What is so special about speciality coffee? We are frequently asked this question so I've decided to write a blog about it. Let's take a look at what makes these beans the best in the world.
Starting at the top, there are two types of coffee:
- Speciality coffee
- Regular / commodity coffee.
Speciality coffee is the term given to the highest grade of coffee and has to have guaranteed quality through all stages of the coffee production from seed to cup, unlike regular lower cost commodity coffee which is of an inferior quality.
Speciality coffee represents just 15% of the UK home coffee sales. Yes 15%!
The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) defines speciality coffee as the highest quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavour potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed to well-established SCAA developed standards.
To be a speciality coffee it must score 80 points or above on a 100 point quality scale during grading. These standards not only include scoring higher than 80 points on the quality scale but also excellent or outstanding quality in flavour, aroma, body, acidity, uniformity, balance, clean cup and sweetness.
Green coffee is graded in two ways; visual inspection and cupping.
- Visual inspection involves taking a small sample of green coffee beans (350g) and counting the number of defective beans. Primary defects can be black beans, sour beans etc or secondary defects being broken beans. For a coffee to qualify as speciality, it must have zero primary defects and less than five secondary defects.
- Cupping involves roasting the coffee and brewing simply with hot water, and relies on the skill of a qualified taster to assign scores to each of the coffee’s attributes, such the acidity, body, flavour and aroma.
The unique flavours and taste notes are also a direct result of the special characteristics and composition of the soils where coffee is grown. This is partly why African countries such as Ethiopia and Kenya are synonymous with speciality coffee. Find out more here.
Arabica and robusta are the two most popular coffee species in the coffee world although only arabica is considered speciality. African arabica coffee from countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia are usually used in blends to perk up the bitter taste of commercial and robusta coffee’s.
Benefits of speciality coffee
Unlike commercial coffee, speciality coffee is traceable to the co-operative, region, estate or farm. The coffee grading score is based on the quality and taste of the coffee enabling higher pricing which allows reinvestments at a farm level enabling continual improvements. This creates a continuous virtuous cycle benefitting the producers and consumers of superior quality coffee.
This also enables consumers to know who grew their coffee or the co-operative and region the coffee originates from.
Commercial coffee is usually picked using machinery on a mass scale which means all cherries on a tree are picked whether unripe, defective or rotten which affects the flavour. Commercial coffee also undergoes fewer checks, are usually mass roasted and packaged in large plants and blended to suit a wide palate.
Contrasting with speciality coffee which is hand harvested, hand sorted to remove any defective beans, quality graded and roasted in small batches to bring out the most desirable characteristics of the beans.
Speciality coffee taste notes and aroma once tried are never forgotten. They offer a diverse range of flavours from floral to fruity to nutty (even smoky). It's another level of what coffee has to offer. You will also probably notice with speciality coffee it has a roast date on the bag, this shows the freshness of the coffee which has an impact on the taste. Coffee is generally at its best up to 4 weeks after roasting.
There’s a lot more to speciality coffee than meets the eye, taking into consideration an approach to ethical coffee, an appreciation for quality and a thriving community that starts at the farm level right through to coffee lovers who enjoy savouring great quality coffee.
For us coffee is a pleasure to savour and enjoy. Coffee offers us a way to connect, enjoy memorable experiences and enables conversations with the people in our lives. That is why all out coffee is speciality grade and sourced responsibly.
I hope this has given you an insight into why speciality coffee is so special and why Mara Coffee is so passionate about these small beans.
If you have a question we'd love to hear from you. Until next time, happy brewing!