The Best Coffee Roasters in All 50 States

iStock
iStock

Americans have an intimate relationship with their coffee. It’s the drink that gets them going, the first hit of flavor in their day. It’s the steaming (or iced) cup that sets the tone for what’s to follow. And at a time when tastes have evolved past watery, gets-the-job-done brews into the bold, the origin-specific, and the fair trade certified, it had better be good. With so many interesting coffee roasters out there, including many who have set up shop in just the past few years, selecting the best one in each state was quite difficult. We researched our picks carefully, with an eye for detail that honors the studious methods of coffee innovators across the country.

1. ALABAMA // MAMA MOCHA’S COFFEE EMPORIUM & ROASTERS

Location: Auburn, Alabama

Take it from the caffeinated college crowd, who’ve left one rapturous review after another for this roaster and café: Mama Mocha’s makes the best coffee around. Owner Sarah Barnett Gill and her team get extra credit for blends that are both well crafted and highly eclectic, like Dawn of the Dead, a house roast with an extra caffeine jolt, and the whiskey-infused Black Moonshine.

2. ALASKA // KALADI BROTHERS COFFEE

Location: Anchorage, Alaska

In coffee-obsessed Alaska, Kaladi Brothers stays ahead of the curve with stringent quality standards and a splash of ingenuity. The company, which operates 13 cafes and began in 1986 as a roadside stand, selects only organic, shade-grown beans, then air roasts them—a process that many prefer for its clean, uniform flavor. With more than a million pounds of beans roasted each year, Kaladi offers plenty of fuel for those long, cold winters.

3. ARIZONA // CARTEL COFFEE LAB

Location: Tempe, Arizona


Cartel’s methods are no secret: Just stop by their Tempe warehouse for a tour, or browse their website for ratios and other nitty gritty details. Transparency aside, Cartel’s sophisticated roasting process isn’t easily duplicated. The same goes for its direct sourcing program and stringent barista training, which suffers no slouches. Taken together, Cartel’s process has helped the roaster and café become one of Arizona’s premier coffee destinations.

4. ARKANSAS // ONYX COFFEE LAB

Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas

A region best known for big companies like Wal-Mart and Tyson might not seem like the ideal place to roast small-batch coffee by hand. But Onyx has found an enthusiastic audience in Fayetteville, who come for their daily cup and for special events like roasting classes and an annual barista throw-down. Onyx prizes unique tasting notes like "mulled wine" and "brouléed grapefruit." And true to its name, it's a laboratory for experimental roasts, like micro-lot Ethiopian varietals and beans roasted with lactic acid.

5. CALIFORNIA // FOUR BARREL COFFEE

Location: San Francisco, California

What does it take to be the best roaster in hip, caffeinated California? Start with a sourcing team that spends most months on the road seeking out the best beans from Africa, South America, and beyond. Then, using a vintage German roaster, turn out light, flavorful coffee that draws long lines of customers all hours of the day. In addition to mind-blowing coffee, Four Barrel offers classes like a "Water Quality Seminar" aimed at making you a better at-home brewer.

6. COLORADO // BOXCAR COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Boulder, Colorado

The Rocky Mountain state has seen a boom in coffee roasters over the past few years. But Boxcar has a secret weapon: a refurbished 1929 Gothot Ideal Rapid roaster from Germany. The nearly century-old workhorse turns out beans that have garnered many a loyal patron in Boulder and throughout the country. To bring out the full flavor in every cup, Boxcar employs a special boiling method in its two cafes that utilizes custom-made flasks. It’s old school meets new school, with very flavorful results.

7. CONNECTICUT // J. RENÉ

Location: West Hartford, Connecticut

Proprietor José René Martínez Onofre thinks he might have actually tasted his first cup of coffee before he learned to walk. That early love affair led him to open his first shop in West Hartford in 2012, an "artisanal coffee gathering place" that’s as much a social hub as a java shop. Martínez is fanatical about bean sourcing and brewing techniques—French Press as well as Chemex pour-overs—which is probably why he’s earned rave reviews since he first unlocked his doors.

8. DELAWARE // NOTTING HILL COFFEE

Location: Lewes, Delaware

Notting Hill owner Amy Felker keeps her coffee roaster in the front window of her café in Lewes, but it’s not much of a distraction: she roasts most of her annual 40,000 pounds of coffee at night. Felker’s obsession with coffee is all-encompassing: she deals in flavored beans, often derided by coffee purists, and has found that some self-mixed concoctions wind up being her biggest sellers. (One tastes like a certain nautical-themed breakfast cereal.) The blends are also available via mail-order.

9. FLORIDA // PANTHER COFFEE

Location: Miami, Florida

Panther’s reputation for an excellent cup has done more than expand their Miami-area footprint: their coffee is known all over the country. Locals can walk into their storefronts and get information sheets about growers; beans are available online. Not bad for a business that started serving cold brews out of a food truck.

