What is “Specialty” coffee anyway?

Specialty Coffee Association Flavor Wheel

 “Specialty” coffee is not just a word that describes any coffee, it is synonymous for high quality through all the stages of the coffee production process from seed to cup which include: planting and growing conditions (soil conditions and elevation), harvesting, processing (wet, dry or honey), and roasting the top 10% of Arabica seeds.

It is also synonymous with ethical standards.  By that I am speaking of fair and transparent dealings among the growers, traders, and roasters.  There is so much that goes into the farming and harvesting of coffee. Making sure that the farmers are compensated fairly and recognized for their efforts is very important to the specialty coffee community. 

“Specialty” is also a qualitative term defined by measurable standards.  According to the Specialty Coffee Association coffee which scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale is graded as "specialty”.  Not all beans make that cut, therefore not all beans are “specialty”!

Coffee is grown in locations with primarily three factors that influence its flavor: elevation, climate, and soil composition.  All these factors create the distinctive flavors in the beans unique to that region and micro-climate.  That is true of all coffee, but with specialty coffee, there is little to no defect.  (a topic for another time.)  

And speaking of flavors, there is a wide spectrum of them from tea-like and floral, to spicy and deep, to fruity and bright to name just a few.  Once the coffee cherries are picked, the processing methods also influence flavors.  Whether they are left in the sun to dry to then be de-pulped or are de-pulped and washed shortly after being picked brings out different qualities.   Regional climate (ie a rainy season) and financial resources can often dictate the farmers’ decision on how to process the cherries.

Once the coffee has been imported, roasters are next in the supply chain.  We have the responsibility to represent the farmers’ hard work!   We certainly don’t want to muff it up! Roast level can showcase the flavor nuances that the farmer worked hard to cultivate.

As a small-batch artisan roaster, it’s our goal to roast in such a way to introduce you to the unique flavors that highlight the different coffee growing regions and give you an appreciation of all that goes into making the perfect cup of coffee.   

And as a little last side note… "Gourmet" or "Premium" are just marketing words, and should not be confused with coffee that is identified as graded Specialty coffee.  Remember, only the top 10% of Arabica beans are considered specialty.


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