Specialty Coffee: What Is It All About?

The Rise of Specialty Coffee

If you have a strong interest in coffee, you’ll know the term “specialty coffee”, and how it has created the Third Wave Coffee, drawing attention to premium coffee beans. But for those that have just started to be introduced to what is considered good quality coffee, here’s a simple definition.

The term specialty coffee is used for the highest grade of coffee available, typically relating to the entire supply chain, using single origin or single estate coffee. In the 100-point Review Scale by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), specialty coffee is widely accepted as an 80 point grade. 

What is different about specialty coffee from regular coffee boils down to a few aspects. Firstly, the beans are grown at higher elevations along the “Bean Belt” (which is between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn). Specialty coffee beans are also processed carefully after being harvested from the tree, ensuring no blemishes or defects when packaged to be shipped to suppliers. Another important aspect of specialty coffee is that it is able to be traced back to its roots through the quality provided in the consumer’s cup, or even from the package that came with it. From the bean to the cup, every step is monitored carefully to ensure the finest quality is given. So let’s go through the process to further understand what makes specialty coffee so much better than regular coffee.

From Bean to Cup

It starts with having the right climate to grow a healthy coffee tree, as time and location plays a major role in growing good coffee cherries. Today, the two most popular coffee beans exported around the world are Arabica and Robusta. These beans are a little more bitter but they are much easier to grow as compared to Liberica and Excelsa. One interesting thing to know is that all specialty coffee in the world comes from the top 10% of Arabica seeds.

The average time for a healthy coffee tree to bear good fruits is about 3 to 4 years, and the harvesters will use various ways to collect the coffee cherries, be it strip picking, selective hand picking, or even using mechanized harvesting to save time.

After picking all the cherries, it is then time to process them either by drying the cherries on a large surface under the sun, or washing the pulp and skin away to only have the beans remain for further cleaning. Even during this process, there will be defects on the inside of the cherry even though it looks good on the outside, so it’s important to know that every step of the way until the coffee bean itself is visible, proper monitoring is done to minimize errors before delivery.

After being sorted out by size and weight, the beans which are now considered green coffee are packed in jute bags which are durable and easy to handle, thus considered as the most cost-effective way to pack green beans. Once packed, the beans will be shipped to the respective cafés and roasteries for the next step.

Roasted coffee beans will then be packed in individual bags with a one-way valve to contain the volatile aromatic compounds to give the coffee beans it’s delicate aroma. It will then be evaluated through cupping by certified Q Graders to test the quality of each batch of coffee beans.

Once all that is done, it is now time to brew your cup of coffee! Never thought it took that much effort just to ensure that the coffee tastes delicious right? Now you know!

Why Specialty Coffee?

What specialty coffee can provide that regular coffee cannot is deeper, more varied flavors. Compared to commercial coffee, there are more choices to select in the specialty coffee world, especially when it comes to location. You’ll be able to buy or choose beans based on where it was grown, how it was roasted, by the price, or even the flavor of it!

Unlike commercial coffee that generally uses defect coffee beans, specialty coffee ensures all coffee beans that are eventually grinded and brewed into your cup are unanimous in quality. Aside from that, just based on the effort it takes to carefully select specialty coffee beans, so many more job opportunities are created just from this industry!

Just by switching from your regular cup of coffee from the convenience store to brewing your own coffee grounds or spending a little more at your local café, you will be introduced to flavors and aromas that will definitely alter your take on coffee.