10. GEORGIA // COOL BEANS COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Marietta, Georgia

A "Best of Atlanta" winner in 2015, Cool Beans tackles more than 40 different varieties of coffee in a roaster they’ve dubbed Big Red. And if you can't make it in to sip your selection on their outdoor patio, the roasts are also offered via their web store.

11. HAWAII // BIG ISLAND COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Mountain View, Hawaii

As the only state that grows coffee in commercial quantities, Hawaii might be home to some of the freshest beans in the U.S. Big Island doesn’t have a retail front, but its distinctive artisanal beans are sold all over the territory and they've picked up virtually every award out there—the USDA even honored them with a grant for their continuing efforts to improve local coffee quality. If you ask nicely, they might even give you a farm tour.

12. IDAHO // DOMA COFFEE

Location: Post Falls, Idaho

Staunchly supportive of fair trade, the coffee buyers at DOMA go through considerable hoops—and expense—to support smaller, organic farmers. DOMA never skirts corners, shipping their coffees in recycled bags, utilizing a roaster that uses 80 percent less gas to operate, and making sure every cup served is as environmentally responsible as possible.

13. ILLINOIS // INTELLIGENTSIA

Location: Chicago, Illinois

In business for over 20 years, Intelligentsia has spread all over Chicago owing to demand for their specialty craft coffees. The key to their success: standing side-by-side with growers to develop and select their preferred beans.

14. INDIANA // BEE COFFEE

Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis Monthly named Bee Coffee Roasters one of the best indie coffee roasters in the city, thanks partly to their self-imposed limitations. The company uses only a five-pound roaster for beans, which means small and frequent batches of ultra-fresh coffee with a different flavor every time. Bee also likes to spend time on aesthetics: co-owner Andy Gilman spearheads a "League of Lattes" milk art competition in the city.

15. IOWA // SIDECAR COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Cedar Falls, Iowa

Home-roasting began as a hobby for Jed Vander Zanden, but after he and his wife moved to Cedar Falls, Vander Zanden decided to launch his own business. He opened Sidecar in 2012, and java aficionados are welcome to swing by the downtown location on Washington Street to watch as he roasts small batches of specialty, direct-trade coffee beans from around the world. You can buy them at food co-ops, markets, and coffee shops around Iowa, or online.

16. KANSAS // PT’S COFFEE ROASTING CO.

Location: Topeka, Kansas

Photojournalist Jeff Taylor, and his roommate, fast food chain manager Fred Polzin, founded PT’s (P for Polzin, T for Taylor) in 1993 after Taylor tried—and failed—to find a local outlet that brewed an amazing cup of coffee. Taylor eventually convinced Polzin to give roasting a try, and in 1997, PT’s reestablished itself as a roasting operation, and began sourcing beans from skilled artisan farmers around the world. Nearly 80 percent of their coffee is acquired through direct trade, meaning the company buys beans straight from the growers, cutting out the middlemen. In 2009, Roast magazine named PT’s their "Macro Roaster of the Year," and you can now find the company’s product across the Midwest and in select East Coast coffee shops.

17. KENTUCKY // SUNERGOS COFFEE

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville is famous for being the home of the Kentucky Derby—but it’s also becoming known as one of the South’s go-to coffee destinations. Sunergos Coffee (which gets its name from the Greek word meaning "working together") is a local coffee franchise and micro-roastery that sources sustainably harvested, responsibly farmed beans. Swing by the Woodlawn Avenue outpost, and you might even catch the roasters in action: their 1500-foot micro-roastery is at the back of the store, and is clearly visible through a glass wall separating the production facilities from the café area. And though Sunergos is still largely a regional operation, it has a national reputation: In 2014, it won the "America's Best Espresso" competition at Coffee Fest, an annual trade event for tea and coffee enthusiasts.

18. LOUISIANA // RÊVE COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Lafayette, Louisiana

Deep in the heart of Cajun Country, you’ll find Rêve Coffee Roasters—a coffee shop/micro-roastery in Lafayette that was founded by two Louisiana natives, Nathanael Johnson and Christopher Pickle. Recently, they moved the business to a much larger location on Jefferson Street, which allows them to serve meals and use the bar space so employees can roast beans directly on site. Rêve operates a wholesale business, and sells its beans to local cafes, restaurants, and grocery stores. Many of the bean varieties come from Royal Coffee New York, but Rêve is also establishing direct trade operations with farms in Guatemala and El Salvador.

19. MAINE // TANDEM COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Portland, Maine

In 2012, husband-and-wife team Will and Kathleen Pratt opened Tandem Coffee Roasters—a combination coffee shop and micro-roastery—in Portland's East Bayside neighborhood. Two years later, the duo converted an old gas station in Portland's West End into a second outpost—this time, a bakery and coffee shop.

