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Specialty Coffee 101: The What, Why and How 

Specialty Coffee 101: The What, Why and How 

When you hear the term ‘specialty coffee,’ you might wonder what it actually means. It’s not a marketing gimmick, but a term with a specific definition in the coffee industry. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCAA) labels coffee as ‘specialty’ when it scores at least 80 points out of 100 in their rigorous grading process. This isn’t something that just any coffee bean can achieve – only the top tier ones do.

The journey of specialty coffee begins with careful cultivation. These beans are typically grown under optimal conditions: the right altitude, the perfect soil, and the ideal climate. Picked at the right time of year and at the peak of their ripeness, these beans have unique flavor profiles that distinguish them from their more standard counterparts.

The path from the farm to your cup also matters greatly. The specialty label ensures that the beans are handled carefully and ethically throughout the process. This not only includes the growing phase but also the harvesting, processing, and brewing phases.

So, why does all this matter? The painstaking care taken at each step of the process makes for a superior cup of coffee, rich with complex flavors and aromas that you won’t find in a regular cup. But it’s not just about taste – it’s about a commitment to ethical and sustainable farming practices, which ultimately benefits both the environment and the farming communities.

In essence, specialty coffee is about respect – respect for the beans, for the farmers, for the environment, and, ultimately, for you who get to enjoy the final brew.

Why Choose Specialty Coffee?

Complex Flavor Profiles

The roasting process plays a significant role in the flavor of the coffee. Unlike conventional coffee roasters, specialty coffee roasters take careful measures to prevent over-roasting, which can lead to a burnt, smoky flavor. Their focus is on preserving and enhancing the inherent flavors of the beans—be it floral, fruity, or chocolatey—leading to a richer taste experience. Each coffee-producing region contributes unique flavors and aromas, which are enhanced by careful brewing methods. 

Perfect Timing

The best flavor of coffee is often achieved a few weeks after roasting due to the release of certain gases from the beans. Specialty coffee roasters take this into account, often scheduling delivery around this optimal time, ensuring you enjoy the coffee when it’s at its best.

Quality Above All

The difference between specialty and commercial coffee is easily noticeable. Specialty coffee boasts a unique and distinctive flavor profile, while commercial coffee tends to taste more generic. The varying acidity levels in specialty coffee add to its overall appeal and taste.

Innovative Brewing Processes

Specialty coffee encourages experimentation with brewing techniques. While traditional methods like pour-over or espresso machines are popular, tools like gooseneck kettles offer more precision and control, allowing you to make the most of the specialty beans.

Direct Trade Sourcing and Transparent Sales Practices

Specialty coffee prioritizes transparency, quality, and sustainability. Specialty roasters aim for transparency in their operations, revealing details about the farmers and origins of their coffee beans. They value sustainability, cooperation, and most importantly, the hardworking individuals behind each cup of coffee.

The coffee is usually sourced from single-origin or single-estate farms, and producers build strong relationships with suppliers who meet these high standards. Specialty coffee roasters often engage in Direct Trade Sourcing, establishing long-term relationships with farmers and ensuring fair wages. This practice allows roasters to handpick the best beans directly from farms, benefiting both parties. 

Where to Buy Specialty Coffee?

Where to start your coffee journey? Well, how about right at your doorstep? With services like KaffeBox, you can explore a world of flavors from Scandinavia’s top micro-roasters every month.

Looking for a specialty coffee shop? That corner store proudly advertising the “Best Coffee for $1!” may not be the best place to explore specialty coffee. While it may be possible to serve specialty coffee for $1, chances are that the store is not a specialty coffee shop.

So how do you separate out the specialty shops from those who are faking it? 7 Ways to Tell You’re in a Specialty Coffee Shop.

A Brief Journey Through the History of Specialty Coffee 

The world of specialty coffee may seem like a recent phenomenon, given its popularity in the last few decades. However, its roots dig far deeper, stretching back to times when the nuances of flavor and quality were appreciated by a discerning few.

Even in the early 1900s, establishments with a taste for the extraordinary, like the Hotel du Crillon in Paris, sought out coffee from very specific micro-lots and farms within particular regions of Guatemala. This attention to quality and detail was a precursor to the principles that underpin specialty coffee today.

Fast forward to the 1970s, and the term ‘specialty coffee’ began to find its footing in the coffee industry. It was in the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal that the term was first used, a coinage that occurred around the same time as the opening of the first Starbucks store. These emerging coffee shops played a significant role in shifting people’s perception of coffee from being a mere convenience to an immersive experience.

Over the years, as coffee has permeated cultures around the globe, there has been an escalating demand for higher-quality brews. This, combined with advancements in agricultural practices, roasting techniques, and brewing technology, has brought specialty coffee into the limelight and made it more accessible to coffee enthusiasts such as yourself worldwide.

Next, we’ll look further into Decoding Your Specialty Coffee Label. 

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