When I first heard of specialty coffee, I have to confess, I was a little puzzled. It seemed to be just another trend led by the generation “ It is cool to be different ” and to a certain extent, I don’t think I was wrong.
However, as I learn and experience more about this topic, I realise the essence of specialty coffee is intact and it holds values that are close to my heart such as sustainability and celebrating the joy a good cup of coffee brings.
So let’s forget the technicalities that flood the internet when we search specialty coffee and talk human, as we discover a little more about this fascinating world.
Excellence in farming
Although, coffee is the supporting actor in almost every social encounter and most certainly the start of the show at most offices and for the academic all-nighters, many will still be surprised by the fact that coffee is second most traded commodity in the world.
The capitalist race will not always allow the farmers to focus solely on specialty coffee, therefore it accounts for a slim percentage of the commerce and its journey will often start with micro lots in farms that produce the mainstream beans as priority.
To be classified as specialty coffee, the coffee bean has to prove its worth and score above 84 points on the SCA Cupping score sheet where its sweetness, acidity, sourness, bitterness, body, aroma and fragrance will be profiled and graded.
Confused?! So was I at first, in simple terms – professional tasters will smell and slurp coffee grounds infused with hot water and define whether they meet the criteria and grade them according to the SCA Guidelines.
Above 80 points a coffee batch is considered of high quality but only make it to the dreamland of specialty coffee if they score above 84 and without any defect that could affect its taste.
Find out more here!
Roasting and traceability
Have you ever wondered where your coffee comes from? I grew up in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil so coffee farms were commonplace for me.
Living in Europe, I realised that the notion of where most vegetables and other goods including coffee come from is, understandably, a foreign concept for many.
To specialty coffee roasters it is important to be able to trace the beans they work with to their origin, in some cases this can be done as far back the very farm that produces it. For the sake of comparison, the industrial coffee companies can often only trace their beans to the continent they originated from.
This way sustainability and fairer trading are promoted and going into specialty coffee can help the farmers increase their profitability and open new doors.
Nowadays, many roasters and baristas from the northern hemisphere travel to countries of origin along the coffee belt to experience more about coffee at the source.
Although such privilege will, in many instances, not flourish into socio-economic and sustainability awareness, strong relationships have developed among farmers and roasters, buyers and other professional and enthusiasts of the field.
You will often hear third wavers talk about educating the classic coffee drinkers about specialty coffee. To be honest, there’s a hint of snobbery in such statements that troubles me. However, as in all other aspects of our society, I believe we need to burst out of our prerogative bubble and look beyond.
Would you be surprised to hear that only one cent of your cup of coffee goes to the farmers or would this fact fall into shrugging shoulders? Well, if you went with the former option, then you would probably be open to look at specialty coffee not just as another trend turned into a phenomenon by the Midas touch of hipsters but also as a way to, within our reality and affordability, consume more responsibly.
Whenever I hear about clear coffee or coffee being served in avocado skins, I can’t help my eyes from rolling at how detached from reality we have become.
Although, I will not lay my opinions dogmatically, I strongly believe thinking and discussing are healthy habits to have and still can not decide if the whole hype around specialty coffee is an elitist hobby that will lead into meaningful and lasting results or if will it fall into the abyss of our ephemeral memories after its 15 minutes of fame runs out.