Five Speciality Coffee Questions Every Connoisseur Should Know the Answer To

Updated January 26, 2024

Welcome, coffee connoisseurs, to the world of specialty coffee. The term specialty coffee is exclusively reserved for the highest quality coffee in the world: the kind that, with each sip, allows you to taste origin characteristics from a coffee-growing region of your choice. 

Be it savory or sweet, complex or balanced, fruity or nutty, floral or chocolatey, oreven spiced, there’s a delicious, specialty coffee to suit all taste buds. But before you can call yourself a coffee connoisseur, there’s a few processes you’ll need to be familiar with. So settle in with a cup of your favorite specialty grade brew as we talk you through everything you need to know.

What is Speciality Coffee?

The term specialty coffee refers to beans that score highly on the coffee grading scale, a system that ranks coffee beans according to their quality. On the 100-point scale, specialty grade coffee generally scores 83 points and above, meaning it is among the highest quality coffee available.

Modern Changes in Specialty Coffee Definition

However, the problem with this protocol is that it applies only to washed coffee and not to processed coffee beans. If we consider this in the context of the last decade, during which new processes such as fermentation, honeys, naturals, and even carbonic maceration have come to dominate the thriving specialty coffee market, the SCAA grading system is becoming widely regarded as limiting.

Nowadays, specialty coffee businesses are beginning to realize that green coffee beans that would once have been considered to be defective are now turning into their bestsellers. Given this, here at Those Coffee People, we prefer to think of specialty coffee as a term we use to describe high quality coffee beans whose characteristics are unique. 

What is Terroir In Coffee?

For us, a particularly important and perhaps defining aspect of specialty coffee is the ability to taste the distinct characteristics of the origin where the coffee is grown and processed. In the wine industry, this particular concept is known as terroir, a term used to describe the environmental factors that affect the phenotype of a particular crop. 

In a coffee context, these factors encompass farming, growth habitat, and the unique environmental context of the region in which it is grown. Together, these factors have a profound impact on the coffee beans, which is what we believe ultimately makes them unique.

As you might expect, growth of specialty coffee takes place in optimal conditions. For Arabica beans, these conditions include an average subtropical temperature of between 16 and 24 degrees celsius, altitudes above approximately 550m, but not higher than 2,800m, fertile soils, and few pests. 

The high degree of quality of specialty coffee beans is largely reflected in their elevated prices, which are more expensive than those of standard commercial coffee beans. 

Specialty Coffee Roasting

Once the green coffee beans have passed through a coffee roaster, the beans must also meet SCAA coffee cupping protocols to evaluate their flavor profile. The ground beans are steeped and poured into different coffee cups, and then evaluated by a coffee taster using a coffee score sheet, against the the following criteria: 

  • Aroma
  • Acidity
  • Body 
  • Uniformity 
  • Flavor 
  • Sweetness
  • Balance
  • Aftertaste
  • Clean cup (when no unusual tastes or aromas interfere with the coffee’s taste or aftertaste)

Looking for a reliable, wholesale green coffee supplier to deliver single origin Colombian coffee on a regular basis? Here at Those Coffee People, we’ve got you covered. 

How is Speciality Coffee Prepared?

One of the reasons for the high level of quality in specialty coffee is because the coffee allows drinkers to detect origin characteristics — elements in the coffee that are specific to where it is grown, or how it is processed. 

There is no one specific way to prepare specialty coffee, but here at Those Coffee People, some of our favorite methods to brew and serve single origin coffees are as follows: 

  1. French Press: For a robust, richer coffee, steep your coarse coffee grounds in hot water for between four and six minutes, and plunge.
  2. Aeropress: A quick and easy way to brew an espresso, which can be topped up with hot water to make an americano: use fine ground beans for this handy, travel-friendly brewing method.
  3. Espresso: The best way to prepare a delicious espresso is to use a bean-to-cup coffee machine. Fine ground specialty coffee beans will help you achieve the rich, velvety flavor you’re looking for.
  4. Chemex: A medium-coarse grind, and a light to medium roast profile provide the best results for pour-over style, chemex-brewed coffee. 
  5. V60: This drip brew coffee preparation method works best with medium to fine ground coffee, again with a light to medium roast flavor profile.

