Specialty coffee for us isn't just a meaning, it's the essence of what we do.
For us, the line is truly blurred between specialty grading and third wave coffee, where it's just not about the grade of the coffee, but the who, where and how it's produced. It's an all encompassing definition.
What we've realised, however, is that perhaps not everyone really understands what specialty coffee is - or understands enough about it to care.
Let's be honest - we're surrounded by so many different types of coffee in our daily lives that most of us don't even really take note of the quality of the beans or where it's actually coming from - from instant and pods to barista-made espresso.
Understanding what specialty coffee means isn't only important for the daily brew you drink, but for everyone involved in the chain of custody.
So below, we're laying it all out - explaining exactly what specialty coffee is to us and why you need to take note.
Specialty coffee is the best of the best.
If you are looking for the traditional, simple explanation as to what specialty coffee is - this is it. Specialty coffee is the highest graded beans with the 'best' flavours.
The process of grading coffee was introduced to assist with commoditising the product. To be considered 'specialty', beans need to score 80 points or above on a 100-point scale. In a process known as 'cupping' (which involves a lot of sniffing and slurping - it's a noisy process), brewed coffees are tasted with scores applied to different aspects of flavour, such as aroma, body, acidity and balance. Of course, everyone has different tastes, but it is the job of the trained cupper to put aside personal preference and evaluate the coffee subjectively.
This is where third wave coffee steps in though and gives a whole new meaning to the term, and when it comes down to it, we believe specialty coffee is so much more than ratings and scores.
Specialty coffee is a team effort.
It involves every person involved in the process, from the farmer planting the seed, all the way through to the barista.
To be clear - a roaster can't receive a delivery of green beans and magically turn them into specialty coffee. It takes every person working diligently to maintain standards and excellence throughout the lifecycle of the coffee.
It can be painstaking work to be able to maintain such a high quality - hence the higher cost of the final product - but as they say, you get what you pay for.
Specialty coffee can be traced back to origin.
When it comes to your everyday, run-of-the-mill coffee, you might be able to find out which country it was grown in. Full stop.
In comparison, specialty coffee should be traced at every step in the process, from the variety planted, and growing altitude and terrain, through to the dates it was harvested, pulped and processed, and transported to the roaster. Being able to trace these details is an important way to guarantee quality - and for those of you who are conscious of ethical and sustainable consumption, this information can also be extremely valuable.
Traditionally, specialty coffee was introduced to assist with commoditising the product
And speaking of...
Specialty coffee is ethically and sustainably produced.
To be completely honest - from our personal experience meeting with coffee farmers in Kenya and Tanzania - it can be difficult to determine if everyone in the supply chain is getting a fair deal. Specialty coffee, however, should not be produced at the expense of the farmer, and the wellbeing of their family, community, and the environment.
It's not a new idea that coffee should be sustainable and ethical - in fact, most people we talk to think that all coffees already are, thanks to some well known certifications, and direct trade marketing and branding. While these certifications do raise awareness, it also lulls the consumer into a false sense of security.
During our travels, we're yet to meet a farmer that hasn't struggled due to the current system - meaning we believe we need to go beyond certification and borders, and start again.
You could buy a bag of the highest grade coffee in the world, but if the farmer at origin was paid significantly less than what it's truly worth, we don't believe it can be considered 'specialty'. Ensuring everyone involved received their fair share - and that the farmer actually gets paid at all - is something we strive to achieve every day.
Specialty coffee is produced for the consumer - that's you!
If it weren't for the person drinking, enjoying and appreciating specialty coffee, it simply wouldn't exist. It's like anything in this world - supply relies on demand. Paying a higher price for what is truly specialty coffee ensures the farmers can invest in more resources to improve their annual harvest. The less consumers are willing to pay, the quicker the quality and quantity drops.
Every time you invest in a bag of high quality coffee beans, you're supporting the time, dedication and hard work of farmers, millers, importers and roasters in the industry. And for that, we thank you.
We're passionate about investing in specialty coffee - and we hope you are too.