Tandem sources its beans from all over the world, and on Fridays patrons can visit the company’s East Bay location to enjoy free tasting sessions and watch the roasting process. And if you love coffee and music, you can sign up for Tandem’s "coffee and vinyl club," a partnership with online record sellers KMA in which subscribers receive both a new record and a different bag of Tandem’s beans each month.

20. MARYLAND // CEREMONY COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Annapolis, Maryland

Ceremony Coffee Roasters sources coffee beans from four continents and imports them to their flagship location—a storefront/roastery in Annapolis (other locations are in Baltimore and D.C.). Java lovers who visit the franchise’s West Street location can enjoy a seasonal coffee menu, and at the building’s back they can watch the roasters in action (or, if interested, partake in a specialty brewing class).

21. MASSACHUSETTS // BARISMO COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Greater Boston Area

Barisimo is small, yet flourishing—and more importantly, it’s ready to innovate. Founded in 2008, the roastery operates three Barismo cafés in the greater Boston area (Barisimo 171, a shop at the roastery’s original location in Arlington, operates a lab-style coffeebar). Barisimo sources direct trade beans from around the globe, but the roastery is equally known for its creative approach toward coffee: They recently developed a patent-pending cold-brew injector to make nitrogenated cold brew kegs.

22. MICHIGAN // MADCAP COFFEE COMPANY

Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Madcap Coffee Company co-founders Trevor Corlett and Ryan Knapp—who launched their business in 2008—source their beans directly from farms or cooperatives around the world.  After sampling thousands of coffees, they select 15 to 20 to roast and sell. With that kind of attention to detail, it’s no surprise that their product is carried in select coffee shops around the country, from San Antonio to New York.

Customers can sip on Madcap Coffee in two of the roastery’s specialty coffee shops in Grand Rapids (one of them is located adjacent to the micro-roastery, and lets customers watch the roasting process). East Coasters can also enjoy the brew: Madcap Coffee recently opened up a satellite office and training center in Washington, D.C.

23. MINNESOTA // PARADISE COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Ramsey, Minnesota

If the word "artisanal" appeals to you, Paradise is the way to go. Since 2002, founder R. Miguel Meza and his team have been hand-selecting and micro-roasting the very best blends from growers in Hawaii, Costa Rica, and Ethiopia. Looking for a new morning roast? Check out Paradise’s chocolaty Blue Sky Breakfast blend, which scored 91 out of 100 in Coffee Review.

24. MISSISSIPPI // BEANFRUIT COFFEE COMPANY

Location: Jackson, Mississippi

BeanFruit proudly focuses on single-origin coffees and educating consumers about the beans in their cup. "We want our customers to be aware of what beverage they are drinking, where it came from, and how it affects coffee farmers around the world," says founder Paul Bonds. Try BeanFruit’s Kenya Nyeri Chinga Peaberry for a bright, complex roast with notes of melon and nectarine.

25. MISSOURI // ODDLY CORRECT

Location: Kansas City, Missouri

The self-described "coffee zealots" at Oddly Correct are on a mission "to freak out your morning cup." If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, head over to their website or check out the café on Main Street for a cup of Space Monkey Seasonal Espresso, which boasts a creamy body, raw-sugar sweetness, and tropical fruitiness.

26. MONTANA // BLACK COFFEE ROASTING CO.

Location: Missoula, Montana

If you like your coffee dark and your products green, head over to Black Coffee Roasting Co. in Missoula. The company and café’s blends are all sustainable, craft roasted, and 100 percent organic. They’re also delicious. For an indulgent sip, try the rich-bodied variety called The Hunt, which promises hints of baker’s chocolate, strawberry, honey, and graham cracker.

27. NEBRASKA // BEANSMITH COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Omaha, Nebraska

Seasonal sourcing isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of coffee, but the heartland-based Beansmith Coffee Roasters have built a business around finding the freshest, most vibrant beans for every cup. For new autumnal flavors, pop into the Old Market Café on Harney Street in Omaha and try the smoky, clove-flavored Phoenix blend.

28. NEVADA // HUB COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Reno, Nevada

Hub Coffee Roasters were founded on two ideals: coffee and community. (Don’t think coffee is an ideal? Just talk to them.) The company now has an online shop and three Reno locations and has recently begun sourcing its own beans from South America. A good pick: the Peruvian Nuevo Trujillo roast, with notes of plum and dried fruit.

