What is Specialty Coffee?
Specialty coffee can consistently exist through the dedication of the people who have made it their life's work to continually make quality their highest priority. This is not the work of only one person in the lifecycle of a coffee bean; specialty can only occur when all of those involved in the coffee value chain work in harmony and maintain a keen focus on standards and excellence from start to finish. This is no easy accomplishment, and yet because of these dedicated professionals, there are numerous specialty coffees available right now, across the globe, and likely right around the corner from you.
Meet the People Whose Lifework is Specialty Coffee
The Coffee Farmer
Great coffee starts with the producer whose family likely has spent generations perfecting their approach to farming the highest quality coffee possible. Grown in select altitudes and climates and nursed for years before the first harvest, the producer who creates specialty coffee devotes his or her life to refining and perfecting the highest quality coffee on the planet. For them, it is quality not quantity that is the most important consideration. Only coffees free of defects and picked at their peak of ripeness will continue on to the next hands that will shape them. For the farmer, being able to connect with quality-minded buyers ensures a higher profit option which supports individuals, families and communities around the world.
The Green Coffee Buyer
Green coffee is next transferred to the green coffee buyer who may be certified by the SCA as a Certified Coffee Taster or the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) as a Licensed Q Grader. They have a palate as distinguished as a sommelier and can keenly identify coffee quality via cupping, or systematic tasting of brewed coffees. Through cupping, the coffee taster can assess a coffee's score and determine whether it is specialty grade quality, make decisions on which coffees they will include in their offerings, and often develop tasting notes and descriptions for the coffee on its final packaging. The green coffee buyer has a large role in communicating the information about a coffee to the roaster and café staff.
High quality coffees are next transferred to the coffee roaster who may be certified by the SCA as having completed numerous hours of coursework and hands-on training to skillfully roast the specialty bean. Coffee roasting is an art that requires a high degree of knowledge and experience to produce specialty level roast profiles. Coffee must be closely monitored during the roasting process and scientific principles of heat transfer, thermodynamics and coffee chemistry must be applied to ensure the highest standard of quality and flavor come through in the final roasted bean.
Once the specialty coffee beans reach the retail environment, they have already passed 3 levels of inspection to ensure an extremely high level of quality control, however the process in not yet complete. The barista, who may be certified by the SCA as having completed numerous hours of coursework and hands-on training, is the final coffee professional to guarantee the lifecycle of the specialty bean is completed. Specialty level Baristas are not only highly skilled in brewing equipment operations; they routinely are deeply informed as to the origin of the coffee bean and how it's flavor profiles will be revealed in brewing. If the specialty bean is not brewed properly it is possible that its true flavor potential could be lost; the Barista ensures each bean reaches its full brewed promise.
Not expecting to see yourself in this list? In fact, it is the consumer who completes the lifecycle of the specialty coffee bean by actively seeking out and choosing specialty coffee options. When you take the time to find a local coffee bar or roastery that is dedicated to quality, or take an extra moment to learn from your barista about the people whose hands and passion produced the cup you're enjoying so that you can make more informed choices, you demonstrate not only a commitment to a higher standard of quality of taste and flavor but also a commitment to a higher standard of living for every person who contributed along the way.