My top 10 coffees of 2020

In 2020, I got to enjoy at least 73 different coffee blends or single origin coffees from 12 different countries and 33 companies. Now it’s time to wrap up the year by listing the very best products!

While I had the opportunity to try all kinds of coffees, all of the products that made my top 10 list were unflavored high-end coffees. That said, I included one flavored coffee and one grocery store blend into the ”Honorable Mentions” category.

Like last year, the products were so different from each other that it wouldn’t have been fair to compare them with each other. Therefore, instead of ranking the coffees, I organized them into three categories according to the approximate roast level (dark, medium, and light). Of course, the darkness of a roast is a subjective matter. It is also probably not the best way to categorize coffee products. Obviously, there are so many other factors that affect the flavors. However, I wasn’t able to come up with a better way to list the coffees. So, in each of the three categories, I presented the coffees in alphabetical order according to the company name. The resulting list can be thought of as a pool of excellent coffees. You can pick any product you want and end up enjoying a truly memorable experience.

I used two different brewing methods. Espresso coffees were brewed in my three cup Bialetti Moka pot. On the other hand, the coffees that were intended for other brewing methods I prepared in my AeroPress, with my favorite inverted method and a paper filter. I used no additives.

So, here we go. My top 10 coffees of 2020:

Dark roast:

Medium roast:

Light roast:

You could not go wrong with any of these coffees. Unfortunately, some of these products might already be out of stock. If that is the case, you could check out any product from these great roasteries. They really know what they do.

Lastly, there were three blends that did not make the top 10 list but still deserve to be mentioned.

Honorable mentions:

  • Hamwi Café Classic—the best flavored coffee (cardamom) (United Arab Emirates)
  • Loumidis Papagalos (ΛΟΥΜΙΔΗΣ ΠΑΠΑΓΑΛΟΣ)—the best Greek grocery store coffee (Greece)
  • Paulig Presidentti Gold Label—the best Finnish grocery store coffee (Finland)

Special thanks to everyone at Cafetoria Roastery, E’s World Coffee, Kahwe, Mokafina, Muki, and Rob Beans Coffee for making this possible!

Now it’s time for me to take a small break and enjoy some great blends I recently received from the USA. I’ll be back in early January to tell you about them!

Happy New Year!

Paulig ”Christmas Coffee”—semi-sweet cinnamon rolls!

The other day, as I went Christmas shopping, I got this: Christmas Coffee from Paulig, the Finnish coffee giant. Nice! I had never had it before.

On the bag, Paulig does not give away a lot of information about the product. The description is pretty concise:

A delicious coffee blend, flavoured with real cinnamon and cardamom. This secret recipe, particularly for Christmas, has been perfected by our years of experience.

Other than that, the company only reveals that the roast level is 3/5. Oh yes, the symbols on the bag do indicate that the (pre-ground) product is intended for filter coffee machines or French press. Of course, I decided to make it in my AeroPress. It worked really well with my trusty plastic tube!

The bag note was very pleasant and natural. There was absolutely nothing artificial to it. The aroma was reminiscent of traditional Scandinavian cinnamon rolls and gingerbread cookies.

I could be wrong (?), but to me, Christmas Coffee appeared to be made of 100% Arabica beans (from Latin America?). That’s the way it felt, anyway. Whereas many flavored coffee products seem to be quite mild, Christmas Coffee was medium-full in body.

The flavor was naturally sweet and slightly bitter. While there might have been some midrange nuttiness to it, I found myself mostly thinking of fresh baked semi-sweet cinnamon rolls, spiced up with a hint of black pepper. The whole thing was bready, bakery-like, and somewhat spicy. I found myself enjoying it in the morning, and multiple times during the day. It was really good!

Get a bag of Paulig Christmas Coffee from your local supermarket, and see if you like it too! Merry Christmas!

Mokkamestarit Vanilla coffee—Vanilla… and more!

Here’s yet another coffee from Mokkamestarit Coffee Roasting Co. (Tampere, Finland). The name, Wanhanajan vaniljakahvi, is difficult to translate exactly. Basically, it refers to vanilla coffee as it used to be in the olden days.