29. NEW HAMPSHIRE // FLIGHT COFFEE CO.

Location: Bedford and Dover, New Hampshire

Flight Coffee Co. founder Claudia Barrett began with a dream and a passion for fresh, farm-to-pot coffee. Today she’s the leader of a small army of obsessive coffee roasters who regularly take classes to keep up with the latest science, techniques, and trends. Visit the roasting lab and tasting room in Bedford or treat the coffee connoisseur in your life to a monthly bean subscription.

30. NEW JERSEY // MODCUP COFFEE

Location: Jersey City, New Jersey

Founded by Justin Hicks and Travas Clifton in 2013, Modcup prides itself on serving up the freshest roasts, and sells all of its coffee within 18 days of its roast date. In addition to Modcup’s Jersey City coffee shop and roastery, the company built a unique mobile roastery inside a restored 1969 Citroen H-Van, which was once used to deliver fresh bread in France. The truck now splits its time between serving fresh coffee outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Jersey City and making appearances at parties and fairs in the Tri-State area.

31. NEW MEXICO // MICHAEL THOMAS COFFEE

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

For over a decade, local coffee roaster Michael Thomas and his two daughters have created unique blends and single origin roasts for customers at their Albuquerque shops. Thomas and his team experiment with every new batch of beans they order to find the perfect roast profile for each. In recent years, Thomas has opened an online store as well. In addition to roasting their own beans, the two Michael Thomas Coffee shops in Albuquerque also host regular coffee classes, teaching coffee lovers about coffee history, and how to make different coffee varieties.

32. NEW YORK // GIMME! COFFEE

Location: Ithaca, Trumansburg, and New York City, New York

Winner of Roast magazine’s 2013 "Macro Roaster of the Year" award, Gimme! Coffee has come a long way since it was first founded in a charmingly cramped cafe in Ithaca back in 2000. Nowadays, the coffee roaster has seven locations in Ithaca, Trumansburg, and New York City, and supplies its beans to shops and markets across the country. The company prides itself on creating flavorful, high-quality blends and on its sustainable, ethical practices which include a composting program and partnerships with their coffee growers.

33. NORTH CAROLINA // COUNTER CULTURE

Location: Durham, North Carolina

Counter Culture is based in Durham, but sells its beans on its website, and wholesale to coffee shops around the United States. The North Carolina roaster believes in sustainable practices, embraces fully transparent business practices, and, of course, makes some truly delicious coffees. Unlike some specialty roasters, Counter Culture encourages its customers to make their versatile beans using any brewing method they want. They also offer free weekly coffee tastings and brewing classes at regional training centers in Durham and 10 other cities around the United States.

34. NORTH DAKOTA // TWENTY BELOW

Location: Fargo, North Dakota

You can find Twenty Below’s single origin roasts and blends online, served up at coffee shops throughout North Dakota, and at their Fargo coffee bar and roastery. The coffee roaster works with small farms and cooperatives to acquire beans that can’t be found at larger coffee chains, and reviewers on Yelp have called their roasts "delicious," "complex," and "unique."

35. OHIO // CRIMSON CUP COFFEE & TEA

Location: Columbus, Ohio

Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea may supply coffee to stores around the country, but it still roasts its beans carefully in small batches. Each shipment of 150-pound bags of coffee arrives at the Crimson Cup headquarters in Columbus, where a master roaster oversees the roast profile of each bean variety. The company, which won Roast magazine’s 2016 "Macro Roaster of the Year" award also hosts coffee tastings and roasting lessons at its Innovation Lab in Columbus. 

36. OKLAHOMA // ELEMENTAL COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Elemental Coffee Roasters in Oklahoma City is obsessed with serving up "elemental" coffee flavors. It puts an emphasis on retaining the natural flavors of its beans, and refuses to intentionally tamper with or add to its flavor. "You might say our coffee has a mind of its own," the Elemental website explains. "It tastes this way one day, but it may taste completely different the next." Elemental Coffee Roasters sells its coffees online and at its Oklahoma City location.

37. OREGON // STUMPTOWN COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Portland, Oregon

Portland has a sea of high-quality coffee outfits, but Stumptown remains a favorite both locally and in cafes across the country. One of the pioneers of the third-wave coffee movement, Stumptown won Roast magazine's Roaster of the Year competition back in 2006. The coffee-focused Sprudge.com calls the company’s Portland headquarters, which opened in 2012, "an absolute sight to behold." The company hosts daily free tastings there, with $15 behind-the-scenes roastery tours and classes also available. If you do take a tour or an intro to coffee class, you get to take home your own bag of freshly roasted beans.

38. PENNSYLVANIA // SQUARE ONE COFFEE

Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Square One Coffee is a family-owned roasting company that has accumulated some serious accolades. The roastery has won a Good Food Award in the coffee category three years running, and one of its baristas won 10th place at the U.S. Barista Championships in 2015. Stop by the Lancaster café and sip a brewed-to-order cup in the backyard garden, or head to the roasting facility across town to take a class alongside the cafe’s own up-and-coming talent, led by instructors certified by the Barista Guild of America and the Specialty Coffee Association of America. (There are also two locations to enjoy in Philly.)

