Specialty Coffee – What You Should Look Out For
Specialty coffee is an artisanal level of brewing that focuses on freshness, expertise, and quality from all aspects of supply chain starting from how coffee beans are grown to how your coffee is brewed.
If you live in North America, you’ve probably noticed artisanal coffee shops popping up on every corner of the block. Most major coffee chains don’t offer specialty coffee, but with the demand for high-grade coffee growing stronger and stronger each year from both consumers and manufacturers, the third wave coffee movement is here to stay.
Coffee beans are carefully roasted to the most superb level by dedicated craftsmen who have deemed it their life work to prioritize product calibre above all else. Erna Knutsen first coined the term “specialty coffee” in a 1974 issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal, to describe high-grade coffee beans that are produced in unique microclimates, resulting in remarkable flavour.
Specialty coffee is widely known to have an SCAA score of 80 or above on the 100-point Coffee Review scale. The Speciality Coffee Association of America grades outstanding coffee from 90-100, Excellent coffee from 85-89.99, and Very Good coffee as 80-84.99. The SCAA sets very clear standards on minimum requirements for specialty coffee, and will only allow 0-5 defects for every 350 grams of coffee beans.
Coffee beans are also required to be selectively hand-picked and obtained from ethical socio-economic practises, with a heavy emphasis on being environmentally friendly. Many activists and organizations also argue that obtaining specialty coffee should not involve harmful pesticides, workers exploitation, or unethical farming practises.
So how do you know if you’re drinking specialty coffee? Here are a few indicators:
1. Does the package contain clear flavour descriptors?
Specialty coffee packaging is usually complete with information about specific flavour notes. For example, our Castillo Varietal contains flavour notes of sour mandarin, sweet caramel, and panela, with fragrances of chocolate, caramel, and nut. Flavour descriptors should be unique to each coffee and act as a great indicator of food pairings that will taste exquisite with your roast. General descriptors such as “light” or “bold” may indicate that the coffee is of lower grade, as descriptors for specialty coffee should be very specific.
2. Is the coffee a light roast, dark roast, or medium roast?
Although many people can’t live without their dark roast coffee, this is usually an indicator of a lower grade coffee. Dark roast coffee will not allow you to perceive the natural flavours and aromas that a really good specialty coffee contains. It’s very easy to hide imperfections or coffee defects with a bold and smoky flavour, so instead, you should look out for medium roast coffees that will bring out all of the high quality, complex aromas.
3. Does the package contain information about the coffee’s origin?
Good specialty coffee will have detailed information about the unique and traceable origins about its coffee beans. Most specialty coffee roasters pride themselves on transparency and ensure that their packaging has clear indication of ethical sourcing, who the farmers are, and which region the coffee is from. For example, our Caturra Varietal is a single-origin specialty coffee grown in the region of Caldas, Colombia. Each bean is individually selected and processed by hand by our Montañeros partners. Our coffee is grown in micro-lots, with each micro-lot processed separately.
4. Does the company provide information about harvest dates?
Like any other harvested crop, your coffee will usually fluctuate in taste if it is not fresh or adequately stored. Although specialty coffee is relatively sustainable, factors such as temperature, moisture, and light source can affect the taste. At Montaneros Coffee, we ensure to purchase all of our coffee beans within 6 weeks of being harvested, which means your coffee is fresh, healthy, and always of the highest quality. We ship our coffee beans by air to reduce transport times to ensure fresh coffee in every cup!
There are many factors that will influence the quality and taste of your specialty coffee, so being aware about what to look out for will ensure that you’re drinking authentic, fresh, specialty coffee every single time. To learn more about our specialty coffee selection, please browse our product page.