So, this is coffee with added flavoring. On the their website, Mokkamestarit elaborate that it tastes like vanilla cream. They also reveal that the roast level is 1/5. Obviously, the coffee is pre-ground. Other than that, there is little information on the blend.

First, let me confess: I have no idea what vanilla coffee might have tasted like in the past. Therefore, I can only compare this product with other flavored coffees that are available now.

That said, as soon as I opened the bag, I was greeted by an aroma I remember smelling as a kid. It’s a faint memory. I’m entering a confectionery store with my mom. The mouthwatering mélange of aromas: chocolate, fresh licorice, cakes, coffee, baking spices… Lovely!

I used my AeroPress for brewing this coffee. Perhaps the grind size could have been a little coarser, but it worked reasonably well with my trusty plastic tube.

Due to the added flavoring, it was somewhat difficult to tease out the flavors of the actual coffee that went into this product. I think the basic flavor profile consisted of midrange notes of chocolate, (hazel?) nuts, and a small hint of tobacco.

But what about the added flavoring? I detected some vanilla, for sure, but there was more to it. Licorice and anise? Chocolate and cream? Obviously, it could also be that the vanilla flavor accentuated the chocolatey flavors of the coffee. I’m not sure! In addition to these flavors, however, I couldn’t help but think that there was something artificial to the topping: both the flavor and the mouthfeel reminded me of glycerol. No, I’m saying it was unpleasant. It just did not feel very natural, either.

All in all, Wanhanajan vaniljakahvi was not unlike the Hawaiian blend I had a year ago, Hazelnut Coffee by Lion Coffee. Obviously, both the flavoring and the coffee itself were different. However, the overall vibe was very similar: medium mild Arabica coffee with a generous helping of added (not only natural?) flavoring. If that’s what you like, you might want to try it out! You can get it from the Mokkamestarit online store.

Lehmus Roastery ”Kettu-kahvi” w/cardamom & cinnamon!

Here’s the second offering from the Lehmus Roastery line of seasonal coffees: Kettu-kahvi, flavored with cardamom and cinnamon.

As far as I understand, this product is based on the same exact coffee as the unflavored Kettu-kahvi medium roast I reviewed a few days ago: Yellow Bourbon Arabica from Fazenda I.P., Brazil. Also, both the unflavored and the flavored versions are roasted medium (3/5 on the Lehmus scale). The only difference between these two products seems to be that this present coffee comes pre-ground, and is blended with some extra spices.

The bag note was just mouthwatering. It made me think of sweet cinnamon rolls and Christmas cookies. There was nothing artificial about it. I am almost certain that Lehmus used only natural baking spices for flavoring.

The grind size appeared to be suitable for regular coffee machines. With that being said, it worked very well with the Bialetti Moka pot. Granted, my AeroPress would have benefited from a coarser grind. Nevertheless, I was able to make some nice coffee with that particular gadget as well.

But how did it taste? Simply put, it was just delicious! I will not repeat what I said earlier about the basic flavor profile. You can read about it from my previous review. The coffee-to-flavoring ratio was excellent: There was just enough cardamom and cinnamon to give this coffee a special seasonal character. Even so, the added spices never overpowered the unique characteristics of the Brazilian coffee. The flavors of the coffee and spices worked extremely well together, and formed a unified whole.

For some strange reason, this flavored version of the Yellow Bourbon Arabica did not feel quite as strong as the unflavored version. Honestly, I’m not sure why that is. Usually, I would opt for something with a little more oomph to it—something like, say, Hamwi Café Classic, the great Turkish/Arabic coffee with cardamom flavoring. But that’s just me. For most people who want high quality Arabica coffee with some seasonal flavoring, Kettu-kahvi with cardamom and cinnamon would probably be the perfect option.

Go to the Lehmus Roastery website and get yourself some! You will not be disappointed!

Hamwi Café Extra—extra cardamom!

I recently reviewed Hamwi Café Classic, the Turkish style coffee with cardamom flavoring, made in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. This time, I’m taking a look at its big brother, Hamwi Café Extra. On the package, the company calls it a ”Premium blend”. They also say there is ”Extra cardamom” in it.