Do I need Special Coffee for Cold Brew?

No special coffee is required to make cold brew, in fact any variety or quality would work, but we recommend using single origin, specialty Colombian coffee. A medium to dark roast usually works best.

Cold brew is a unique way of brewing coffee using cold water. The coffee is left to steep for up to 24 hours in cold or room temperature water to produce the perfect cold brew, which has less acidity than coffee brewed using hot water. 

When it comes to cold brew coffee, what really matters is the way the beans are ground. To make cold brew, you’ll need a coarse ground coffee — similar to the sort you might use for a French press — that water can penetrate through easily. 

Do I need Special Coffee for Espresso?

No, but a the better the coffee the better the espresso!

Medium to medium-dark, and dark-roast coffee all make for brilliant roasts to suit coffee served in espresso form. As with cold brew, the key to achieving a great espresso is the grind of the beans. Espresso works best with finely ground, specialty coffee, which allows for maximum flavor extraction in a short amount of time.

Certain coffees and profiles tend to work particularly well for espresso coffee. Here are some espresso coffee recommendations from Those Coffee People we’d like to share with you:

  1. Best Espresso Coffee for Milk: Our “Caicedo Washed” goes particularly well served with milk in a latte or cappuccino. It embodies all the rich notes you could ever hope for in an espresso: milk chocolate, honey, vanilla, topped off with notes of yellow fruits. What more could you want in an indulgent, creamy coffee? The best roast profile for this variety is medium.
  2. Best Specialty Process: ​​Natural processed coffees also work well served in espresso form. A prime example is our “Paula 20 Brix” bean, roasted medium. Smooth and silky, this coffee boasts rich chocolatey flavors, mixed with spicy notes of cognac and oak, with a fruity hint of blackberry to finish. 
  3. Boldest Choice: If you’re feeling extravagant and want to try something new, our “Queen Charlotte” natural processed coffee beans make for a decadent espresso. A medium roast of these beans gives an aromatic espresso hinting at floral notes of jasmine, mixed with spices against a rich chocolate and blackberry background. Why not give it a try!

Where can I Find Speciality Coffee near me?

Specialty coffee beans are usually sold either whole or ground through a few different distribution points. 

  1. Supermarket: Perhaps not an option you might have originally considered, but grocery stores now increasingly stock a wide range of specialty coffees, often from local roasteries. You’ll usually find these in high-end, specialty supermarkets. Though the range of products might be overwhelming for a specialty coffee newcomer without a professional to talk you through them, remember that labels can point you in the right direction. Make sure you pay attention to the coffee’s SCAA score, and look out for unique processing methods or exotic varieties to try. 
  2. Coffee roasters: Look around your local area for roasteries, cafés, or specialty coffee shops. Any one of these options is guaranteed to sell delicious, freshly roasted specialty coffee beans, but we would advise you to look for roasters that specialize in roasting small batches of recently imported coffee. Specialty coffee indications on packaging labels like the SCAA score, and indications of unique processing methods or exotic varieties are all signs that you’re in the right place. Oh, and bonus points for roasters who import from direct trade connections at origin. 
  3. Online: If you don’t live near a local coffee roaster, don’t worry! Though the specialty coffee market usually has more of a presence in large cities and towns, you can also shop your favorite blends online or through social media, as well as explore online-only brand options. Coffee connoisseurs can also browse trade journals to stay up to date on the best small coffee businesses and independent coffee brands to try. 
  4. Direct Trade Connection: Last but not least: our favorite option. Why not try establishing your own trade connection with coffee businesses that import directly from origin, such as Those Coffee People?! Check out our selection of specialty coffee in the comfort of your home and have it delivered straight from the Colombian hills to your doorstep in as little as 2-3 days in transit.

We hope this rundown has left you feeling confident you can tell your specialty coffee apart from standard, commercial beans, and that you know how to prepare it in the best way possible. After all, we believe that high quality coffee deserves to be recognized and treated as such! Happy brewing! 

Ready to be a coffee person? Check out our selection of roasted, specialty Colombian coffee and earn points with every Those Coffee People order you place!

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