Unfortunately in our modern world there are many buzz words used to describe products, often will little purpose other than marketing spruiking. The coffee industry has not avoided this reality, with descriptive words such as “premium” or “boutique” thrown around with little if any substance to back up the hype. This can confuse the coffee consumer, particularly consumers that are genuinely interested in purchasing a quality product to enjoy and appreciate, and not just a quick caffeine fix. Consumers like yourself, because that is why you are on this web site!
“Specialty coffee” has not been unscathed in this marketing war, but it should not be confused with the other buzz words that are devoid of meaning. At minimum, in order for a coffee to be correctly classified as “specialty”, it needs to satisfy agreed coffee industry standards. The most obvious of which is from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), who are they world’s largest coffee trade association. They deem that, for a coffee to be “specialty”, it must score a minimum of 80 out of 100 points during cupping protocols (cupping is a standardised and internationally recognised method of evaluating a coffees quality).
Specialty coffee is more than just a score on a results sheet however. The coffee which we offer to you to enjoy in your home represents and end-to-end supply chain which starts before the fruit of a coffee plant even begins to grow. From the climate and soil it is planted in, to how it is picked, processed, stored and of course roasted, even how it is prepared before it becomes a drink in your cup. All of these factors contribute to the quality of the product and the “specialty” label. Everyone involved in the production of specialty coffee needs to be a highly skilled professional who is focused on continual quality and high standards.
Specialty coffee is always of the Arabica variety, invariably grown at high altitude and often in challenging environments, commonly in volcanic soil. Due to a number of limitations, such as environmental and labour constraints, specialty coffee is typically grown in smaller quantities than commercial operations, and is labour intensive. Picking of the coffee needs to be highly selective, with a focus on only the ripest fruit from the coffee plants. During the drying phase of processing, a specialty coffee farmer will sort the beans by size and weight, removing those that don’t meet their exacting standards.
When it comes to roasting, specialty roasters also work at a smaller scale than their larger commercial counterparts, focusing on small batches so that quality control can be more strictly managed. Roast profiles err on the lighter end of the scale, due to the generally agreed upon school of thought that lighter roasts bring out the unique flavours of a coffee bean’s origin, whereas darker roasts will mask this and instead take on the flavour of the roaster itself, voiding the end product of much of its potential flavour.
Finally, specialty coffee is demonstrated in its taste. Coffee that has travelled through the specialty supply chain will exhibit a complexity of flavour and aroma in the cup that simply cannot be reproduced by larger scale commercial coffee production.
This is where you come in. However you like to drink your coffee, take care in the last step of its transition to the cup and to your mouth. You can find tips on brewing coffee in the ‘Brew Guides’ section of this web site, and there are many excellent resources online to guide you in your coffee experiences. One last comment: whenever possible, always grind your coffee fresh at home! Enjoy.
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
Vincent Van Gogh