A Guide To Speciality Coffee
Here at Two Chimps Coffee, we roast speciality coffee.
But what actually is speciality coffee and what makes it so special? Well, keep reading, and you shall discover all in our guide to speciality coffee…
What Is Speciality Coffee?
The first step in our guide to speciality coffee is defining what ‘speciality coffee’ actually is. Speciality coffee is the term given to coffees that are of a very high grade. There are two types of coffee grown in the world, Arabica and Robusta. Generally, most speciality coffees come from Arabica beans as this type of coffee is known as the tastier of the two.
As a general overview, coffees of speciality grade have been nurtured and cared for throughout their lives, from their time on the farm to when we receive them for roasting. Below, our guide to speciality coffee will dive into more detail so you can really see how special this type of coffee is.
We work with several speciality coffee importers who allow us to source amazing coffees from small farms and cooperatives around the world. The coffee farmers in the country of origin work very hard to ensure their speciality coffee crop is always the best it can be.
This first step in the life cycle of coffee is crucial, as if the coffee hasn’t been grown and cared for properly, it won’t produce the flavours and aromas you would expect from a speciality coffee.
There are several procedures that coffee farmers follow, which will change from farm to farm. A few of these are named below.
In this part of our guide to speciality coffee, we’re going to take a closer look at growing the coffee.
When growing Arabica coffee, there are two types of growing conditions that are ideal. We can find one in subtropical regions that have a longitude of between 16 and 24 degrees. Here, there are two seasons, a rainy and a dry, which result in one coffee growing season and one coffee maturation season. Coffees grown in these conditions are harvested at around 1800-3600 feet. Brazil, the largest coffee producing country in the world, has a subtropical climate.
We can find the second climate in equatorial regions which have a latitude of below 10 degrees. This coffee is grown much higher, at 3600-6000 feet. Due to the amount of rainfall these regions get, there are two harvesting seasons.
The first harvest has the highest rainfall and the second harvest has the lowest. Countries such as Kenya and Colombia are renowned for these growing conditions.
If we’re talking about commodity coffee, there are a number of ways farmers can pick the cherries. They can be ‘stripped’ by hand, with both ripe and unripe cherries pulled from the tree, or by a harvesting machine.
With speciality coffee, the cherries are always picked by hand. However, they are truly ‘picked’ rather than stripped. Speciality picking ensures that only the ripest cherries are harvested – not a mishmash of ripe and unripe. The pickers will rotate around the trees every 8-10 days to make sure each cherries can reach its full potential. Most pickers will average approximately 100-200 pounds of coffee cherries a day, which produces 20-40 pounds of coffee beans. Because this way of harvesting is more labour intensive and costly, it is used exclusively for harvesting higher quality Arabica beans.
Once picked, the cherries are ready to be processed. There are three ways farmers process coffee beans, and the method they choose sometimes depends on the terroir of the area.
If you look at a freshly picked coffee cherry, you will see a flesh surrounding the seed (or bean). The washed process removes this flesh by firstly passing the cherries through a de-pulper machine. This method is dependent on the beans absorbing enough natural sugars and nutrients from the flesh before it is washed off.
After the cherries have been de-pulped, they are floated in a fermentation tank which removes any remaining flesh. The time they spend in the fermentation tanks depends on the altitude and the temperature. Generally, they will spend 12-24 hours in the fermentation tank.
In this section of our guide to speciality coffee, we’re going to take a closer look at the honey process. This process is a variation of the natural process and has started to become popular with Central American farmers.
As before, the cherries are washed to remove some of the flesh and mucilage. Next, they are spread out to dry on patios rather than being put through a fermentation tank. We like to think of it as sunbathing. ?
Due to the remaining mucilage, honey processed beans are more susceptible to mould growth and insect damage. To tackle this, they are regularly turned and protected.
The natural process is seen as the traditional way of processing coffee. You’ll usually find it in countries that don’t receive much rainfall, such as Brazil and Ethiopia.
Unlike the washed and honey processes, naturally processed coffees are sent straight to the drying patios straight away. When ready, the skin and dried flesh are mechanically removed.
With the washed and honey processes becoming increasingly popular, the natural process has taken a step back and is often used in processing lower quality coffees.
However, many people believe that as the consistency of naturally processed coffee increases, it will be more than capable of producing coffees with incredible taste, just like the washed and honey processes do.
Speciality farmers can dry the coffee cherries in various ways. Before coffee is dried, it has a moisture content of around 60%. During drying, this moisture content is brought down to around 10-12%. A snazzy moisture analyser is used to monitor this.
