15. George Howell Coffee
Location: Acton, Mass.
Where to get it: George Howell Coffee Cafe in Newtonville, Mass.; select coffee shops primarily in the Northeast but throughout the U.S., Canada, and the world, including Joe Pro in New York, Comet Coffee in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Elixr Coffee in Philadelphia; online at georgehowellcoffee.com
Roaster recommends: Ethiopia Sidamo Deri Kochoha. The roast is coming soon, and described as "the best Ethiopian we've had...very floral, candy lemon, apricot, peach, but especially [a] sweetness and tongue-coating mouth feel." It's best brewed as a paper drip.
When it comes to most of the trends today's wave of roasters take as a given, George Howell is the OG. He's been pushing light roasts and single origins on people since the '70s, when he ran a company called Coffee Connection (it was sold to Starbucks in 1994). In 1999, he started the Cup of Excellence program, which focused on highlighting farmers who were going above and beyond in growing their coffee—only to have it sold as a commodity in lots with the subpar stuff everyone else was growing.
Described by the New York Times in 1993 as "a walking encyclopedia of coffee," Howell obsesses about anything that will get in the way of tasting great beans, whether the obstacles are brewing methods that leave too much sediment or thin light roasts that ignore the target, buttery mouth feel he says is essential to a satisfying sipping experience. "Aficionados! You have barely tasted the tip of the potential quality iceberg!" his website reads, a fitting summary of his lifelong belief that coffee could be way better.
He's offering some of the most acclaimed coffees on the East Coast and thrilled about the explosion of like-minded roasters, but Howell is still a huge advocate for moving toward coffee perfection. "Roasting is still in the development stage," he says. "I don't think we've come to the end solution."