39. RHODE ISLAND // VANUATU COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Providence, Rhode Island

Single-origin obsessives, pay attention. The beauty of Vanuatu Coffee Roasters lies in its absolute dedication to the South Pacific island nation that gives the roastery its name. Co-founder Jimmy Lappin traveled to the Republic of Vanuatu in 2009 as a tourist, and was so taken with the local coffee that he and his sister, Martha Soderlund, teamed up with a local cooperative to source beans exclusively from farmers on the island of Tanna. No need for milk here; Lappin boasts that Vanuatu coffee lacks any trace of bitterness.

40. SOUTH CAROLINA // COASTAL COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Summerville, South Carolina

Coastal Coffee Roasters, located outside Charleston, sources beans from around the world, then roasts them to perfection in small batches. The downtown Summerville café is host to a rotating calendar of events, including yoga, open mic nights, and local music—and they serve up a decent sandwich to go with that perfect cup.

41. SOUTH DAKOTA // PURE BEAN ROASTERS

Location: Rapid City, South Dakota

Pure Bean Roasters was started out of a garage in 2013, and the owners only opened up a café this year, continuing to roast their beans at co-owner Mark Royalty’s home long after the company began shipping nationwide. Pure Bean only sells organic, fair trade beans that are air-roasted in small batches, rather than in the high-capacity drums that most commercial coffee roasters use. Instead of being stirred in a hot drum, the beans float on a bed of hot air, ensuring consistency in the roast. The result is a smooth, low-acid cup of coffee.

42. TENNESSEE // VIENNA COFFEE COMPANY

Location: Maryville, Tennessee

Don’t head to Nashville for the state’s best coffee. Take a trip to the Vienna Coffee Company outside of Knoxville. The small-batch roaster has everything from single-origin and estate coffees to certified shade-grown, bird-friendly, Rainforest Alliance-approved, and fair-trade beans. If you aren’t in the area to come by for a free tasting, you can always sign up for their mail-order coffee club.

43. TEXAS // BROWN COFFEE COMPANY

Location: San Antonio, Texas

Brown Coffee is one of San Antonio’s most well-established craft coffee outfits, and even other cafe proprietors admit that owner Aaron Blanco is “the most coffee-knowledgeable person in Texas." In 2015, Food Network star Alton Brown called the drink he got from Brown Coffee "the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life." Beyond the delicious drinks, the PourLab hosts classes for a range of skill levels, from novices looking for basic tips to enthusiasts wanting to learn how to identify the type of soil coffee was grown in just from tasting the brew.

44. UTAH // MILLCREEK COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Over two decades ago, the aptly named Brewster family founded Millcreek Coffee Roasters in a small building with one 12-kilogram roaster. Today they’re a major presence in the Salt Lake City coffee scene with a café, a wholesale store, and an outpost in the city’s airport. Coffee lovers who don’t have time to pick up their beans in person can shop for them online. Millcreek also offers “Roaster’s Choice” coffee subscriptions that are delivered each month by the pound.

45. VERMONT // VERMONT COFFEE COMPANY

Location: Middlebury, Vermont

The folks at Vermont Coffee Company know that good coffee starts with a quality product. That’s why all their beans are carefully selected and slow-roasted to order in small batches. They also know that the coffee experience doesn’t have to end when a customer finishes their cup. They write on their website: “Coffee is a social stimulus that brings people together to share ideas and stories, and when people come together, a community is formed and friends are made.” The company proved their commitment to this concept when they opened a community theater in the neighborhood. If you can’t make it to the Vermont Coffee Company Playhouse or their on-site café, you can find their coffee in establishments along the East Coast.

46. VIRGINIA // CERVANTES COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Springfield, Virginia

Cervantes's single origin coffee is sold in over 40 retail stores in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Java enthusiasts who live near their north Virginia headquarters can swing by for tours or coffee "cupping" (think wine tasting) events every second Friday of the month. The entire coffee warehouse is also available to rent out for private affairs.

47. WASHINGTON // DILLANOS COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Sumner, Washington

In a state as obsessed with coffee as Washington, Dillanos Coffee Roasters has managed to rise to the top. They’ve been recognized as best in the region multiple times, and in 2011 Roast magazine named them the best macro coffee roaster in North America. With dozens of coffees of varying roasts and sources available to purchase, they offer something for every type of coffee connoisseur.

