Once I went to an organic restaurant with a friend and in the menu he asked for, coffee was included. However he told me he didn’t want to have coffee there, because the most probably was that was dishwater coffee. He couldn’t explain me why he had that impression, but he wanted to go to another place to have his coffee. We went to a coffee shop with history, one of the firsts importing coffee in Barcelona. Nowadays this place is not as authentic anymore, because has a myriad of franchises. Furthermore, they have absurdly expensive prices, the coffee they use is absolutely commercial and to fully complete the picture, they own the dirtiest toilets in the city (doesn’t it enrage you to find disgusting WCs? – but this is other issue)
Well, why do you think my friend was so convinced that in this place you could find the best coffee in Barcelona?
I started to investigate a bit about coffee and in an event organized by All those in December in Barcelona, I had the chance to participate in a wine and food matching workshop organized by Nito (@nit00ns), a barista that belongs to the roaster group Café de Finca (@cafedefinca.es).
The knowledge and the passion Nito showed talking about specialty coffee was so obvious that I couldn’t help myself from asking to tell me more about it.
The first day I went to see him, in an hour and a half, he made a review of what is the world of specialty coffee and I went out of there so full of energy and willing to go deep in the issue, that I was about to jump due to the enthusiasm (or maybe it was because of the coffee?).
When I realized that the specialty coffee world is complex and that there’s a lot to learn about and process, I thought that the best thing to do is to order and organize the info. So, let’s start with the most obvious question.
But before continuing with this read, if you still don’t know how coffee is produced, I encourage you to read this post, where I give you some basic notions.
What is Specialty Coffee
There’s a first important clarification, specialty coffee is not a special coffee, like for example a caramel latte, or other beverage which contains coffee and has an unusual name.
Let’s see to what exactly refers to when we talk about specialty coffee.
At Infusionista we are given a rather technical definition: “It refers to the very excellent quality coffee, which obtains a rating of 80 in a scale of 100, given by the best professional tasters and which is distinguished by its aroma, flavor, personality, distinctive character and lack of imperfections.”
At Jocutla we are given a more complex definition: “The specialty coffee definition begins with the origins of coffee, the selection and plantation of a variety in particular, cultivated in a specific world region.
The term specialty coffee refers to high quality green coffee beans, roasted to its full flavor potential by real artisans, to be later properly prepared under determined standards.”
What is the correct definition?
At Perfect Daily Ground, reference website about specialty coffee, we are explained that to get a specialty coffee, everything needs to start from moment zero and pass by certain points and processes, which together will make that the produced coffee can be classified as specialty coffee.
Overviewing part of my investigation, this is the list which defines a specialty coffee:
- The kind of seed, the place and the season is planted.
- The harvest, by hand, from the red cherries.
- The separation of the obviously defaulted coffee beans.
- A right roasting.
- A good barista.
- A receptive consumer.
1. Why is it important the kind of the coffee seed, the place and the season?
When we talk about the kind of seed, it’s worthwhile pointing the difference between the two big coffee families: Robusta and Arabica.
Around 80% of the coffee production is Arabica and the other 20% is Robusta. These are the main differences between these two coffee types:
If coffee is the Robusta type, grows in warmer climates, it won’t be planted in higher altitudes. In addition, as with any other plant, you need to know which one is the ideal season to plant. An expert coffee grower will have to bear in mind many factors before planting the coffee plantation.
2. The red cherries harvest.
Until a few years ago, coffee was considered a basic product and the business model followed by coffee brands was: the bigger the production, higher the profit. Under this concept, at the harvest time, red and green cherries were mixed, without thinking that the red cherries, little or too ripened, give a bitterer flavor to the final product.
The fresh coffee beans germinate in 2 and a half months, to later become into a plant, which will start to produce quality fruits after 4 years. When the fruit reaches the red color is when the coffee grower knows the cherries are ready to be harvested. Choosing selectively the cherries, the way that just the red ones are picked is a process that needs to be done by hand and it takes its time. This means that after the first selection, the harvesters later will go back to the plants to harvest the cherries that ripened later.
3. The visible defaulted beans separation.
There are several ways to process the coffee cherries to obtain the beans, but I don’t want to give too much detailed info.
What is important to know now is that once the coffee beans are obtained, they will pass another control to separate the ones with defects.
This control is done because the cherry may look perfect from the outside, but we cannot know how the bean at the core is. The beans with defects (called Pasilla) are strayed away and then sold as commercial coffee.
4. The right roasting for each kind of bean.
Roasting the coffee is not easy. This is not just putting the beans into a machine and turning it off when it reaches a certain temperature. There are many factors to bear in mind depending on the kind of machine and the type of bean that is going to be roasted.
A roaster has a lot of responsibility in the specialty coffee production cycle because its flavor is fundamental to pull all the aromas and the characteristics out. By the way, talking about roasting, you need to know that in order to obtain a good coffee, it is essential that the beans are properly roasted, because 30 days after the roasting, the beans lose quite a lot of the aromas.
5. A good barista
The barista role includes the grinding. Not just knowing which is the right grinding for each preparation type is, but also knowing the types of the grinder and knowing how to calibrate them.
Talking with Nito about the role of the barista, he left me positively surprised when he said the next phrase: “As a barista, is my responsibility to know how to develop all the beverages of my coffee shop and to know how to present them to my clients.” It seems to me a huge responsibility, don’t you think so? This phrase is crucial and leaves the concept very clear, but I promise to tell you much more about the baristas.
6. A receptive consumer.
Last point in this list, I want to talk about the consumer, as part of the specialty coffee process. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and learn how to appreciate the job of all the participants in the creation of the beverage that we are just about to have. We need to train the palate and be open to discover and differentiate flavors. We need to reset the info we had about coffee until now and be open adding new and more specific info.
We need to forget phrases like: “When coffee is not espresso, is dishwater”
Specialty coffee is a synonymous of good quality, sustainability, and transparency. A coffee is defined as a specialty when we know the coffee grower, that is harvest by hand, the roasting and the ability of the barista. So the next time you try a specialty coffee, think about all the effort and love that has been put on each product phase, so you can taste end enjoy this wonderful drink.
I would like to conclude this post by adding my personal conclusion about specialty coffee world. Having a specialty coffee doesn’t just mean tasting a good coffee, but rather means a lifestyle or a philosophy of life. It’s having the chance to support the small entrepreneurs that work honestly to offer a quality product, always thinking about the consumers. The choice is in our hands because specialty coffee is not a luxury.
Now my recommendation is to be careful, because once your palate gets used to the specialty coffee, you will not want to go back and have a coffee in the closest bar, prepared with commercial coffee, done with the dismissed beans, roasted and grinded since who knows when and finally prepared in a low quality machine wrongly calibrated.
What coffee do you stick to?