What Is Specialty Coffee? The Basics
What makes specialty coffee better than commercial coffee?
You instinctively know there’s a difference between the 50-cent coffee at the neighborhood gas station and the specialty coffee available at your favorite coffee shop (perhaps that little hidden gem called *checks notes* oh, right, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf®). But what is specialty coffee, exactly? What factors separate commercial coffee from specialty blends?
Specialty coffee doesn’t automatically come packed with distinctive, robust flavor. What makes specialty coffee stand out from the crowd is the attention to detail and commitment to quality during every stage of the production cycle. By putting in the work to select, grow, and process only the top 1% of Arabica beans in the world, companies like The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf® can deliver specialty coffee from the mountaintop to your countertop.
The term “cherry-picking” is actually derived from the process of dedicated coffee farmers selecting the ripest red cherries in the fields of coffee farms. Growers of specialty coffee focus on picking only the highest-quality cherries. This dedication to superior taste requires a shift in priorities. On many farms, cherry pickers are paid by the pound of cherries picked, but on specialty farms, pickers are paid extra to pick based on quality and not quantity.
The origin of the coffee itself also determines the quality. Specialty coffee is almost exclusively single-origin, or single-estate, coffee. Our coffee master, Jay Isais, and his team travel to small farms and estates in the world’s best-growing regions of East Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific. By sampling and selecting coffee grown at altitudes up to 6,000 feet, our team can hand-select coffee with a more concentrated flavor.
After coffee cherries are picked, run through the wet mill, and optimally dried, they are processed through multiple stages of quality control to ensure every cup exceeds your expectations. The first stage of the post-drying process is hulling. During this process, beans are hand-sorted and, if they contain visible defects, discarded into a pile of defective beans.
The final stage before roasting is checking the “green” beans for any visible shortcomings. According to Specialty Coffee Association regulations, all specialty coffee must contain zero primary defects. Through a “cupping” process, green coffee tasters assess a given coffee’s score, determine if it is “specialty” grade, and develop preliminary tasting notes and descriptions. After processing, high-quality coffee is then sent to the roaster for the final phase.
SCA-certified coffee roasters must complete hours of coursework and gain experience firsthand to perfect the art of masterfully roasting a variety of roast profiles. Specialty coffee is monitored during every stage of the roasting process to ensure each bean exemplifies the quality standards of specialty coffee. The accelerating heat during the roasting process caramelizes the bean, intensifying the flavor and aroma and ensuring rich and hearty goodness.
At The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf®, we vary the origin characteristics of each coffee we sell to showcase intense flavor that can be traced back to a single estate or small farm. Small batches of our fresh green coffee beans are roasted to perfection and analyzed for fragrance, aroma, flavor, acidity, body, and finish. Only when our rigorous internal standards are met is the coffee ready to be shared with you, in-store or online.
Specialty coffee wouldn’t be anything without you, the passionate specialty coffee aficionado who seeks out specialty coffee selected, roasted, and brewed with care.
Stop by The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf near you to try any of our latest signature coffee creations, whether you’re craving a craft coffee or a refreshing Ice Blended® drink. Need a fix for home brewing? Order our popular blends online, including 100% Kona and Papua New Guinea Sigri Coffee.