Elevating the standard of regular coffee consumption to an elite drinking experience is no mean feat. But with improvements in agricultural farming, roasting and brewing technology, along with a growing societal awareness around sustainability, the West has seen a sharp increase in demand for premium coffee. This is otherwise known as speciality coffee.
Speciality coffee is essentially the finest of its kind, boasting high calibre in all stages of production. From planting to growing and plucking, each phase is carefully monitored and cultivated to ensure premium coffee bean growth. Those discerning taste buds among us will notice the difference, as regular coffee cups tend to lack quality, sustainability and transparency. In other words, you get what you pay for - and it doesn’t taste great. But to gain further insight into just how speciality coffee has earned such a prestigious title, we must first delve into its origin.
Cultivating speciality beans
Speciality coffee begins its journey in the form of an unprocessed coffee seed. From altitude to soil and climate, the bean requires specific conditions to grow, to secure premium status in its final form. Farmers need a combination of both extensive rainfall for growth and lengthy dry spells for maturation. This is because moisture in the air, temperature and wind are all essential atmospheric conditions for growth. Altitude also affects the final result, but more so concerning how the coffee’s flavour develops. Mountains, valleys and isolated landscapes in the tropics have either formed naturally or been modified by humans to create the ideal microclimate for delicious flavours to flourish. It’s not farming as you know it, it’s a technique that requires expert skill to master.
The role of roasting
According to experts, coffee should be roasted promptly after harvest in order to indulge in an optimum drinking experience. Essentially, roasting is the process in which coffee beans attain their peak flavour. Beans will rotate in a circular dish as they reach temperatures of over 200 degrees Celsius. Once their internal temperature hits this level too, the oil inside them begins to seep out. This consequently transforms their colouring from green to brown and releases the delicious aroma typically associated with coffee.
Once roasted, coffee beans are then cooled and ready to serve. Their rich fragrance begins to dissipate almost immediately, so consuming coffee is recommended within 2-30 days after roasting. This is yet another surefire way to determine the coffee standard, as the higher the quality, the longer it lasts. Regular coffee beans are known to rapidly deteriorate in taste shortly after roasting.
Roasting coffee is also the batch’s make or break moment. Professionals will examine a handful for their aesthetic, taste and smell in order to determine and grade their quality. Qualifications must be met and an overall score of 80 or more out of 100 secured, in order to obtain the reputable title. It’s this meticulous care to attention that positions speciality blends a cut above the rest. A vast portion of the global coffee industry utilises the cost of bad quality beans to produce cheap coffee blends. Not only does this affect how fairly farmers are paid, but it also explains those sour, vinegar-tasting roasts you may have experienced in the past.
Coffee with a conscience
Nowadays, society cares more about transparency in their bought goods than vying for the cheapest, mass-produced option. We understand that quality has surpassed quantity and that we must make a conscious effort to encourage a sustainable coffee supply. In most cases, speciality coffee can provide legitimate transparency in all sectors of production, from origin to source, growth and process. This level of detail remains fundamentally important to the discerning consumer, especially those looking to educate themselves further and establish an informed point of view. Ultimately, it’s about maintaining a sense of integrity that is priceless to own in our ever-connected, overloaded with information society.
Fronting the awareness of coffee ethics, speciality beans are forming a viable area of the industry that ensures we drink coffee with a conscience. Our direct trade and involvement with third world farmers allow us to become more socially responsible. As a result, we stand to provide a better quality of life to those sourcing your morning essential.
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It takes several years for quality coffee to grow in these conditions, but once the beans are ready to harvest, farmers tend to favour selective hand-picking over mass-harvestation. Although the process takes longer, this diligence ensures stellar results in the long term. Only perfectly ripe beans are plucked, and any that require further growth is left to mature a little longer, as opposed to the whole plantation being farmed in one machine-powered action.
Once picking is complete, the coffee beans must swiftly be processed to prevent them from spoiling. Farmers will choose to dry, semi-dry or wet their batch; either by spreading coffee beans on a large surface to dry under the sun, or removing pulps, fermenting them in tanks and washing thoroughly with water. It’s vital to follow this step precisely, as negligent washing and false fermentation causes coffee impurities and irreversible damage to the final product. After this, the beans are organised by weight and size. Call it the final quality control check, as here any damaged beans are also discarded.