For some, coffee is nothing more than a convenient way of getting caffeinated. For others it goes way beyond that. The same way connoisseurs may appreciate a fine wine or a craft beer, the coffee industry has a term to describe a similarly gourmet approach to the world's most popular drink. It's called Specialty Coffee. You may have come across this phrase if you've checked out some of the higher-end coffees available. So what is ‘specialty coffee' and why does it matter to me as a coffee lover?
Definition of Specialty Coffee
There are two types of definitions when it comes to understanding specialty coffee.
The first definition of specialty coffee is a general one. In short, it's premium coffee that's genuinely quality-driven from start to finish. It's akin to Third Wave Coffee in which coffee is treated as an artisinal product as opposed to just a drink. Specialty coffee captures the entire process from farm to cup using single origin coffee (as opposed to a blend). The roasting and brewing processes require skill and artistry and are meticulously tailored to produce optimal flavor, range, and body. The end result is a carefully refined cup of premium brew. Specialty Coffee also focuses on ethical sourcing. More and more specialty coffee roasters are now buying their beans directly from the farmers (direct trade), ensuring farmers receive a fair wage for their services. Removing the middlemen in the coffee supply chain guarantees more money and resources are returned to the coffee farmers and their communities. In this regard, specialty coffee roasters look to build lasting, fruitful relationships with their suppliers.
The second definition of Specialty Coffee is the technical one and it's helped usher in a new era in coffee. The Specialty Coffee Association of America, formed in 1982, has created official quantifiable standards for specialty coffee that grades virtually every aspect of the coffee beans in question. Coffee that rates an 80 points or above on a 100-point scale is awarded the title of specialty coffee from the SCAA. The existence of such standards by the SCAA ensures the term “specialty coffee” retains its meaning and isn't just used as a unsubstantiated marketing ploy. While the specialty coffee industry has experienced unprecedented growth in the past few decades, the term itself was actually first used back in 1974 by Erna Knutsen in an issue of Tea & Coffee Trade journal.
What is Specialty Coffee Summary
- Roasting and brewing methods are carefully tailored
- Ethically sourced
- Single origin coffee – (from a single farm or geographic region)
- Focus on building direct relationships with coffee farmers
- Rated over 80 points by the SCAA (ex: True Coffee)
Best Specialty Coffee Company's
Having gone over the definition of specialty coffee, the next step is actually trying some. After all, you can't really know it until you've had it. Most specialty coffee will come as either a light or medium roast. These roasts tend to allow a fuller range of coffee flavors to express themselves compared to dark roasts. You can still find dark roast specialty coffees on the market, but they are rarer.
Below are some of the best specialty coffee brands that in our opinion capture the very spirit and quality of the specialty coffee movement.
Buy Koa Coffee
Buy Driftaway Coffee / Read Driftaway Coffee Review
Buy Grosche Coffee
Buy Caffeic Coffee / Read Caffeic Coffee Review
Check out this very brief documentary that explains the differences between regular coffee and specialty coffee.