48. WEST VIRGINIA // BLACK DOG COFFEE

Location: Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia

Black Dog’s café in Shenandoah Junction offers coffee and a show. Patrons can come to see one of America’s oldest operating coffee roasters in action—a vintage 1931 Jabez Burns & Sons model named Plutonius. The business also hosts community events like yoga classes, drum circles, and taco Tuesdays. Even without the entertainment factor, a taste of their single origin, micro-roasted coffee is worth a trip (or at least an online order).

49. WISCONSIN // KICKAPOO COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Beer isn’t the only brew in Wisconsin that deserves attention. The team behind Kickapoo Coffee Roasters has been roasting high-quality, full-flavored coffee in Milwaukee since 2005. Once a month, they open up their tasting room for the public to sample offerings, tour the roastery, and ask any coffee-related questions they may have.

50. WYOMING // JACKSON HOLE COFFEE ROASTERS

Location: Jackson, Wyoming

Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters brings a European commitment to coffee to Western Wyoming. Owners Stefan and Lubomira got their start in the coffee business as baristas. They took over Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters after moving to the U.S. from Slovakia, and today they sell their coffee wholesale to restaurants, coffee bars, and specialty stores and serve it fresh at their café.

By Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Anna Green, Kate Horowitz, Jake Rossen, and Jeff Wells.

14 Facts About Celiac Disease

iStock.com/fcafotodigital
iStock.com/fcafotodigital

Going gluten-free may be a modern diet trend, but people have been suffering from celiac disease—a chronic condition characterized by gluten intolerance—for centuries. Patients with celiac are ill-equipped to digest products made from certain grains containing gluten; wheat is the most common. In the short-term this can cause gastrointestinal distress, and in the long-term it can foster symptoms associated with early death.

Celiac diagnoses are more common than ever, which also means awareness of how to live with the condition is at an all-time high. Here are some things you might not know about celiac disease symptoms and treatments.

1. Celiac an autoimmune disease.

The bodies of people with celiac have a hostile reaction to gluten. When the protein moves through the digestive tract, the immune system responds by attacking the small intestine, causing inflammation that damages the lining of the organ. As this continues over time, the small intestine has trouble absorbing nutrients from other foods, which can lead to additional complications like anemia and osteoporosis.

2. You can get celiac disease from your parents.

Nearly all cases of celiac disease arise from certain variants of the genes HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1. These genes help produce proteins in the body that allow the immune system to identify potentially dangerous foreign substances. Normally the immune system wouldn't label gliadin, a segment of the gluten protein, a threat, but due to mutations in these genes, the bodies of people with celiac treat gliadin as a hostile invader.

Because it's a genetic disorder, people with a first-degree relative (a sibling, parent, or child) with celiac have a 4 to 15 percent chance of having it themselves. And while almost all patients with celiac have these specific HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 variations, not everyone with the mutations will develop celiac. About 30 percent of the population has these gene variants, and only 3 percent of that group goes on to develop celiac disease.

3. Makeup might contribute to celiac disease symptoms.

People with celiac disease can’t properly process gluten, the protein naturally found in the grains like wheat, rye, and barley. Patients have to follow strict dietary guidelines and avoid most bread, pasta, and cereal, in order to manage their symptoms. But gluten isn’t limited to food products: It can also be found in some cosmetics. While makeup containing gluten causes no issues for many people with celiac, it can provoke rashes in others or lead to more problems if ingested. For those folks, gluten-free makeup is an option.

4. The name comes from 1st-century Greece.

A 1st-century Greek physician named Aretaeus of Cappadocia may have been the first person to describe celiac disease symptoms in writing [PDF]. He named it koiliakos after the Greek word koelia for abdomen, and he referred to people with the condition as coeliacs. In his description he wrote, “If the stomach be irretentive of the food and if it pass through undigested and crude, and nothing ascends into the body, we call such persons coeliacs.”

5. There are nearly 300 celiac disease symptoms.

Celiac disease may start in the gut, but it can be felt throughout the whole body. In children, the condition usually manifests as bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort, but as patients get older they start to experience more “non-classical” symptoms like anemia, arthritis, and fatigue. There are at least 281 symptoms associated with celiac disease, many of which overlap with other conditions and make celiac hard to diagnose. Other common symptoms of the disease include tooth discoloration, anxiety and depression, loss of fertility, and liver disorders. Celiac patients also have a greater chance of developing an additional autoimmune disorder, with the risk increasing the later in life the initial condition is diagnosed.

6. Some patients show no symptoms at all.

It’s not uncommon for celiac disease to be wrecking a patient’s digestive tract while showing no apparent symptoms. This form of the condition, sometimes called asymptomatic or “silent celiac disease,” likely contributes to part of the large number of people with celiac who are undiagnosed. People who are at high risk for the disease (the children of celiac sufferers, for example), or who have related conditions like type 1 diabetes and Down syndrome (both conditions that put patients at a greater risk for developing new autoimmune diseases) are encouraged to get tested for it even if they aren’t showing any signs.

