For many coffee aficionados, knowing the area's best coffee roaster is as essential as having the best coffee equipment. After all, great beans are where the magic starts.
To make sure your espresso machine is juiced by the very best, Home Grounds pulled data from the 2023 U.S. Coffee Championships and found the top 18 roasters across the country. Each roaster was ranked by an overall score, which aggregated data across various categories, including a pre-roasting stage and a roasting stage.
If you're new to technical coffee roasting terms, just remember "cupping" refers to a judge's professional tasting of a roast, "green grading" refers to the evaluation of unroasted coffee beans, and "roast plan" is simply a competitor's proposed roast profile.
Every roaster on this list has earned top marks in terms of qualities like acidity, body, sweetness, balance, and many other nuanced characteristics your palette might not even be privy to. Judges have even graded them based on "the expected sensory experience of their roasted coffee" just to assure what you see is indeed what you get.
Read on to find the top-ranking coffee roaster nearest to you—or simply those that will deliver.
- Overall score: 217.75
Living at a high altitude means all kinds of lifestyle changes. For the Colorado-based Boxcar Coffee Roasters, it means using science to perfect its brewing method. That same innovative spirit helped lead roaster Ross Bryant score a top spot at this year's championships.
- Overall score: 222.75
Tony Auger might be new to the competition circuit, but he's been a dedicated coffee salesperson, barista, and roaster for over a decade. He represents Goshen, where a "90% more energy efficient" coffee process adds feel-good oomph to their brand, which already spells out "Good Shit Energy" (aka GoShEn).
- Overall score: 242
He might've gained renown through the pandan-infused concoctions known as the "island lattes" he sold at his Houston shop, but Luke Jung has proven he can hold his own when it comes to roasting beans. His Houston-based shop benefits from a global perspective: its sister shop is in Seoul, South Korea, another city with an established coffee reputation.
- Overall score: 243.5
Thanks to her background in food science, Massachusetts-based Soonhee Ka has been able to scientifically tap into the potential of beans sourced from around the world. Significantly, her roastery is also kosher-certified, making it one of the only ones in New England at the time of its certification.
- Overall score: 246.25
Hawaii is the only state in the U.S. to produce coffee at a commercial level. It's where Kona Coffee beans—the exclusive coffee cultivated on the volcanic soils of the Kona district—come from, so it's no surprise one of the roasting world's top champions hails from here too. In addition to being a founder of the specialty roastery and coffee shop White Nene, Mark Kove is also renowned for his latte art and commitment to growing the local coffee community.
- Overall score: 247.25
If you're new to the work of Kiara Freysinger, then it's no surprise. She started roasting at the end of 2022 and entered the competition circuit with less than a year of roasting experience. Her coffee beginnings are even more humble: She started as a grocery store barista and transitioned into roasting when she realized the role held more long-term growth potential. As for her shop, she found Huckleberry Roasters while hunting for "a good local roaster."
- Overall score: 247.5
Paul Ahn might be a new name at the coffee championships, but Madcap Coffee Company isn't. The Michigan-based roastery has been sending top roasters and baristas to competitions for over a decade. Madcap's coffee is just as impressive, known for its nuanced roasting profiles and traceable, socially responsible producer relationships.
- Overall score: 248
As with many roasters, Michael Matthews' journey to the coffee championships started with a transcendental shot. In his case, "a natural Ethiopian espresso shot with flavors of blueberry and vanilla" began his pursuit of even more specialty coffee. Today, he brings his roasting talents to two restaurants in New Orleans and his specialty roastery.
- Overall score: 249
Pair Cupworks owner Kimhak Em is locally known for the whole, house-roasted beans he sells in boxes playfully designed by his partner, Eugenia Tai. The pair has been written up quite extensively across the coffee world, and Em and Tai do their best to pay the love forward through latte art classes and equitable relationships with farmers. Em's roasting practice is guided by a seasonal selection of beans, ensuring the utmost freshness.
- Overall score: 253.25
Based in Houston, Three Keys Coffee isn't the only small business that was hampered by COVID-19's logistical challenges. But it's one of the few that's not only survived but emerged with various accolades by a myriad of coffee publications, including Food & Wine, plus wins at other coffee competitions. Good news for anyone in the U.S.: Three Keys ships within the States.
- Overall score: 256
Under the wings of Gabee Coffee owners Hyo Jung Kim and Ho Young Chae—who has deep experience in South Korea's coffee industry as a consultant and educator—Hee Su Chang knows more than a thing or two about roasting. Chang took eighth place for the Boulder, Colorado, coffee shop at this year's U.S. Roasting Championships to prove it.
- Overall score: 258.25
For Matt Saperstone, the owner of Nilaa Coffee, thoughtful, ethical considerations are at the core of every business decision—from how he furnishes his shop (with craft pieces or secondhand furniture) to how they source their beans (from underrepresented origins) to what his baristas do with his coffee grounds (they're composted, of course). Such attention doesn't escape him when it comes to roasting, either. The Philly-based roaster has honed his skills over the last five years and now spreads the good word of single-origin specialty coffees through his excellent beans and high-scoring accolades.
- Overall score: 258.5
As with many roasters, Sam LaRobardiere polished his roasting chops on a small scale before testing his skills; that meant selling his goods at local farmers markets and small businesses. LaRobardiere says the slow start helped him build the relationships and community—and likely, the experience—to open a roastery and coffee shop in Redding, California. He's also taken home top prizes in recent years, including the gold medal in the country's largest roasting competition, Golden Bean North America.
- Overall score: 260.5
Matthew and Seidy Selivanow have been putting their coffee chops to the test for many years now, so it's no surprise seeing them so high on the list of winners. They're a long way from the days of experimenting with roasting beans on a frying pan, but their devotion to truly understanding the craft shows: They've been winning prizes in coffee categories since 2016.
- Overall score: 264.5
By grabbing the #4 spot in the Oscars of coffee competitions, Eduardo Choza not only represents the only East Coast coffee shop in the top five but also offers crucial Latine representation in an industry with very little of it. The shop he helms as director of coffee is an extension of his principles; it roasts and distributes special organic coffee from Latin America and works with the goal of eliminating systemic poverty in Latin America.
- Overall score: 267
A roaster first and foremost, Alex Huang is the rare coffee man who pursued the art of roasting before learning all the foundational skills of a barista. And apparently, it was worth it. Huang has traveled internationally to compete for almost a decade, including in China and Taiwan, and perfects his roast offerings at the Taiwanese-inspired shop Aroma Craft Coffee.
- Overall score: 269
Steve Cuevas, head roaster at Black Oak Coffee Roasters, is a mainstay on the competitive coffee circuit and the unique case where his profile might supersede his coffee shop's. His career has taken him around the world in search of the best beans and has refined Black Oak's medium, dark, and French roast offerings.
- Overall score: 272.5
Andrew Coe's approach to roasting is inspired by his mathematics background and consists of meticulous note-taking, detailed data collection, and a venerable master spreadsheet of almost every roast he's done. His win at this year's competition is many years in the making; he'd competed in the 2020 preliminaries with hopes of advancing to the finals in Portland, Oregon. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years later, and with much more data processed, Coe seems to have found the winning equation for the perfect roast.
Data reporting by Lucas Hicks. Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Paris Close.
This story originally appeared on Home Grounds and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.