Specialty coffees are “the best of the best” and are different from other coffees because the beans has been grown at the perfect altitude, in the best soil and then picked at the right time before distributing it to coffee traders and roasters.
In simplest terms, specialty coffee is harvested and cultivated for its flavor notes and with the emphasis on quality and clarity of flavor.
Before we go in depth on what makes specialty coffee the highest grade of coffee, it’s important to note that there are 2 main types of beans you’ll encounter in the coffee world. They are called Arabica and Robusta.
Robusta is commonly used for commodity coffee and cultivated for its caffeine content, not for its flavor. The opposite is true for Arabica.
Where Do Specialty Coffee Beans Come From?
Coffee is a very difficult and fickle plant. It takes a lot of very specific conditions to help coffee thrive, grow and produce an exportable yield. There’s a region of the world called the bean belt. This is where the world’s coffee is grown.
The bean belt lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricon and passes through some 70 countries which have tropical climates that provide rich environments that are perfect for growing coffee.
You’ll see a lot of coffee coming out of places like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Costa Rica. These regions have the criteria necessary for coffee to thrive.
However, while the growing conditions are similar between the countries within the coffee belt, the variations in soil, temperature, rainfall and altitude all greatly affect the flavour of the beans that the coffee plant produces.
How Is Specialty Coffee Graded?
According to The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), specialty coffee comes from green coffee beans that have no quackers, free of primary defects, properly dried and sized, presented in a cup free of taints and faults, and have distinctive traits.
To put it simply, specialty coffee is required to pass grading and cupping tests according to established standards that define specialty coffee in its raw form.
Coffee that has scored over 80 points on a 100 point scale (SCA Coffee Grading Protocols) is considered a specialty coffee. This grading process is called “cupping” which is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. The distinction varies in terms of flavors, dynamism, intricacy and interesting notes.
Growing specialty coffee
With commodity coffee, you can grow it in a flat farm with no shade. With specialty coffee, you need to pay very close attention to how the bean is developing on the tree. Example: a branch with a bunch of clusters of cherries, they all need to be a certain shade of red, which indicates their level of ripeness or maturity. They’re not all going to turn red at the same time. So farmers need to go through their fields multiple times during a harvest season, pulling off the cherries that are the correct ripeness.
After being harvested, coffee cherries will require some initial processing. The time between harvesting and beginning of processing can also significantly affect the final coffee product.
1) Initial Processing
During the initial processing stage, the coffee cherries must be treated with care to avoid damage. After the skin and pulp get removed, the coffee beans have to be dried.
If they are not dried properly, unevenly, too slow, or too fast, it can be disastrous for the final quality of the specialty coffee bean.
After undergoing further stages of raw processing and preparation, the coffee beans need to be hulled, separated by size and packaged for shipping. Even the slightest mistakes in storing or handling coffee beans before they’re shipped can diminish their quality.
2) Roasting and Grinding
From the green beans, comes the next stage which is roasting the coffee beans. During the roasting process, the roaster must identify the potential of the coffee, develop the origin flavours and package the roasted product properly.
When this stage is performed the right way and with precision, the potential remains intact and the coffee is ready to be ground. Specialty coffee is delivered to cafes and brewers as beans because grinding should be done as close to brewing as possible.
Upon grinding you will smell delicate aromas as ground coffee is subject to rapid staling and oxidation. Another thing to keep in mind during this stage is the size of the ground particles.
This is usually determined by the brewing method. If the grind is too find, the over-extraction may affect the coffee’s quality. On the other hand, if the grind is too coarse, the coffee may not develop its full coffee flavour profile potential.
When entering the brewing stage, specialty coffee beans are now one step away from the thirsty coffee lover!
A coffee barista specializes in preparing and serving specialty and espresso-based coffee beverages. They are certified with many hours of coursework and hands-on experience and are informed about the origin of the coffee bean, as well as its flavor profiles.
If the specialty coffee isn’t brewed correctly, then its full potential can never be revealed to the coffee consumer. Whether it is going to be prepared as drip coffee or espresso, there are standards of brewing temperature, water quality, coffee-to-water ratio, and extraction that must be followed in order to create quality coffee and the perfect cup of specialty coffee.
As you can see there’s a tremendous amount of effort that goes into getting the beans to the roaster. Three years of growing and about six months to a year of harvesting, milling, processing, drying and sorting before it gets shipped out. The roasters then spend a lot of time perfecting their roast, cupping it, tasting it, tweaking it, and making it perfect for your cup.
At The Hub Coffee Roasters, we source only top-quality beans from around the world, because everyone deserves to taste a good cup of coffee. To learn more about why we do what we do, visit us at thehuboug.com and let us remind you why you love coffee.