First, there are many similarities between the two blends. Just like Classic, Extra…

  • is probably a straight Arabica blend (the company offers no information on the ingredients)
  • is pre-ground for cezve/ibrik/briki
  • is roasted medium
  • has a distinctive aroma of cardamom
  • doesn’t produce a lot of crema
  • is very black in the cup
  • tastes like natural coffee, spiced up with natural cardamom
  • lacks the moldy funk that you get with some Turkish and Greek blends

Secondly, obviously, there are differences as well:

  • in Extra, there is a LOT of cardamom: 25% (!)
  • in the bag, the cardamom aroma is so strong that it’s almost menthol-like
  • the cardamom flavor is not as piercing as one might expect based on the bag note, but beware, it is pretty spicy
  • Extra does taste like coffee, but the coffee-to-cardamon ratio makes one wonder whether it should be called a ”coffee cardamon drink” or ”dessert” (!), rather than flavored coffee

In sum, I found Hamwi Café Extra to be an interesting experience. For me, personally, the amount of cardamom was a little too much. I’m also not sure if I would call it a ”premium blend”. That said, there’s nothing wrong with it! It’s actually quite good for what it is. For instance, the coffee (or what you can taste of it!) and the added flavoring work very well together. If you want to have something really spicy after a big meal, AND if you can find it, give it a try!

Hamwi Café Classic—Turkish coffee w/ cardamom

A couple of days ago, I happened to find some new-to-me coffees in my local oriental grocery store. Since I love oriental coffee, I just had to pick up a few packs.

This is the first one: Classic from Hamwi Café, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It is a Turkish style coffee with cardamom flavoring. It is pre-ground for cezve/ibrik/briki.

The first thing I noticed was that the ground coffee was really dark in color. The roast didn’t seem super dark, however. I was wondering whether the color was due to the added spice. It definitely smelled like cardamom! The lovely aroma made me think of traditional Finnish cinnamon rolls. Yummy.

Every time I have flavored coffee, I want to know about the coffee itself. Unfortunately, there was not much of a product description on the package. It really only said that there is 10% of cardamom in the coffee.

As I brewed Classic in my cezve, I was surprised by the fact that unlike similar coffees from Turkey or Greece, it didn’t produce a lot of crema. The end product was ”just coffee”, black coffee. And when I say black, I mean literally black. Even so, the flavor was not very dark. It felt like a medium-full straight Arabica blend, with a tiny hint of nice bitterness, but not too much. Due to the added cardamom, however, it was slightly difficult to pick up the basic flavor of the coffee.

Speaking of the added flavoring, there was nothing artificial to it. Unlike some other flavored coffee products, which can be quite sweet and goopy (think of Lion Coffee products—which I like a lot, by the way!}, Classic was all about natural coffee, spiced up with natural cardamom. While the amount of cardamom did seem like quite a lot, the coffee and the flavoring worked very well together.

One more thing: In Classic, there was none of that (lovely!) moldy funk that you get with some Turkish blends from, say, Artukbey, or the Greek ones from Coffee Island or Loumidis. Maybe this could make Classic more approachable for some of us Westerners! All in all, Hamwi Café Classic was a nice ”all day” type of Turkish coffee blend with a twist. I liked it!

Galliano Caffè al gusto di Rhum—a great dessert blend

Are you looking for a good Italian style coffee with some added flavoring? Something that would work well as a dessert coffee after a good meal? I don’t think you could go wrong with Caffè al gusto di Rhum from Galliano.

I found it quite pleasant.

The coffee itself was the same 100% Arabica blend that Galliano uses as a base for their other flavored coffees. Granted, it’s not a mind-blowingly fantastic gourmet coffee blend. But it is sure to satisfy your craving for a cup of good Italian moka. The taste was very ”medium” in every sense of the word: not too dark, not too light, not particularly sweet, but not extremely bitter, either. In my opinion, however, it was more bitter than sweet. I really liked that.

On top of this, the company adds a rum flavoring. I don’t know how they do it, but in the pre-ground coffee (perfect for your moka pot) I could actually see these tiny particles of something else, like microscopically small crystals. I assume that’s where the added flavoring came from.

