What is so special about Specialty coffee?
There’s no accounting for taste, as the old saying goes… but not when it comes to coffee.
Lovers of this beverage all over the world keep arguing should the coffee be acidic or bitter, does coffee from the nearby supermarket somehow differ from the one from “that famous and expensive coffee shop” and are there actually any fruity or chocolaty notes in the cup?
There’s no definitive answer to any of these questions but there’s always one term that appears in each of these conversations - it’s “Specialty”
Before we define this term lets just look at some facts and numbers:
- Coffee is one of the top-10 most traded commodities in the world.
- It’s the second most drinked beverage in the World after water.
- Global coffee market can be relatively divided into Commercial and Specialty coffee.
- 1974 - Erna Knutsen created and first used “Specialty coffee” term
- 1982 - Specialty Coffee Association of America was established
- 10% - approximate percentage of Specialty grade out of whole world production
- 80+ - out of 100 should be coffee’s score to be considered Specialty
So what is actually Specialty coffee?
Any coffee that scores above 80 points on a 100 point scale
But Specialty coffee is not just some particular flavor profile. The term Specialty refers to the whole process and attitude from bean to cup. Typically, such coffee is grown at higher altitudes, with much care and attention from the producer on each stage.
Here’re Specialty coffee main features:
1. Outstanding flavor.
Taste preferences are subjective but we can measure the quality. 80 points is the boundary beyond which Specialty coffee begins. Anyway that doesn’t mean that any coffee lover can try the coffee and tell his score.
Scoring is made by Q-grades - certified specialists who passed 100-questions theory and 18 (!) sensory tests to get their licence. The evaluation process is called “cupping” - a special tasting procedure while calibrated testers try the coffee and fill a special cupping form to get the actual score.
2. No defects.
Coffee production process is complicated and it should be very careful and precise to make coffee “Specialty”.
Rotten, mouldy, insects eaten bean inside your bag - that’s something a huge commercial market can not fully control. But you’ll never find one in Specialty coffee.
Multiple automatic and hand sorting stages make the product 100% clean - otherwise it won’t be graded “Specialty”
3. Sustainability & Direct trade.
There’s another big difference between commercial and specialty coffee besides the actual taste and quality. It's the approach.
While commercial coffee is traded on the stock exchange (which means no one actually tastes the coffee before buying) - Specialty coffee industry is built on tasting & communication basis.
A Green coffee buyer comes to the farm not only to try and choose the coffee to buy but also to give the feedback and advise the producer how to improve his crops in future.
A Roaster comes to the green coffee buyer’s office not only to try the samples and choose the lots to buy but also to get the detailed information about this particular coffee.
A Coffee shop owner doesn’t just buy a famous-brand pack of coffee but tries coffees from different roasters and looks for some special taste and story to tell the customer.
A Barista is not just pushing the button on the coffee machine but studies and improves coffee knowledge to create the best coffee experience for the coffee shop guest.
And finally a Customer becomes not just a consumer but an explorer that collects different sensory experiences and stories about coffee just like a traveller collects magnets from the cities he visited.
4. Fair trade.
As it was mentioned previously - coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world with huge yearly money turnover. Yet at the same time the majority of coffee farmers and their families still live below the poverty line while bib commercial coffee companies set new records for revenues. Specialty coffee industry is not just aiming for greater taste - it’s also a great social project. Education programmes for farmers, reinvestment of green coffee trader’s profit into farming infrastructure, fair and transparent prices for coffee… these are some of the core principles of the Specialty coffee industry.
Just remember: making a choice in favour of a local specialty coffee roaster instead of some global brand coffee bag from a supermarket - you don’t just get better quality of taste… you join the Specialty social movement to give a better life for coffee farmers and their families.