Sub-Zero Top 50. 50-40
Hello there and welcome to the Sub-Zero Coffee top 50!
My name is Kirk Pearson and over the next few weeks I'm going to go over what the best coffees we have served over the past year are.
For context, our methodology in ordering these coffees was not as stringent as a Cup of Excellence program and we haven't included coffee that was not served out our pop ups or at the cafe we are situated in now.
Todd Souter and I arm wrestled over the order of some of these coffees, but largely agreed on most of them. We have also taken into account what sold the best and had to base this as best we could on the feedback we got from customers.
We didn't really realise how hard it would be to rate these coffees from 50-1, but we got there in the end. Every coffee we buy is special, and all of the roasters we buy from are amazing.
We decided not to separate them according to their brew method, (espresso, filter, milk based) instead, opting to go all in on having one list. Again it was difficult to pick some of these coffees, but Todd and I are happy with the final list.
It has become quickly apparent how we could improve the selection process, so perhaps we can implement that all next year. Who knows? Maybe next year will be a top 100?
There are so many amazing coffees to try out there, and so many amazing roasters we want to get coffee from.
We have not included any of our own coffee on this list (wouldn't be saying much about our integrity if we did), so please sit back, relax and imagine you're sharing all of this coffee with us!
- 50) Costa Rica, Pie San, White Honey, Gesha, Maruyama Coffee, Tokyo, Japan. Filter: Lychee, Coconut, Muscat Grape.
If you ever take a look at Maruyama Coffee’s single origin offering you will notice a single origin offering as large as our menu. Maruyama are frequently at the top of Cup of Excellence auctions and their founder Kentaro Maruyama is on a lifelong pilgrimage to buy the world’s best coffee (and is succeeding).
The Honey process and Costa Rican coffee go together like Kanye West and Kanye West. In drought prone countries like Costa Rica, processing that requires less water such as the Honey process is instrumental for coffee producers. The honey process also produces very refined cups of coffee such as these. For a more comprehensive explanation of they Honey Process I suggest you watch this video from Hasbean’s Steve Leighton.
- 49) Kenya, Thageni ‘Jasper,’ CM Natural, SL-28 &SL-34, Ona Coffee, Canberra, Australia. Cherry, Cola, Black Tea.
For context, when Sasa Sestic (founder of Ona Coffee) won the World Barista Championship in 2015, he applied a wine processing technique frequently used in the Beuajolais region of France, called Carbonic Maceration.
It is rare enough to find naturally processed Kenyan coffee, when we encountered this Carbonic Maceration Natural from Ona Coffee last year, we knew we had to have it.
Project Origin, which is a subsidiary of Ona Coffee developed a system of categorising their ‘CM Selections,’ which you can read more about here. This coffee fit their ‘Jasper’ profile which encompasses coffees that taste of red, yellow and orange fruits.
- 48) Bolivia, La Llama, Coco Natural, Java, Monogram Coffee, Calgary, Canada. Espresso: Cantaloupe, Mixed Berries, Orange.
I have long been a big admirer of Bolivian coffee. In 2018 I travelled there to meet the Rodriguez family and later used their coffee in the Australian Barista Championship. This coffee which was roasted by the legends at Monogram Coffee who expressed this coffee and process brilliantly. We served it as an espresso, and what an espresso it was.
Rainfall in Caranavi (the region this coffee is grown) is very sporadic, and when it rains it pours! This makes conventional sun drying of coffee extremely difficult thus making the conventional natural process almost impossible.
The Rodriguez family never settle though, and developed the Coco Natural process to combat this issue and diversify their offering. The first stage of this requires coffee cherries to be dried on covered raised beds for anywhere between five days to a week. After this the cherries are placed in ‘Coco Dryers,’ which are uncovered square containers that fan heat through from beneath, allowing the heat to escape through the top. Because this can be done indoors it allows Agricafe to process Coco Naturals without risk of wetting the precious cherries and can be done in almost half the time!
- 47) Ethiopia, Amber 0809, CM Washed, Heirloom, Ona Coffee, Canberra, Australia. Espresso: Marmalade, Jasmine, Black Tea.
I first had this coffee on a trip to Canberra last year. It was at one of Ona’s stores called Highroad and the Head Barista at the time Hany Ezzat later came down to Melbourne to help us at our first pop up in December.
Washed Ethiopian’s are always quite pleasing as an espresso, but the Washed CM process takes the drinking from pleasing to damn divine.
I love citrus flavours in coffee which made this a perfect match. This is the type of coffee one could use in a competition and score very well. Brilliantly balanced sweetness and acidity and a velvety texture make for a harmless drinking experience. Even those who don’t enjoy espresso could drink a coffee like this and be swayed.
- 46) Costa Rica, El Pilon, Natural, Caturra, Axil Coffee Roasters, Melbourne, Australia. Milk Based: Strawberry, Malt, White Chocolate.
I first had this coffee at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo in 2018 at Axil’s stand. The head barista of their flagship store at the time was a gentleman by the name of Jack McCalister, a true master of the craft. Back then it tasted like a fruity delight and not much changed between harvests at all.
The 2019 harvest that we were lucky enough to serve presented the notes listed above. Death, taxes and well roasted Costa Ricans tasting good with milk are about the only sure things in this life. We loved this coffee and we can’t wait to get more like it!
- 45) Costa Rica, Volcan Azul, Washed, Caturra & Catuai, April Coffee, Copenhagen, Denmark. Milk Based: Crunchy Nut Cereal, Milk Chocolate, Honeycomb.