Typically, coffee is dried on patios or raised drying beds and is turned regularly to ensure even exposure to the sun.
If an area isn’t receiving sufficient sunshine or the humidity level isn’t quite right, Farmers can dry the beans in mechanical driers. However, coffees that are dried mechanically are often seen to be inferior. Why? Because when coffee beans are sun-dried, they dry slowly and thoroughly.
Sun-drying coffee also improves how long the coffee will keep its flavours for in its raw state.
Farmers can also dry their coffees using solar driers. This drying method is a lot more modern and environmentally friendly because, unlike a mechanical drier, it doesn’t use any electricity or fossil fuels. Solar driers produce a much higher drying temperature, which means the beans dry quicker. However, as mentioned, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Check out our blog on processing and drying methods for more.
What To Look For When Choosing A Coffee
Every coffee has its own unique flavour. Even though you might get two coffees that have very similar flavour profiles, they will never be identical. There are said to be around 110 different flavour profiles of coffee which intertwine with each other, so there really is something out there for everyone.
When looking for the right coffee, you may come across terms such as acidity, body and mouthfeel. If you’ve never heard of these terms before or are not too sure what they mean, don’t panic – all shall be revealed.
When we talk about acidity in coffee, it’s generally positive. For example, you may say a coffee has a fruity acidity or a bright acidity. We use the term as a general way of describing the flavours found in the coffee.
The body of the coffee is a way of expressing its texture. It’s not something you taste in a coffee, but rather a sensation you feel when drinking. You may find some coffees have a fuller body than others. This can be due to the variety of coffee, the processing method or the brewing method used.
Mouthfeel and body are pretty much the same thing. They both relate to the feel of the coffee in your mouth.
With speciality coffee, we roast to bring out the natural flavours.
If we are looking to bring out chocolatey or nut flavours found within a coffee, we will often roast slightly darker. On the other hand, if we wanted a coffee to have more fruity and floral flavours, we would often roast lighter. This is something to bear in mind when choosing speciality coffee for the first time.
Before a coffee can be given the ‘speciality’ title, it is given a score out of 100. The coffee must receive a score of 80 or above, and if it doesn’t, it will be classed as commodity. In this section of our guide to speciality coffee, we take a closer look at coffee scoring.
Every coffee is cupped and tasted by a coffee cupping professional. These Q Graders, as they are known, use an SCA cupping form and will award a coffee its Quality Score. While cupping, they will look out for a number of attributes:
To give you a better understanding, let me break down the scoring for you.
Coffees with a score of 65-80 are known as commodity coffees. This is the sort of coffee you will find in your local supermarket.
At Two Chimps, we’re only interested in top-tasting speciality beans with a score higher than 80. Bonus fact: if beans score over 90, they are given a presidential award!
When we receive a sample of a coffee, we will cup it ourselves. However we won’t use the SCA cupping form, but instead, we cup to see if the flavours found are right for what we are looking for. For instance, if we are looking to replace a coffee, we would be looking for something similar to that which is being replaced.
How Speciality Coffee Tastes Different To Commodity Coffee?
Commodity grade coffee is the type of coffee you find in a supermarket. If you were to buy a bag of coffee, it would most likely be a blend of at least two completely different coffees.
To add, it is highly unlikely there would be traceability back any further than the country of origin. If you wanted to know the farm where the coffee came from, you wouldn’t be able to find this out.
Unlike speciality coffee, commodity coffees contain both ripe and unripe coffee beans. Unripe beans taste mild and grassy, so commercial roasters will often over-roast their beans to hide unfavourable flavours. This way of roasting leaves a bitter and burnt taste in your mouth.
With speciality coffees, it’s an entirely different story. These higher quality coffees have amazing flavours. Some are fruitier and more fragrant, whereas others are more chocolatey and biscuity. They have a natural sweetness too, which often means you don’t need to add any sugar.
Roasting speciality coffees allows us to bring out those flavours by roasting to suit. If you remember, I spoke previously in our guide to speciality coffee about roasting lighter and darker to bring out different flavours. Well, this is where that comes into play!
We never over-roast to hide flavours; in fact, it’s the complete opposite! We roast to bring out as much flavour in the coffee as possible.
So there we are, the above makes speciality coffee so special and completes our guide to speciality coffee.
If reading our guide to speciality coffee has whet your appetite, why not grab a bag from our shop and try it for yourself?!
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