Now, I’m not exactly a rum expert, so it’s a little hard for me to tell whether this tastes like a quality rum or not. I could tell, however, that the topping was detectable in the bouquet, and all the way to the finish. And yet it definitely acted as an additive, not the main player: at no point did the topping overpower the actual coffee flavor. It had an alcohol-like aroma/flavor, that added a nice high pitch to the midrange tonality of the blend. It was not sweet, really, but it felt like it brought some sweetness to the overall experience, and thus balanced out the natural bitterness of the coffee. Really nice!

I drink coffee because I like the natural flavor of high quality coffee. That’s why I don’t think I would reach for a flavored blend like this very often. But if I wanted to have a good Italian style after dinner coffee, Caffè al gusto di Rhum would definitely fit bill. Recommended!

Galliano Caffè al gusto di Nocciola—try if if you dare!

Caffè al gusto di Nocciola, hazelnut flavored coffee from Galliano.

This was one funny blend.

As I opened the bag, the first thing that came to my mind was a memory from more than 30 years ago. Let me tell you the story.

When I was a kid, my dad was the parish pastor in a tiny countryside village in the archipelago of Southwestern Finland. It was a beautiful village with around 800 inhabitants, many of whom were farmers, fishermen or elderly citizens. My dad knew each and every one of these people personally (he has a brilliant mind), and everyone knew him.

When he was running errands around the village, dad—always the pastor—often decided to stop by some congregants’ houses to ask them how they were doing. Many times, I happened to be with him as he did these ex tempore house calls. Now, many of the villagers lived in those little wooden houses that were built en masse in post-WWII Finland. I always followed my dad as he climbed the crumbling concrete steps to the front door. The second the door was opened, I smelled it: the musty, moldy odor of an old wooden building, dirt from the farmer’s boots.

This was the picture that came back to me every single time I had Caffè al gusto di Nocciola. Yes, I could tell that the coffee itself was (probably) the same 100% Arabica blend Galliano uses in their other flavored products. As I’ve said before, while there is nothing spectacular about the blend, it works well enough. It was the added flavoring, however, that made Caffè al gusto di Nocciola stand out from the other Galliano coffees. The topping was not overpowering (the label tells us it’s only 3% of the ingredients), but it was there in every sip. I honestly tried my best to connect this added flavor to hazelnut, but all I could think of was that musty, old wooden house.

Not very pleasant, in my opinion. Try it, if you dare!

Galliano Caffè al gusto di Cacao—a basic Italian with a twist

I usually don’t like to add anything into my coffee. No milk, no sugar, nothing. I drink coffee because I love coffee. That’s also why I haven’t been a big fan of flavored coffee products.

Last year, however, a friend gave me a bag of vanilla flavored coffee from Galliano. I really liked it. It was not like many of those flavored coffees you can find in the supermarket—you know, low quality coffee, with tons of added flavoring to cover up the actual taste. Caffè al gusto di Vaniglia was all about the classic Italian moka/espresso flavor, with just a little hint of something extra from the vanilla.

So when I recently found some of the other flavored coffees from Galliano, I jumped at the opportunity.

Here’s the first one of them: Caffè al gusto di Cacao. The company doesn’t give any detailed information about the product. They only tell us that it is 100% Arabica with 4% flavoring, pre-ground for macchinetta.

That’s exactly what I smelled as I opened the bag: Arabica. Almost exclusively Arabica. Medium roast. The cocoa was there as well, but it definitely remained in the background. The bouquet was very similar, too: basic Arabica, blended in Italy, with just a tiny hint of cocoa.

The flavor was precisely what I expected: The familiar straight Arabica taste that you get from many Italian grocery store espressos. So nothing spectacular, perhaps, but a perfectly enjoyable all day every day moka flavor. In my opinion, the cocoa wasn’t integrated into the overall flavor profile as well as it could have been, but it worked well enough as an additive. Also, it was definitely cocoa, not chocolate. It didn’t taste like the sweet cocoa that kids like to drink, but more like baking cocoa. Even so, the added flavor wasn’t very deep or dark, but rather light or ”high”.

All in all, I didn’t find Caffè al gusto di Cacao quite as fantastic as its vanilla flavored sibling. But if you want to fill your moka pot with a basic Italian coffee with just a little added cocoa flavoring, give it a try! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!

Galliano Caffè al gusto di Vaniglia