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Published April 22, 2013, 11:35 PM

VIDEO: Forum holds taste test to name area’s top coffee

FARGO - Whether it’s big chains or small local coffee shops, java junkies are passionate about where they go to get their fix. In an effort to find Fargo-Moorhead’s best cup of coffee, we asked a panel of connoisseurs to take a blind taste test of 10 local brews.

FARGO - Whether it’s big chains or small local coffee shops, java junkies are passionate about where they go to get their fix.

In an effort to find Fargo-Moorhead’s best cup of coffee, we asked a panel of connoisseurs to take a blind taste test of 10 local brews.

For judges, we sought out four people who both enjoy coffee but also need the caffeine to get through their day. These included Dave Roepke, The Forum’s news editor; Danielle Miller, a reporter at WDAY; Jim Manney, host of The Forum’s “Hungry for More;” and Zero, one of the hosts of Y94’s Morning Playhouse radio show.

In choosing which coffees to include in the test, we relied partly on reader suggestions and partly on obvious choices. We tried to pare it down to five, but eventually went with a list of 10.

Larger chains like Starbucks, Caribou Coffee and Dunn Bros. made the list, as did local joints Moxie Java, Atomic Coffee, Babb’s Coffee House, the Red Raven Espresso Parlor and roadside kiosk Northstar Coffee.

Even fast food coffee from McDonalds and gas station coffee from Brady’s Service Center in Moorhead were included.

The 10 we chose covered as broad a range, though admittedly some options did get left out.

The rules

We purchased a “regular” or “medium” roast from each location less than an hour before testing. Each coffee was stored in a separate thermos to keep it warm.

During the tasting, coffees were all served blind, and black, without cream or sugar. Judges sampled small cups of each coffee in random order. Water was available to cleanse their palate when needed.

Judges were asked to evaluate the coffees based on aroma, flavor, acidity/bitterness and body, giving each a ranking from one for “poor” to five for “excellent.”

One initial concern with the process was that coffees that were tasted last might cool off, perhaps influencing the judges’ taste buds. But, because the very last coffee that was tested scored favorably, that didn’t seem to be a problem.

Once the results and scores were tallied, the judges’ favorite coffees proved somewhat surprising.

Top three

Coming in third place, with a combined score of 50 points out of a possible 80, was coffee from the locally-owned Red Raven in Fargo.

That coffee, which was the last tasted by the judges, received especially high marks from Miller, who said she liked how smooth it tasted.

The java that scored 55 points, the second-highest total of the 10, proved to be one of the biggest surprises in the contest.

Coffee from Brady’s Service Center – the lone gas station coffee – came in second place, thanks to especially high rankings from Miller and Zero.

Though it was a regular roast like all the others, judges thought it had a slight flavor of vanilla to it.

Zero in particular sang the coffee’s praises.

“Would be a great breakfast coffee,” he remarked. “If an angel could salivate into a cup, that’s what that coffee would be.”

Roepke, though, didn’t rate it quite so favorably. He wrote that he’s “not a fan” of the seemingly flavored coffee.

Instead, Roepke saved his highest score for the first-place coffee. With a combined score of 61 points, Dunn Bros. won our coffee taste test.

At least according to our judges, it’s the best coffee in the F-M area.

For three of the four judges, the coffee’s strength seemed to be the main factor that put it over the top.

Zero commented that it was “definitely strong coffee – the type when you drink it, you know you’ll be up for a while.”

Manney called it “truck stop coffee” for its strength, which Roepke agreed with.

“Awesome,” Roepke wrote.

Miller said it was actually a little bit too strong for her.

Other coffees that scored highly but couldn’t quite crack the top three included Northstar and Caribou, who tied with 48 points, followed by Moxie Java and Starbucks, which tied with 47.

Rounding out the 10 were McDonalds, Babb’s and Atomic Coffee, which received a score of only 17 points from the judges.

The big reveal

Afterward, when the origins of each coffee was revealed to the judges, the panel expressed surprise that a standard gas station cup of joe could be so favorable.

“I think it’s pretty shocking that a gas station ranked higher than the other coffee shops,” Miller said.

“I would’ve never guessed that that was from a gas station,” Zero added.

Just as surprising was that local downtown favorite Atomic Coffee didn’t fare better.

“Certainly, the shock for me is how poorly Atomic did,” Roepke said, though he added that he noticed their coffee wasn’t as warm as the others, which could have affected its taste.

“But it wasn’t all temperature,” he admitted.

Each of the judges commented that Atomic packed the weakest coffee kick; some even called it “coffee-flavored water.”

Judges were curious to see how their scores lined up with some of their regular favorites.

“I’m usually a Starbucks guy, so I’m not surprised I rated that high,” Manney said, after giving it his second highest score.

For others, the noticeable range between good and bad in the 10 coffees was interesting.

“You don’t realize you’re a coffee snob until you drink 10 in a row,” Zero said.

The Forum’s coffee taste-off results

Scores out of a possible 80 points.

1. Dunn Bros. Coffee – 61 points

2. Brady’s Service Center – 55 points

3. Red Raven Espresso Parlor – 50 points

4. Northstar Coffee (tie) – 48 points

4. Caribou Coffee (tie) – 48 points

6. Moxie Java (tie) – 47 points

6. Starbucks (tie) – 47 points

8. McDonald’s – 43 points

9. Babb’s Coffee House – 37 points

10. Atomic Coffee – 17 points

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535