7. It’s not the same as wheat sensitivity.

Celiac is often confused with wheat sensitivity, a separate condition that shares many symptoms with celiac, including gastrointestinal issues, depression, and fatigue. It’s often called gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, but because doctors still aren’t sure if gluten is the cause, many refer to it as non-celiac wheat sensitivity. There’s no test for it, but patients are often treated with the same gluten-free diet that’s prescribed to celiac patients.

8. It's not a wheat allergy either.

Celiac disease is often associated with wheat because it's one of the more common products containing gluten. While it's true that people with celiac can't eat wheat, the condition isn't a wheat allergy. Rather than reacting to the wheat, patients react to a specific protein that's found in the grain as well as others.

9. It can develop at any age.

Just because you don’t have celiac now doesn’t mean you’re in the clear for life: The disease can develop at any age, even in people who have tested negative for it previously. There are, however, two stages of life when symptoms are most likely to appear: early childhood (8 to 12 months) and middle adulthood (ages 40 to 60). People already genetically predisposed to celiac become more susceptible to it when the composition of their intestinal bacteria changes as they get older, either as a result of infection, surgery, antibiotics, or stress.

10. Not all grains are off-limits.

A gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily a grain-free diet. While it’s true that the popular grains wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten, there are plenty of grains and seeds that don’t and are safe for people with celiac to eat. These include quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, sorghum, and rice. Oats are also naturally gluten-free, but they're often contaminated with gluten during processing, so consumers with celiac should be cautious when buying them.

11. Celiac disease can be detected with a blood test.

Screenings for celiac disease used to be an involved process, with doctors monitoring patients’ reactions to their gluten-free diet over time. Today all it takes is a simple test to determine whether someone has celiac. People with the condition will have anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies in their bloodstream. If a blood test confirms the presence of these proteins in a patient, doctors will then take a biopsy of their intestine to confirm the root cause.

12. The gluten-free diet doesn’t work for all patients.

Avoiding gluten is the most effective way to manage celiac disease, but the treatment doesn’t work 100 percent of the time. In up to a fifth of patients, the damaged intestinal lining does not recover even a year after switching to a gluten-free diet. Most cases of non-responsive celiac disease can be explained by people not following the diet closely enough, or by having other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth that impede recovery. Just a small fraction of celiac disease sufferers don’t respond to a strict gluten-free diet and have no related conditions. These patients are usually prescribed steroids and immunosuppressants as alternative treatments.

13. If you don’t have celiac, gluten probably won’t hurt you.

The gluten-free diet trend has exploded in popularity in recent years, and most people who follow it have no medical reason to do so. Going gluten-free has been purported to do everything from help you lose weight to treat autism—but according to doctors, there’s no science behind these claims. Avoiding gluten may help some people feel better and more energetic because it forces them to cut heavily processed junk foods out of their diet. In such cases it’s the sugar and carbs that are making people feel sluggish—not the gluten protein. If you don’t have celiac or a gluten sensitivity, most experts recommend saving yourself the trouble by eating healthier in general rather than abstaining from gluten.

14. The numbers are growing.

A 2009 study found that four times as many people have celiac today than in the 1950s, and the spike can’t be explained by increased awareness alone. Researchers tested blood collected at the Warren Air Force Base between 1948 and 1954 and compared them to fresh samples from candidates living in one Minnesota county. The results supported the theory that celiac has become more prevalent in the last half-century. While experts aren’t exactly sure why the condition is more common today, it may have something to do with changes in how wheat is handled or the spread of gluten into medications and processed foods.

The Fascinating History Behind Why Jewish Families Eat Chinese Food on Christmas

iStock
iStock

For Jewish New Yorkers, scoring a seat at one of veteran restaurateur Ed Schoenfeld’s Chinese eateries on Christmas Day could be compared to a holiday miracle. “I think on that day we do more business than many restaurants do in three months,” Schoenfeld tells Mental Floss. “We serve all day long, we stay open all day long.”

Schoenfeld is the Jewish owner-operator of RedFarm, an Asian-fusion dim sum restaurant with two locations in New York (plus one in London), and Decoy, a West Village shrine to traditional Peking duck. While his expertise lies in Far Eastern cuisine, Schoenfeld grew up in Brooklyn and learned to cook from his Eastern European grandmother. And just like his customers, Schoenfeld and his family sometimes craved Chinese food on Christmas, eschewing homemade fare for heaping plates of chow mein and egg foo yung. The future restaurateur's grandmother kept a kosher kitchen, but outside the home all dietary laws flew out the window with the single spin of a Lazy Susan. Suddenly, egg rolls with pork were fair game, transfigured into permissible delicacies through hunger and willful ignorance.

