Specialty Coffee - From Cup to Crop

What is Specialty Coffee? – From your Cup back to Crop

Specialty Coffee defined by the SCAA

Specialty Coffee can be something of a cloudy term. While the Specialty Coffee Association of America has laid out specific guidelines for what constitutes truly “Specialty” coffee, the proliferation of marketing jargon like “gourmet” and “premium” have left many people confused about what makes a really great cup. To understand the answer, we have to follow the best beans from the coffee house all the way back to their country of origin. The best coffees in the world are developed with care by each pair of hands that transports them from farm to consumer, into what can be considered a truly singular product.

The SCAA defines specialty coffee as “the highest-quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavor potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed to well-established SCAA developed standards. Specialty coffee in the green bean state can be defined as a coffee that has no defects and has a distinctive character in the cup, with a score of 80 or above when graded according to SCAA Standards.”

Because these criteria are difficult for many of us to detect by taste alone for most of us, we’ll walk step by step back from the cup to the beginning of a specialty coffee’s journey.

The importance of Roasting and Brewing

Consumers and coffee shops usually acquire beans that have already been roasted. From this point it is imperative to store beans properly and to brew the coffee quickly (usually not more than 2-3 weeks after roast date). When brewed skillfully, this coffee will be at its best. But the quality of the brewer’s cup depends a great deal on the work of the roaster.

Coffee roasters have a job that is part science and part art. For any given bean, there is a process of trial and error by which a roaster determines how to prepare it to its full potential. Different tastes for lighter or darker roasts prevail, but it is important never to roast a coffee so dark that its taste is lost to burning, or so light that its rich flavor never develops. Trends come and go, but the specialists seem to be calling for roasts to be lighter than was typical 10 or 20 years ago. No amount of roasting prowess can save a bean that has been processed poorly, though.

Processing and transportation

The processor is an individual or company in the coffee’s country of origin who removes the green coffee seed from its “cherry” or fruit. This is accomplished by different means in different locales, but it must be done very quickly after the coffee cherries are picked to preserve the best flavor potential. Once processed, the green beans must be packaged well and transported swiftly and safely to their eventual destination. In years past, certain excellent coffees were ruined when they were transported by truck through icy mountain elevations that damaged the beans. If the processing and shipping has been accomplished well, we are left only with the original workers: the coffee farmers.

Growing regions

Coffee is best grown near the equator, at high elevations on shady mountains at elevations of 1000-2000+ meters. Coffees that are grown at lower elevations have much more surface area on which to grow, making them perfect for commodity level coffees, but these products tend to be more bitter, as a result of the harsh sun exposure during their development. Shade-grown coffees can’t be produced in as great quantities because of the limited space at the tops of mountains (a factor in their cost), but they develop more steadily, with balanced and nuanced flavors. Many farmers who grow coffee in this way have been doing so for generations and pick each bean by hand. They understand the relationship between the coffee they grow and the soil it lives in. They know how to bring their unique produce to maturity with a skill that no one else in the world possesses. It is these farmers who set the process in motion to provide the world’s best coffee to consumers around the world. The quantities are limited (specialty coffee makes up only 2-3% of the coffee market) and the prices are higher, but for those who have tasted the difference, these specialty coffees are worth it. Without the expert growing of the raw bean, the efforts of the processors and roasters will be fruitless in developing great coffee.

Here at Café Contibio we only sell coffees that have this story. We have taken the time to identify the finest coffees grown all around the world and we look forward to sharing these treasure with you.

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