffee shop has opened up in Los Angeles, California which aims to make fun of the world-renowned Starbucks brand while taking advantage of an intellectual property loophole to sell its goods to customers. Believe it or not, Dumb Starbucks Coffee not only has its very own Facebook fan page, but also has a somewhat thriving brick & mortar location.

Quite honestly when I saw a Facebook page created on Monday, February 10th, 2014, I thought the whole idea was a hoax until I browsed the Google News section and discovered multiple news articles on the new business that seems to have popped up overnight.

A Carbon Copy?

It appears that everything related to the main Starbucks brand (not at all affiliated with the new “Dumb Starbucks” store) has been copied. This is something that the new store even acknowledges in an open letter to its customers, stating that they are not calling the mainstream brand dumb at all. “We love Starbucks and look up to them as role models. Unfortunately, the only way use their intellectual property under fair use is if we are making fun of them. So the ‘dumb’ comes out of necessity, not enmity.”

Dumb Starbucks Price List

If you take a close look at the screenshot I’ve pasted above, you’ll notice that the entire menu has been ripped from the traditional Starbucks selection with the word ‘Dumb’ in front of it. Even the coffee sizes are Dumb Tall, Dumb Grande, and Dumb Venti. To top it off, there are even ‘Dumb’ versions of music CDs typically sold in Starbucks that are available in the Los Angeles store. We found a screenshot of a Dumb Nora Jones CD! We are unsure whether the contents inside the jewel box contain an actual copyrighted CD or a burned version – which would open up an entirely different can of worms when it comes to intellectual property laws.

Social Media Feedback

As you might imagine, the Dumb Starbucks Facebook page has already received over 200 likes in its first few hours of existence. In general, the feedback is positive. One user wrote, “I find this hilarious, but don’t be surprised when starbucks pays their high priced lawyers to sue. I think it is illegal to use their logo. Isn’t that copyright infringement?” Another Facebook user posted, “I’m going to go and buy that coffee cup and bring it to Starbucks! I love ,love ur cup and shirt! Way to go and making these!

Forbes.com contributor David Hochman alluded Monday that he believes that street artist Bansky (view Banksy’s official website here) may very well be behind the new publicity stunt. However, it still remains unclear whether the store will remain open for any significant amount of time, as the ramifications of such an obvious copy of intellectual property is unlikely to go unnoticed by lawmakers for long.

Surprisingly, there appears to be a huge amount of investment that went into the concept as well as the actual brick and mortar location in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Viewing the coffee shop as an actual Art Gallery may be a stretch for customers, and it may be only a matter of days before the concept either catches on or becomes unimportant to customers.

There are t-shirts available for purchase alongside the music and coffee items, and Dumb Starbucks is currently functioning as a regular business. As a comparison, Dumb Starbucks states that the Fair Use loophole is the very same law that allows artists such as Weird Al Yankovic to use popular songs such as “Beat It” by Michael Jackson and transform them into his own hits such as Eat It.

For now, Dumb Starbucks can be visited if you happen to be in the Los Angeles area, or you can Like their Facebook page.

America’s Top Coffee Shops

best coffee shopsWe searched far and wide for you Americans out there to come up with what several websites thought were the top coffee shops in the United States. After all, if you’re traveling or there’s one right down the street, these coffee hotspots will probably be an adventure to visit.

Fodors published a list of the top US Indie coffee shops in late 2013 that included Intelligentsia Coffee. You can find this brand in Chicago, New York City, and Venice Beach – a far cry from the Pacific Northwest and other traditional coffee Meccas. As Fodors put it, “With a history of turning out US Barista Champions, who in turn train most of the baristas, you can be sure your cup of joe is made by the best.” There’s even an option to purchase a seasonal brew whose beans have been brewed in the last nine months. What’s not to like about that?

Fodors, among other outlets, singled out the Blue Bottle Coffee Company, which is located in San Francisco, Oakland, and New York City. According to the site, “Blue Bottle Coffee – which started in Oakland in 2001 – literally wrote the book on coffee (“The Blue Bottle Craft Of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes”).” One of its locations is at the famed San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

A “Food and Wine Magazine” article was in love with a small outfit in New York City called Abraço, which only holds a handful of people but whose coffee is apparently to die for. Did we mention it’s standing room only? It’s like a Lakers game! According to “Food and Wine,” “There’s a sidewalk bar outside for lingering over a cortado and fantastically savory black olive shortbread cookie baked by partner Elizabeth Quijada.”