As Gentiles feast on turkey and roast beef during the Yuletide season, why do many Jews opt for chop suey? For starters, it's convenient: Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But as historians and culinary experts tell Mental Floss, other ingredients play a part in this delicious story.

Jews developed their love for all things steamed, stir-fried, and soy-sauced after leaving the Old Country. Between the mid-1800s and the 1930s, waves of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Greece began settling in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a gritty, inexpensive neighborhood teeming with tenements, docks, and factories—and filled with synagogues and kosher butcher shops. “You started here, and then moved on," Sarah Lohman, author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, says.

While Jewish immigrants found community on the Lower East Side, "there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the turn of the century,” Lohman adds. "They were often criticized not only for not dressing like Americans and not speaking the language, but also for not converting to an 'American' religion."

Right next door to the burgeoning Jewish community on the Lower East Side was the city's nascent Chinatown. Many Chinese immigrants had initially come to the U.S. to work on the Transcontinental Railroad. After its completion in 1869, these laborers faced violence and discrimination in the western states. They came to New York City seeking new business opportunities, and some opened restaurants.

By and large, Chinese restaurateurs didn’t discriminate against Jewish customers. Joshua Eli Plaut writes in his book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to be Jewish that the Chinese, as non-Christians, didn't perceive any difference between Anglo-Saxon New Yorkers and Jewish immigrants; they accepted all non-Chinese customers with open arms.

Jewish customers embraced Chinese food in return. The restaurants were conveniently located and inexpensive, yet were also urbane in their eyes. Jews saw dining out as an American custom that they wanted to try, largely because they sought upward mobility among other Americans. According to Yong Chen, a history professor and author of Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America, "[Diners] were attracted to Chinese food because, in their mind, it represented American cosmopolitanism and middle class status." And they weren't deterred by the fact that food in Chinese restaurants wasn't kosher. But they could easily pretend it was.

Dairy wasn’t a big part of Chinese meals, so Jewish diners didn’t have to worry about mixing meat and milk (a no-no in kosher diets). And non-kosher ingredients like pork or seafood were often finely chopped, drowned in sauces, or mixed with other ingredients, like rice. These elements were well disguised enough that they could pass for more permissible forms of meat. “You could kind of willfully ignore that there might be pork in there," Lohman says. "It’s like a vegetarian eating a soup that has chicken stock. If you’re a little flexible about your Judaism, you would just ‘not notice’ the pork in your fried rice.”

Chinese food was exotic and new, filled with surprising flavors, ingredients, and textures [PDF]. But for some Eastern European Jews, it also had familiar elements. Both Eastern European and Chinese cuisines shared an affinity for sweet and sour flavors and egg-based dishes. "[Chinese restaurants] had these pancakes, which were like blintzes,” says Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon's Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World, and the wontons resembled kreplach (both are meat-filled soup dumplings).

The fact that the Chinese and Jews were America’s two largest non-Christian immigrant populations brought them together, Jennifer 8. Lee, author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, tells Mental Floss. Unlike, say, Italian restaurants, Chinese restaurants were open on Sundays and on Christian holidays. They also lacked religious imagery, which may have made them appear more welcoming for Jews.

Combined, these factors caused the number of Chinese restaurants in urban East Coast cities to skyrocket during the early 20th century. Jews soon accounted for 60 percent of the white clientele in New York City's and Philadelphia’s Chinese restaurants, Chen writes, and Chinese restaurants would often go out of their way to cater to these clients. The eateries delivered their food to Jewish neighborhoods and to individual customers.

Yet an unwavering affection for Chinese food wasn't shared by all Jews. In an example cited by Chen and Lee, a reporter for Der Tog (The Day), a Yiddish daily newspaper in New York City, noted in 1928 that Jewish diners were in danger of drowning their culinary roots in soy sauce. To take back their taste buds, Jewish-Americans should hoist protest signs reading “Down with chop suey! Long live gefilte fish!” the journalist joked.

But Jewish cookbooks had already begun including Americanized dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, which Chinese chefs had specially created to appeal to homegrown appetites. And as Lower East Side Jews moved to different neighborhoods, boroughs, and suburbs, Chinese restaurants followed them.

By the mid-20th century, Nathan says, Chinese restaurants had become de facto social clubs in Jewish communities. Familiar faces were always present, children were always welcome, and eating with your hands wasn’t just encouraged—it was required. Everyone left filled with food and gossip, whether it was Christmas or an ordinary Sunday evening.

Thanks to immigration patterns, nostalgia, and convenient hours of operation, this culinary custom has stuck around. “Jewish guests want to go out and eat Chinese food on Christmas,” Schoenfeld, the Manhattan restaurateur, says. “It’s become a tradition, and it’s extraordinary how it’s really grown.”

This story originally ran in 2017.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER