When you hear the phrase specialty coffee what do you think Maybe Starbucks, maybe fancy frappuccinos. Maybe even overpriced crap, it’s just rich people telling you that this coffee is “better”.
Who are they to tell you?
And you’re right. coffee is definitely subjective. Nobody can tell you how to make the best cup. Only you can find it for yourself.
What’s the deal?
There are a lot of people throwing around the phrase specialty coffee nowadays, which can make pinpointing what specialty coffee actually is very difficult.
I can see how some would see specialty coffee as mostly espresso-based drinks like macchiatos, flat whites and latte’s with dairy doodles in them. These are definitely specialty coffee recipes, which if you are interested in that sort of thing, check out all of these different coffee drink types.
More special than just your standard old brewed coffee that is, which is the most popular brewing method over here in the United States.
Did you know that over in Australia the primary way they enjoy coffee is with espresso-based drinks?
They hardly consume brewed coffee.
Which, if you’ve never heard of them you should google them. The story of elixir coffee is a unique one.
The founder is from the land down under. They have a completely different coffee culture over there compared to our quick energy fixed coffee culture here in the States.
Why Am I Talkin About This?
The reason I’m bringing this up is because of the fact that most Australians consume espresso-based drinks every day and they have a different view than us here in America.
Does that mean espresso-based coffee drinks are not specialty coffee to them?
How is coffee special?
So what would even make coffee special, to begin with?
What if you don’t care about that scale?
I mean what if you think the Maxwell house tastes just fine and it’s super cheap. Specialty coffee is just a gimmick to get you to pay more money.
And I can agree with that point somewhat.
A place like Starbucks is not something that I would say serves specialty coffee. They serve overpriced coffee that is sub-par and prepared by somebody that is most likely undertrained and forced to focus on speed.
I’m not saying all Starbucks shops make terrible coffee. If they employ somebody with a love for coffee they probably make pretty good drinks.
But, me as a home brewer does not see buying Starbucks beans as buying specialty coffee and it shouldn’t be labeled that way.
That’s my perspective, from where I’m standing.
Our coffee culture here in the U.S. has become the way it has due to convenience. I know how it is, we all want our coffee in the morning to be done when we wake up and provide an instant energy boost and we want it to taste good.
Coffee is great for an energy boost no matter how you label it that’s for sure!
But did you know that coffee is starting to be looked at more and more like wine? Coffee can be described as having many of the same characteristics as wine when tasting it. Like how much body the drink has or how balanced the cup is or the mouthfeel. (I know, sounds totally weird, think of whole milk compared to 2%.)
These, at first, might sound like ridiculous things when you are talking about coffee but that’s just because of our starting point.
Where are we looking from?
Coffee is just beginning to be explored.
Let’s think about tomatoes. Some taste better than others.
Why is that?
It could be the variety or the way that they were cared for and grown.
It could be the environment that they have been grown in.
These are common things that are known and accepted as fact to alter the flavor of a tomato.
Why hasn’t coffee been looked at in this way?
I mean it makes sense.
Is every piece of steak the same? Can you even compare a waffle house sirloin to your city’s finest steak house’s cut of meat?
They aren’t even in the same league. The way the meat has been handled and cooked makes all the difference.
And with something as complex as coffee shouldn’t we treat it the way that it deserves to be treeated?
What is specialty coffee?
For me, as someone who enjoys brewing coffee at home, I think specialty coffee is coffee that has been grown, cared for and roasted with one main goal in mind and that is a high-quality great tasting product.
How good can coffee actually be? I know that you can taste a difference between circle K coffee and Cracker barrel coffee right?
You probably think cracker barrel coffee taste better, I know I do at least.Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying cracker barrel coffee is specialty coffee because it’s not.
But they both still have that “coffee” flavor. That underlying taste that we identify as coffee.
However, both cups are somewhat different.
Well, specialty coffee is the same way really, It still tastes like coffee but it’s just DIFFERENT.
It will be mixed with other flavors that will catch you completely off guard. In a way that will dramatically change the way that you view coffee.
I know the first time I tasted a cup that was perfectly crafted from growing to roasting to brewing it was an eye-opening experience.
There is still that coffee flavor that we all know and love but it has been taken to that next level.
As we dive deeper into coffee and start uncovering everything that this magical bean has to offer, we are redefining what we thought we knew about the drink.
Specialty coffee is coffee that has been given extra attention at every step in the process.
Direct trade agreements
Direct trade agreements are set up by a farmer and a roaster who want to build a working relationship.
If done correctly everybody wins.
If the roaster and the farmer work together towards one unified goal of great tasting coffee then we are winning as the consumers, we get a higher quality product while also spreading a better life to farmers and roasters alike.
By supporting roasters and farmers who are working together to change the way coffee is viewed we are also making the world a better place.
This coffee may cost a little bit more yes, that is without a doubt true.
But the old saying is also true –you get what you pay for.
When you pay for a higher quality product you are also spreading tons of love to others, in particular, the farmers.
For lots of areas in the major coffee growing regions, farmers are taken advantage of and paid unbelievably low wages.
Many coffee workers are effectively enslaved.
No, this isn’t always the case but this is giant corporate greed at it’s finest. Rock bottom price, just to flip it and maximize profit.
Who is really winning there?
Children of many nations where coffee is a major export are forced to work 8 to 10 hours a day and get withdrawn from school to do it.
None of this spreads good in the world. All that’s doing is spreading hatred and greed throughout. Producing an overworked under appreciated farmer who no longer cares about quality.
By supporting the emerging world of specialty coffee You are helping the small businesses of the world that are trying to do the right thing.
Direct trade agreements, when done right, guarantee that the farmers are compensated fairly and you can really tell the difference in the taste of your cup.
Did you know there are lots of different varieties that coffee can come in?
I’m sure you know the difference between Arabica and Robusta.
Arabica is without a doubt the better tasting bean. If you have ever tasted a robusta coffee you know what I’m talking about.
But it goes much deeper than that, The Arabica plant has many varieties of itself; Typica, Cautuai, Bourbon (no, you don’t get drunk off this one.) and that’s just to name a few, there are many more.
All of them have their own tastes. The great people over at Stumptown have an excellent breakdown of the different varieties.
Coffee goes so much deeper than just 100% Arabica, Medium roast.
Let’s think of vegetables again. If we take the squash family, for example, we can see a wide range of different tasting veggies all coming from the same plant;
Pumpkin, Summer Squash, Butternut, zucchini.
Think of all of the amazing, different tastes you can get from just the squash family.
Coffee is no different, each of its varieties possesses unique qualities that the others don’t.
Roasting coffee is an art form.
If you gave a master chef and your aunt Tina the exact same ingredients and told them to cook you a meal, whose do you think would be better?
Sorry, aunt Tina.
Now, I’m not saying the average coffee you get from the store is burnt to a crisp.
What I am saying is that many of the small batch coffee roasters are becoming master chefs of their craft.
Coffee roasting is turning into an art and a science. The roaster has to use all of his/her senses, watching the color change from a pale green/yellow to a golden brown and beyond. Listening to the bean for sounds of chemical reactions taking place.
Coffee roasting is also science driven. Advanced roasting machines are equipped with tools that monitor and graph the temperature of the beans.
This data helps the roaster bring your coffee to that perfect level that will bring out the unique qualities that that particular variety of bean has.
Like when a chef hits that medium rare steak just right!
What is specialty coffee? It can be espresso-based drinks and it can also be brewed coffee.
Specialty coffee all starts with the seedling.
It is defined as the whole process. Not just the brewing. What variety is it and how is this plant going to be cared for? Is the farmer going to be treated fairly? Is the roaster going to work together with the farmer to make a great quality product? Will the roaster work at mastering the craft? And will you be brewing this coffee with the attention that it deserves?
This is what makes specialty coffee to me. Making better lives for everybody in the world.
Specialty coffee isn’t just some new aged hipster notion, It’s a changing in the way we think about coffee.
It’s a new way to look at the drink.
We have been looking at coffee through a narrow scope for most of our lives. Quick energy fix, make it taste better with cream and sugar.
Which it definitely is and does!
But that’s kind of like getting the finest cut of beef from a malnourished cow and then burning it to hell on your grill.
SO it’s not just about the beans, Specialty coffee is encompassing all parts of the process. It goes back to the roots, where the coffee is being grown. How that coffee is being roasted and how YOU are brewing it.
If you want to dive deeper into the world of specialty coffee sign up to our email list. We like to talk about all facets of coffee, I’ll share coffee deals that I find and give you tips along the way to making a better cup.
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