Now you’ve got more reason than ever to sign up for George Howell’s tasting seminar at CoffeeCon on July 26 in San Francisco. George was just listed in the 21 top coffee shops in America at Thrillist.com. It doesn’t surprise me, but it might surprise a few people who counted him out a few years ago. George’s first roastery, Boston’s The Coffee Connection was purchased by Starbucks after they beat him in a Gettysburg-like retail battle. I knew George then and, I couldn’t help but root for him, although the corporate Goliath Starbucks couldn’t help but win by continually outspending him. Plus, public taste was on their side as they marketed their dark roast coffee effectively. By comparison, Coffee Connection Coffee was perceived simply too light, though it was generally darker than George Howell roasts today. What seemed the nail in the coffin was George’s being forced to take a ten year non-compete exile. Fast forward to the past few years, George opened back up in a suburb of Boston. Really a tiny roaster, even by his past standards, he began to slowly build up his clientele again. This time, he used weekly email blasts to a small but devoted batch of Howell loyalists, including yours truly. In fact, when creating my video Coffee Brewing Secrets, I made a pilgrimage to visit and capture an interview and a chance to see George make a batch of coffee exactly as he would like it brewed in one of his Technivorm machines. George is truly coffee’s Renaissance Man. While known first as a roaster, he was one of the first truly knowledgeable ones about other aspects such as brewing and storage. When cupping with him, his taste buds and Boston manner can be positively devastating, likely especially to a green coffee broker. I’ve attended cuppings with George and he does not suffer fools lightly, but there’s enough of the artist’s soul about him that you know he wants to like all coffees, though he can’t ever bring himself to violate “To thine own self be true”. He created the Cup of Excellence, then gave it away when he realized he simply did not have time to actually run it. He pursued a brewing strength software and detection system that will no doubt resurface in the future when the industry finally discovers how much it’s needed. He also pioneered freezing green (unroasted) coffee, finally making it possible to some day roast and brew the vintage ’08 Sumatra Mandheling, something we still don’t have anywhere else commercially. He’s stubbornly resisted urging from many of his colleagues and writers such as me to go a shade darker. At first I honestly thought he was roasting to make a statement to his former competitors, but as he’s improved his technique, and I my taste buds, I have come to admire his decision as for its farsightedness, and I admit I had some absolutely perfect cups that pretty much define specialty coffee for me, brewed from George Howell’s lightest roasts. The Thrillist accolade he won is well deserved, but it’s going to mean he’s sold out more quickly at CoffeeCon than usual. Be sure to get your ticket to his tasting seminar. Your taste buds will be forever changed. We are limited in seats and he does not allow me to sneak in one extra person as we need three tasting glasses for each attendee, and enough of his precious coffee to go around. Congratulations, George Howell.