Facts You Must Know about Speciality Coffee
Speciality Coffee means many things to many people. To keep it simple, we can go by what the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) with its offices in the US and UK says about it. SCA has formulated a coffee quality scale with 100 points and any coffee that scores 80 points or more qualifies to be termed speciality coffee.
This coffee quality scale is applicable throughout the different stages of the coffee’s lifecycle -- from cultivation to harvesting, from green coffee grading to roasting, and from supply chain to brewing techniques in your local coffee shop. The coffee quality scale formulated by SCA brings an element of formal requirements for a coffee to be qualified as Speciality Coffee.
This helps the overall coffee business stick to a quality parameter and provide the customers with a standard cup of speciality coffee that is so much better in so many ways. When we talk about your regular cup of coffee, the concept of speciality coffee has purged the coffee of all its bitter and ashy taste it has been associated with over the centuries. So, what should a speciality coffee company aim for?
Speciality coffee has a more flavour-oriented and a prolific taste profile. But this would not be possible if the coffee beans chosen for your speciality coffee are not special. This makes us look at the way speciality coffee beans are grown and how the concept of speciality coffee is changing the coffee farming scene.
SPECIALITY COFFEE VS. ETHICAL COFFEE DEBATE
The term speciality coffee was first used in 1974 in Tea & Coffee Trade Journal where the writer was trying to refer to the high-quality coffee beans grown in some specific microclimates. The first reference to speciality quality was essentially about how and where to grow the best quality coffee beans. In the over 500 years of history of modern coffee, coffee farming has been a bleak sore point.
The farmers were poorly paid and coffee farming could hardly meet their expenses. The coffee producers toiled in their remote farms without any modern facility or without any hope of education and electricity reaching their homes or farms while coffee lovers around the world relished their coffee with great contentment.
The concept of speciality coffee was going to change all this or at least it would lead to a cry for a more ethical treatment to coffee producers. Much has changed indeed. This has been possible all due to the focus on better quality conforming to the speciality coffee parameters set by SCA.
Today, the idea of speciality coffee is associated with the exquisitely produced cup of perfect coffee with its refreshing crisp flavour and taste in multiple notes. But to get this kind of highly enriched flavour and taste profile, we need the best quality coffee beans most of which are grown in coffee farms in faraway Kenya, Ethiopia, and Columbia.
Because of the concept of speciality coffee which lays more emphasis on better quality of coffee beans, there is more money in coffee farming today. This has encouraged farmers in many countries to take up coffee farming. And the image of poor coffee farmers working hard in their fields but not able to send their children to school or living a life of penury is changing. So much of the political wrong that existed in coffee farming seems to have changed or is changing fast.
HOW COFFEE BEANS ARE AT THE CENTRE OF SPECIALITY COFFEE
Now, let’s have a look at how the best quality coffee beans are truly at the centre of speciality coffee. This should help a coffee company know what to aim for. This can also help create a speciality coffee UK brand.
Coffee beans used in speciality coffee are superior in quality to the coffee beans used in regular coffee. How do we know this? It is due to the stringent quality parameters prescribed by SCA that makes speciality coffee beans different from the ordinary coffee beans.
SPECIALITY COFFEE: FROM FARM TO YOUR CUP
Speciality coffee beans come from specially planted Arabica and Robusta, more Arabica than Robusta to be precise, coffee trees. Arabica is known for its soft taste while Robusta for stronger and bitter taste. These trees are grown with unprocessed coffee seeds. These seeds are sown in the right kind of soil at the right time of the year.
The trees are grown at the right place, preferably under the shade of larger native trees. Statistically saying, only 10% of Arabica coffee beans qualify for speciality coffee. As much as 90% of Arabica coffee beans do not qualify for speciality coffee. 10% of Arabica beans that qualify for speciality coffee is the total amount of speciality coffee beans that we get. This clearly says something about the selection of coffee beans. Here lies that exquisite taste that you get from speciality coffee.
A coffee plant takes about 3-4 years to bear fruits - the berries. When the berries ripen to the level suitable for speciality coffee, it’s picked by hand in a selective method to ensure only those berries that have ripened suitably are picked.
After picking the berries, they need to be processed to prevent them from getting spoilt. One of the processing methods is removing the pulp and fermenting the beans in water up to a level. This is followed by taking them out and cleaning them with a lot of water. It’s a very delicate stage for the coffee beans because a simple mistake can ruin the taste of the beans forever. The beans are dried and inferior beans are picked and removed.
This follows a grading of the green beans as per the stringent SCA parameters by SCA certified Q graders. Beans that score a minimum of 80 points on the coffee quality scale are selected for speciality coffee while the rest is left for the regular coffee market.
After grading of the green beans, they are either stored or taken for roasting which is done by SCA certified roasters. Before the roasting takes place, the beans are once again checked for quality conforming to speciality coffee. Here, SCA certified tasters called uppers’ looks, feels, and smells the beans to grade them. This is followed by a small sample of the beans roasted and brewed. The Cupper tastes it and grades it.
At all these stages, coffee beans can be dropped from the selection if they do not show the right flavour and character to be qualified as speciality coffee beans. If everything goes fine, the coffee beans are finally ready to be roasted. Once roasted, the coffee beans should be consumed in less than 30 days to get the best flavour and taste profile.
The roasting of coffee beans is another very delicate stage in the life of speciality coffee beans as they must not be roasted beyond a point to preserve some of its more delicate flavours and tastes. This is different from the general practice of over roasting the coffee beans to the point that they give a burnt, bitter, and ashy taste profile.
For this speciality coffee beans are roasted at 220-260 degree Celsius. The beans are continuously stirred and kept moving throughout the process. When the coffee beans are adequately heated and the inside temperature of the beans reach 230 degree Celsius, the oil in the beans start coming out to the surface, giving it the final dark brown colour.
At this time, the familiar aroma of coffee starts filling the year. Now your coffee is ready, and it is only 2 to 30 days away from your cup. After this period, its aroma and taste will start to fade.
MONITORED THROUGHOUT THE SUPPLY CHAIN
From the harvest to the coffee shop, speciality coffee beans are monitored throughout the supply chain to ensure there is no adulteration or any other kind of compromise in its quality.
A typical speciality coffee brewing can be a lengthy process where beans are weighed, ground, and poured into a paper cone. Then, hot water is poured into the cone, and the coffee brew is extracted in a pot below. It can be a slow and time-consuming process that can initially put you off. But wait, first drink your coffee and see how you feel. Just a few sips down the throat and you know you are not drinking your regular coffee. It’s some kind of magic that’s blowing you off your feet. Here, your coffee does not taste that bitter and ashy. It’s rich in flavour that may range from sweet to chocolate, from crisp green to floral aroma. It is something you never had before.
All the care that had gone into the coffee beans from planting to harvesting and from roasting to brewing is finally showing the magic it is capable of.
HOW DO YOU BREW SPECIALITY COFFEE?
Much before speciality coffee came and conquered the world, pour-over cones, French presses, espresso, and manual coffee brewing had already been invented. And, you can make your speciality coffee with any of these machines and techniques. So what makes speciality coffee so special? It’s the precision with which a barista understands the coffee beans and the meticulous ways he goes about bringing out their unique persona – flavour, texture, body, and taste. Now, take this art to the next level by brewing different coffee drinks such as cappuccino, latte, and so on.