What is specialty coffee? That is a fairly good question that was asked of me the other day while giving out samples with a little added coffee education. When one hears the word specialty, they instantly think that its better or “special”, well, that is true. Specialty coffee is “measurably” better than the commodity coffee that you are probably used to drinking (your local location of a national chain coffee shop probably serves it up extra hot). What specialty coffee isn’t, is cheap. Specialty coffee by definition is a coffee that is graded at or above 83 on a 100 point scale. To achieve such a high level of quality, farmers must take great care in their farms. From the terroir (farmers must plant coffee in certain climates, altitudes, and soil conditions for the fruit to fully mature) to the mill, specialty coffee holds itself to a higher standard, which in turn fetches a higher price.
In this way, specialty coffee stands as the direct alternative to commodity coffee. Specialty coffee isn’t “right” (and commodity coffee isn’t “wrong”) it’s just a totally different way of approaching things. Commodity coffee (Folgers, Maxwell House, K-cups, and the like) purchases coffee en masse and sell it that way. They purchase with less concern for quality than for caffeine. Commodity coffee sales still dwarf those of specialty coffee in the coffee market. It is fair to say that commodity coffee emphasizes quantity over quality.
SPECIALTY COFFEE BY DEFINITION IS A COFFEE THAT IS GRADED AT OR ABOVE 83 ON A 100 POINT SCALE
So, what does the term “specialty coffee” mean for us? It means we have a great responsibility, it means we continue the work that began with the farmers in, say, El Salvador or Colombia and the workers at their mill, it means we roast with care and attention to detail, doing justice to the truly special coffees we receive, and upholding their already high standards. (Like other aspects of specialty coffee, our roasting and brewing standards are of course “measurable”)
And what does “specialty coffee” mean for you? It means sitting back, taking a moment, drinking coffee, and appreciating that gift of quality over caffeine.