A Guide to Specialty Coffee - From the Seed to the Cup
Just like how a lover is only able to truly appreciate and love their partner by understanding their past, coffee lovers must understand the basics behind the coffee to better cultivate their love for coffee. While there are numerous technical and historical aspects to cover, in this short guide, we would be talking about the specialty coffee movement and the processing methods that are created to cater to this movement.
What is specialty Coffee?
The diagram above showcases the various quality of coffee based on a grading system. The differences that specialty coffee has with the types of coffee that are below ‘specialty coffee’ lies in the quality of the bean and the expectation that consumers have when purchasing the bean. Unlike specialty coffee, factors such as the origin of the bean, the flavor profile of the bean, and even the cleanliness of the bean are not important factors. While sacrificing quality, these beans offer a cheaper alternative to consumers by costing nearly 1/4th of the price of specialty coffee. The origin of the specialty coffee movement can be traced back to the beginning of the 3rd wave coffee movement around the 2000s. The movement can be identified through its greater emphasis on the origin of the bean and processing methods that the coffee bean undergoes. This explains the greater emphasis on the cleanliness of the cup, the quality of acidity, quality of balance, and distinction in the profile of the flavors. Aiming to better appreciate the complexities that come from a cup of coffee, the specialty coffee movement seeks to elevate the quality of the coffee drinking experience.
From the Seed to the Cup
‘From the seed to the cup’ is the processing method that coffee beans undergo to become the liquid coffee we know and love. To provide a comprehensive guide below is a guide used to explain the visual diagram provided above.
- Seedling and Growing: Like other fruits, coffee beans originate from seedlings. Taking up to four years, maintaining an optimal environment while constantly nurturing these seedlings will then grow into coffee cherries.
- Coffee Cherry: The coffee cherry is the fruit of a coffee tree. Like other fruits, it will take around 3-5 weeks for the coffee cherry to be perfectly ripe for harvest. The ripeness of the fruit is indicated by the color; the darker and deeper the color, the riper it is.
- Natural Processing or Washing: There are two common methods to process the coffee cherry. The dry or natural method utilizes the sun to remove unnecessary parts of the cherry. Constant monitoring and flipping are required to ensure the beans are not damaged during the process. On the other hand, the washing method involved using a pulping machine to separate the pulp from the skin. After processing the beans are then transported to water-filled fermentation tanks to finish the process.
- Green Beans: After the beans are successfully processed, the results of these processes will create green beans. Before shipping to roasters, these beans are graded and further processed to remove additional blemishes.
- Roasted Beans: After the sorting and selection of the green beans, these beans are then sent to roasters to undergo the roasting process. During this process, the green beans are placed under high temperatures to ready the bean for consumption. Through roasting, the beans will begin to release caffeol which is a form of fragrant oil that produces the flavor and aroma of the coffee.
- Grinding & Brewing: For the final step the roasted beans are ground into finer particles to prepare the coffee for the brewing process. While the level of coarseness depends on the brewing method utilised, a fine course is recommended for specialty coffee.
Like any kind of love, a love of coffee must be cultivated for it to grow properly. Understanding the complexities and multiple processes that are required enables someone to better appreciate and better enjoy their cup of coffee. Understanding these processes also enables someone to better understand the unique coffee profiles that are available in the market.