What is Specialty Coffee?

Have you ever heard of the term “wave of coffee”? It refers to a period in time in the coffee industry. Till now there have been 3 waves in total; they represent the big changes in this industry and are brought forward by the global culture or coffee.

The current third wave refers to the movement within the world of specialty coffee that appreciates coffee as more than a standard beverage and more as a craft beverage. The process of making coffee is highlighted here from the process of selection of beans, roasting to brewing it.

With this wave, the consumers were interested in having a cup of coffee that catered to their personal preferences. A cup of coffee that matched their standards, suited their tastes. People were curious about the origins of coffee, the brewing process from the inception to the end.

With this wave came the realization of the importance of Specialty Coffee, which changed the coffee industry. Things like the quality of the coffee, the supporting factors such as professionalism of the barista, the environment, the traceability of the beans and how they were being roasted became extremely important. This is the point where coffee became more than just a beverage, it became an experience served in a cup. 

What is Specialty Coffee?

Did you know even Coffee beans get grades? These beans are graded out of 100 and this process is called “cupping”. Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) says that specialty coffee is a coffee with a score of 80+.

If a coffee shows numerous defects in a sample of green beans, unroasted coffee beans, they are automatically kicked out from the specialty status. Being a specialty coffee isn’t easy.

This is what sets it apart from your standard coffee or the gourmet kind. Gourmet coffee is usually said to be any high-quality coffee or one that claims to be one.

It’s more than just the beans.

Specialty Coffee producers need to pay attention to quality at every stage of production. Every stage of production is checked for quality. The beans cannot have a lot of defects and hence, the coffee plants are cultivated and harvested at the optimal time and the cultivators must follow all the mentioned practices and protocols.

Then came an argument that what about roasting and brewing coffee? The answer followed that specialty coffee is more than just the production of the beans. It all boils down to the final experience and that experience isn’t dependent on any single stage.

Hence, the focus should be on producing incredible coffee as a whole. From planting the seed to pouring it in a cup, it should be good from the start to the end.

Specialty Coffee versus Third Wave Coffee

Sometimes people mix specialty coffee shop and third-wave coffee shops thinking they’re the one and the same. However, the two differ significantly.

“Assume coffee to be a movie. Specialty coffee is the movie you’re watching and the third wave is the cinema you’re watching it in.”, said Kris Schachman, CEO of Five Elephant Coffee, Berlin, in an attempt to highlight the difference between them.

Third Wave coffee helped defined the coffee you’re drinking; it presented the backstory to it. You can trace back it’s the origin, who planted the seeds, how it was processed and how it was harvested. 

Specialty coffee and third-wave coffee don’t have to go together but they can complement each other very well.

What makes specialty coffee so special?

The demarcation between coffee can be made with just the quality of the beans. Not all coffee beans are the same. There, in fact, exists a hierarchy of coffee bean quality which can be segregated into 3 parts.

  1. Lowest strata, standing at the bottom are commercial, low-grade beans that have no clear origin and were probably collected from numerous farms and distributed to a company. They’re most commonly used in the making of instant coffee or sold at a low rate to big commercial chains or supermarkets.

  2. Then comes the middle strata, which contains the beans used by global brands and widely known coffee chains. They’re not always low-quality beans and you can easily trace them to their origin but they’re sold on the cheap side and big coffee houses like Costa and Starbucks buy them in bulk at an affordable price.

  3. And on the pinnacle of the pyramid stand the beans that scored more than 80 points on the quality scale. These coffees assessed on the basis of sweetness, texture, acidity and more! These are labeled as the “specialty coffee”. These beans are grown at a higher altitude; they have a hint of spices, fruity taste, and a rich flavor.

    They are more expensive than your usual coffee beans. Since they’re grown at such a high altitude, the harvesting alone is more demanding and expensive. These beans aren’t distributed at a huge scale and hence you can only find them at selected small specialized coffee shops.

Even the process of roasting and brewing is given emphasis when it comes to specialty coffee. If there’s a single mistake in the process of brewing and roasting, it can ruin the entire creation. The baristas need to be aware of how to optimally extract all the flavors.

The coffee shouldn’t be too bitter or too weak since it would dissolve the distinctive flavor that is supposed to be highlighted after the brewing is done. A lot of precision goes into the process of curating a cup of coffee. Every ingredient has to weighed, ratioed and calculated with extreme precision. A little much or a little less can lose the entire flavor of the coffee.

Coffee making is no less than a scientific process or an artistic one. A lot goes into preparing coffee and the precision needed to curate a cup is similar to science.

At the end of the day, what makes coffee so special is the entire experience of it. When you sit down at a coffee shop filled with a magical coffee aroma. When you take a sip of that freshly brewed potion, you get curious where did it come from? You build a connection with your coffee.

What makes specialty coffee so special is the quality, cooperation, perfection that is noted at every stage. So, when you sip a cup of specialty coffee, you celebrate the journey of coffee beans who made it to the end and thus, there are two winners at the end, the coffee and the person drinking it.

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