In Australia there is a cereal called ‘Crunchy Nut’ by Kellogg’s. Every time I drank this coffee I felt like I was twelve years old again, about to be late for the bus, shovelling in my Crunchy Nut. On occasion I also felt like I was eating a violet crumble chocolate.
The good folk at April Coffee aren’t mucking around (apologies in advance for the myriad Australian colloquialisms). I appreciate roasters who take a tailored approach to roasting coffee specifically to be paired with milk, an approach April have embraced. We use Riverina ‘Gold’ for all of our milk based coffees because it has had additional fat added to it. That might sound invasive, but if you want desert like character in your milk based coffee (can’t see why anyone wouldn’t) then a bit more fat will do you the world of good.
- 44) Costa Rica, La Quebradillas, Red Honey, Gesha, Monogram Coffee, Calgary, Canada. Filter: Pink Lady Apple, Cardamom, Honeysuckle.
Another gorgeous Costa Rican coffee to add to the list. Costa Rican coffee as we touched on earlier is commonly processed using some variation of the Honey process. In many of the Costa Ricans we have tried baking spices are a common flavour present in many of them. For those new to specialty coffee (welcome) there are certain flavours in coffee that are tied to different origins and Cinnamon/Cardamom are frequently found in coffee from Costa Rica, particularly when an Anaerobic fermentation has been used.
Monogram Coffee, which is part owned by the Benjamin Put and now has another Canadian Barista Champion on the payroll in Jill Hoff, are absolute dons when it comes to roasting for filter. This coffee could very easily be higher on this list because it is so damn good, but I suspect you will see more stuff from Monogram further along…
43) Honduras, El Puente, Natural, Cataui, Maruyama Coffee, Tokyo, Japan.
Filter: Turkish Delight, Tropical Fruit, Milk Chocolate.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to see coffee from El Puente on this list. The owner of this farm is Marysabel Caballero, the daughter of legendary Honduran coffee producer Don Fabio Caballero.
I was in Brazil touring some coffee farms back in 2018 on the way to the World Brewers Cup competition being held at Belo Horizonte (where another coffee from El Puente was used to place fifth). I had no idea at the time, but touring the farms with us was Marysabel Caballero and her husband Moises. I don’t actually recall talking about coffee at all with them, they were just kind enough to teach me some Spanish (mucho gusto). Marysabel has the biggest smile on earth, I’m calling it!
I mentioned back at number fifty that Kentaro Maruyama is on what seems to be a life long quest to discover the best coffee in the world and he has uncovered another gem here. This farm has some serious pedigree and is now cemented as one of the premier coffee farms in the Honduras.
This coffee got great reviews at our pop ups, unfortunately we don’t have any left. Oh well, we will have to get more!
- 42) Bolivia, Waliki, Coco Natural, Java, B.R.U.T Coffee, Sydney, Australia. Filter: Apricot, Lemon Sorbet, Rhubarb Compote.
Another one of the Rodriguez farms is finca Waliki. We’ve touched on the Coco Natural process so I want to take the time to write about the legend who roasted this coffee.
Takumi Sakomoto is the reigning Australian Coffee Roasting Champion and last year started B.R.U.T coffee. When we drink his coffee it’s hard to argue with him winning this award. Clean refined flavours of the meticulously processed java, combined with evenly developed beans makes for an excellent filter coffee. I can’t wait to try more of Takumi’s coffee and you shouldn’t either. When you get coffee as good as this into the hands of someone as talented as Takumi, you’re going to have great time!
- 41) El Salvador, Los Pirineos 0418 ‘Amber,’ CM Washed, Bourbon, Ona Coffee, Canberra, Australia. Filter: Apricot, Spiced Rum, Orange Marmalade.
One of Project Origin’s biggest achievements in my opinion is permeating the Carbonic Maceration process to many different countries from which they source coffee. Coffee from El Salvador is very distinct, when the Carbonic Maceration process has been applied to it, the yellow/orange fruit flavours are augmented into something truly special.
The owner of this farm Gilberto Baraona unfortunately passed away this year after contracting COVID-19, which is ripping through Central and South America. Sub-Zero Coffee would like to pass our condolences to his family and everyone affected by his death. Gilberto’s legacy lives on though, he will be remembered by us as a true innovator.
This coffee was outstanding and we look forward to getting more coffee from the amazing Los Pirineos farm.
- 40) Myanmar, Pao Tribe, Anaerobic Natural, Catuai, Toby’s Estate, Sydney, Australia. Milk Based: Strawberry Milkshake, Vanilla Cream, Chocolate Biscuit.
We had never tried coffee from Myanmar until we tried this, and it didn’t disappoint. I had spoken to Charlotte Malaval (former French Barista Champion, current green buyer for Toby’s estate) about her joy for buying coffee from this region and her passion brought a smile to my face.
Like many coffee producing nations, Myanmar is a ‘developing’ country. Many of its citizens live in poverty and still to this day its government/military persecutes its own people. Lifting the living standards of people from the Pao Tribe by increasing the quality of coffee is an amazing achievement and this coffee is a sign of great things to come from an underdog country in specialty coffee fields.
This coffee was certainly good enough to use in a competition and score well. If there is any more floating about this year, we’ll be adding it to the menu without question. Personally I am so excited to try more of this coffee in the future. Coffee from Myanmar should appeal to all of you in the future.