What is this speciality coffee you speak of?
When browsing for your perfect coffee, have you ever asked yourself ‘what is speciality coffee’? It’s not a silly question, far from it in fact. There is a difference between commercial or commodity coffee and speciality coffee. We want to help you understand what makes speciality coffee special and so damn tasty.
Let’s start at the beginning
Coffee as we know it grows on a coffee plant, similarly to how berries grow. The coffee beans usually grow together in pairs, like a peanut has two halves. These coffee seeds (beans) are protected by a layer of ‘fruit’ which changes colour as the coffee cherry ripens. The exception to them growing in pairs is a peaberry coffee bean, which is just the one seed per coffee cherry.
These cherries are hand-picked when ripened. The farm workers make sure to pick only the ripest of cherries. If the cherries are overripe or under-ripe, they are either left for next time or discarded. These under and overripe cherries will contain beans that are not at their best and that is why they are not picked. With a lower graded coffee, like commercial or commodity coffee, the coffee cherries are all picked at the same time, regardless if they are fully ripe or not.
After picking, the seeds need to extracted from the cherry. This is achieved in one of three main ways.
The first way is known as naturally processing coffee. For this, the coffee cherries are laid out under the sun and, while being regularly turned, the sun ‘ferments’ the fleshy outer away.
These are then washed to remove all unwanted flesh and then dried on patios. Naturally processed coffees can have exciting flavours, such as fruity or floral to name a few.
The second way is the washed method. For this, the coffee cherries are placed into fermentation tanks. The water in these tanks ferments the coffee cherry away, usually over a set number of hours. Following this, the coffee is then rewashed and laid out to dry, similar to its naturally processed counterpart.
Lastly, is the honey method. This is a mix of the two ways above. For this, the coffee is laid out under the sun to ferment part, but not all of the flesh away. It then follows the same track as the washed coffee.
Each of these three coffee processing methods will make a difference to the coffees final taste.
To add to this, the altitude that the coffee cherries are grown, along with the type of soil and the amount of shade, not to mention the weather and climate, will all add to the coffees final flavour or taste. This opens up a whole world of possibilities to be explored!
Once the cherries are picked and processed they are dried to between 9 and 12% moisture content, before being hand sorted to remove any defected beans that might taint the flavour of the coffee.
Then, and only then is this speciality coffee ready to be exported all over the world.
Sourcing Speciality Coffee
Here at Two Chimps, we work with an importer to source an array of quality speciality coffee beans. They negotiate directly with the producer where possible and seek the best quality beans for a premium price. In their words “We work to build a lasting relationship with the producers and farmers – treating them like long-term business partners”.
Because of this, we don’t necessarily choose our coffees because they have a certification, such as Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade. Our speciality coffee is always traded fairly however, and we pay 30-150% more than the cost of production. This higher price is paid directly to the farmer who is then able to invest in next year’s crop.
So every year their skills, crops and facilities improve, allowing the opportunity to create better coffee, year on year.
We choose our coffees on their taste, balanced with how we wish to roast them.
For instance, if we are looking for a coffee to roast a little darker for espresso, we will choose a coffee that has a fuller body with a little less natural acidity and tasting notes of maybe chocolate, caramel, toffee, nuts and the likes.
A light, fruity coffee could lose a significant proportion of its individual and delicate flavours if we were to choose to roast this coffee too dark. These types of coffees are instead roasted lighter and more delicately to suit a pour over such as a V60 or Chemex, or even for a cafetiere.
So, speciality coffee is grown and picked differently; there must be more to it?
Yes, you’re right; As mentioned, speciality coffee is graded by a certified coffee taster and must score 80 points or more on a scale that tops out at 100.
It is scored firstly on its defects. It can have 0 primary defects such as black or sour beans and less than 5 secondary defects, like insect damage or chipping per 100 beans.
Coffee tasters will also grade the coffee using a sensory skill called Cupping. Professional cuppers, known as Q graders, blind cup the coffee and make notes about the coffee. The more interesting the coffee, usually the higher the score.
You can read about cupping coffee on our Brew Guides for Making Coffee. It is not all about its taste; it’s graded on flavour, aftertaste, intensity, smell, mouthfeel and colour.
Why pay more for coffee?
Along with your conundrum of ‘what is speciality coffee,’ you may think ‘why should I pay more for coffee -what’s in it for me?’
Speciality coffee has the opportunity to be sweeter, smoother and more delicate than a lower grade of coffee. Its natural flavours have been preserved through the gentle care throughout its growing and roasting process.
Because the quality of the coffee is better, it does not need to be roasted as dark to hide impurities. The roaster can keep the coffees natural favours and highlight these in the roasting process rather than masking the tastes.
For the greater good
‘Pay more and give more back’ is what we promote. We know that the extra pennies go to the farmer, village and families thereof. It’s for the greater good, and that gives us a spring in our step. You may pay a bit more, but feel happy in the knowledge that it’s going somewhere that matters. On top of that, you get a fantastic tasting cup of coffee – happy days.
Check out our online shop to pick your speciality coffee.
...TO THE SHOP