4 Easy Ways to Understand Specialty Coffee

4 Easy Ways to Understand Specialty Coffee

We often mention being a Specialty Coffee Roaster. Not only our Marketing collaterals are full with that phrase but also our Home Barista training manuals. Most of the signs in our retail outlet will also point at Specialty beans, but when you stop for a second and think of it, you wonder, what does that actually mean?

What IS Speciality coffee? Do coffee lovers who engage with us and enjoy consuming our beans understand what Speciality beans means? Do they taste the difference in the cup?

Researching into Speciality coffee one finds that the terms has indeed changed throughout the years and now is more loosely used within the Coffee Industry to describe a complete process from Seed to Cup that involves all the human factors in the coffee value chain.

As a roaster, there is an immediate, quantified parameter that assists us in categorizing green beans as ‘Specialty’, using the Cupping standards of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and looking out for green beans marked out at minimum 80 points. Saying so, even SCAA admits we need to consider much more than that to determine Speciality Coffee. It can, in fact, be examined from 4 different viewpoints, where each contributes to the meaning of the whole:

The Grower

Specialty coffee is first and foremost evaluated by the grower’s farming practices and techniques evolved through generations. The microclimates, the care for the trees, all the way through harvesting and processing methods, all are important parts of making it specialty. The grower develops a quality focus strategy and picks up only ripen cherries, free from defects, and goes on to process the beans with high quality assurance in mind.

The Green Coffee Buyer

The Green Beans buyer must be certified as a Coffee Taster by SCAA or be a Licensed Q Grader. These professionals own a refined palate and apply high standards to determine through cupping whether a particular coffee is specialty grade and what are its qualities and attributes. They are an important link between the farmer and the roaster / consumer to optimize communication about each offering in the chain.

The Roaster

Coffee roasting is an art that requires a high degree of knowledge and experience to produce Specialty level roast profiles. The process starts with heavy researching, sourcing, roasting and cupping samples, then eventually building flavours profiles and roasting the beans commercially. Coffee must be closely monitored during the roasting process and scientific principles like heat transfer, thermodynamics and coffee chemistry must be applied to ensure the highest standard of quality and flavour come through in the final roasted bean.

The Barista and the Consumer (You)

Traditionally, the Barista’s role will be separated from the consumer. Alas in the Home Barista World where the consumer becomes the barista, we relate to them as one. When you pick up a bag of beans from us, they have already passed 3 levels of inspection to ensure an extremely high level of quality, however the coffee is yet to be prepared. And the more skills you have with your brewing equipment operation and the more intimately familiar you are with the flavour profiles of the beans, the higher quality the coffee you brew at home will be.

In order to replace successfully the role of the Specialty level Barista in optimizing Speciality brew flavours at home, the home barista needs to understand the Barista skills level operating the equipment and also their involvement with the Seed to Cup process, making them aware of the bench marked profile for each beans.

This is where Home Barista professionals like us can team up with you in a guided learning curve where you take knowledgeable decisions of your brewing equipment, learn good, consistence practices in operating it, make informed choices about your coffee beans and embark on exploratory journey to get to know it even more intimately.

By taking correct consumer choices and empower yourself with our guidance to become the best Home Barista you can be, you demonstrate not only commitment to the highest standard quality of taste but also a commitment to a higher standard of living of those who contributed on the way from a seed to your cup.

If you wish to experience Specialty roasted beans and you haven’t tried Di Bartoli’s beans before, click here to try one of our Premium Single Origins that are great as Espresso or one of our Classic Blends best consumed with milky coffees. 

– Adapted from SCAA’s publication here 

© 2020 Ofra Ronen