When you think of coffee hotspots, Chapel Hill, North Carolina probably doesn’t come to mind. But, the home of the University of North Carolina is where you can scout out Caffe Driade, which several travel sites mentioned. Although its website is a little clunky, Caffe Driade is in the middle of a forest and offers cigars, according to “Food and Wine.” Now we’re talking!

When it comes to picking America’s top coffee shops, we’ll of course listen to what the BBC has to say. The UK media outlet enjoyed coffee at Café Du Monde in the French Quarter in New Orleans. This author was recently at Café Du Monde, which is known for beignets and long lines, but according to the BBC, “Café Du Monde has been serving chicory-spiced coffee, black or au lait, for nearly 150 years. Chicory, first introduced during the Civil War era, is still used to enhance the rich chocolate undertones of dark-roasted coffee.”

One of The Daily Meal’s favorite coffee shops in the US was also one of the most bluntly named: Panther Coffee. Its logo is exactly what you’d think it is: a panther stretched across the word “Panther”. It’s in Miami and its owners, according to The Daily Meal, have “taken on finding the world’s best, sustainable beans in Guatemala, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua with small farmers and then roasting them on site in their ultra-hipster spot in the Wynwood art district.”

The top spot on The Daily Meal’s list went to Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia. Interestingly, its popularity might not even be due to its coffee, but rather its “attitude.” As the site spelled out, “What you won’t find at Ultimo is an attitude – and that’s exactly what our panelists noted Ultimo so highly for in the customer service and atmosphere categories.” You can also score a free tasting or two at Ultimo, which we’re sure are popular with the local clientele.

French Coffee is “Overextracted and Bitter”?

french coffeeWhen you think of France, you probably think of pastries, the Eiffel Tower, pristine coastline, and the most famous art gallery in the world: the Louvre. What you might not think of is delectable coffee. According to an article from Roads and Kingdoms, France is one place you definitely don’t want to go for coffee. Why? Because the beverage is “overextracted and bitter.” Sounds appetizing.

As one café owner told the site, “A classic cup of French coffee is overextracted and bitter, which explains why locals love to drown their coffee in sugar.” Why not just change the end product if French coffee drinkers need to lace their drink with sugar in order to make it palatable? A certain “Mary Poppins” song is coming to this author’s head right now, and in this case, the “medicine” is “coffee.”

The answer to that question might surprise you. According to the same piece, “It’s that French people [have] 20, 25 years heritage of terrible coffee and their palate is used to it.” That means it’ll literally take a paradigm shift in order to change the end product we see in France. Consequently, if you’re headed to the historical nation, bring your coffee with you (but make sure to report it on your customs forms). Or, take a day trip to Switzerland.

Let’s get into the technical explanation on why coffee in France could be less than enticing. As Roads and Kingdoms pointed out, historically, French coffee was derived from Robusta, which one website noted had a “stronger, harsher taste, with a grain-like overtone and peanutty aftertaste.” Yummy! Robusta is also cheaper than some of its counterparts, which could be a hit for the penny-pinching portion of French society.

According to Roads and Kingdoms, Robusta is still very much alive in the French coffee scene, even after six decades: “In the 1950s, Robusta comprised 80% of the French coffee market. More than 60 years later, that palate for a harsher bean still exists and Robusta beans still account for around 50% of French coffee.” And why is it still popular? Because it has always been!

There are other factors at work. Take coffee distributors, who are still very much intertwined with “old world” coffee. The culture also seems to be about big business, as Roads and Kingdoms noted: “97% of the coffee consumed at home is purchased at supermarket chains, leaving very little room for the small, more artisan roasters. And in a country known for its independent producers… two-thirds of the food shopping market is controlled by large-scale supermarket chains and buyers.” That leaves very little room for non-mega brands and non-mainstream products to survive.

One poster on Fodors’ website was overly frustrated with ordering coffee in France. As he put it, no matter what he ordered, all he received was a big old cup of black coffee: “In the hotels we’ve stayed in, most have the new coffee machines with a variety on the coffee menu, so when I press ‘cafe long’ or a ‘double,” I get a big cup of black coffee.”

About two years ago, the New York Times published an article saying that after eight years in the French market, Starbucks and its 63 stores had yet to turn a profit, but the chain was determined to stay the course. One setback is the environment in which coffee is consumed in France versus the United States. “French friends tend to sit when they sip,” said the Times, “so Starbucks is having to invest huge amounts to give its stores in France additional seating space.” Any newcomer into the market must make adjustments.

Other French residents said they avoided Starbucks because it was too pricey. We think a day in London would cure the notion of what “pricey” really is.