WHAT IS SPECIALTY COFFEE?
That’s a really good question! What is special and what is not is often in the eye of the observer and changes over time. What makes a coffee special these days can be determined by four criteria, which we would like to explain to you in more detail:
1. Special Origin
Each coffee bean comes from a coffee cherry grown on a coffee tree somewhere on a coffee farm in a coffee region. The conditions under which this bean grew naturally also influences its taste. On the one hand, there are different varieties. As with apples (Pink Lady, Macintosh, Jonagold, etc.) there are different varieties of coffee plants – important here: Arabica and Robusta (actually called Canephora) are not varieties, but plant species . When it comes to speciality coffees, one almost always speaks of Arabica varieties (e.g. bourbon or caturra, which are much more complex and elegant than those of the Coffea Canephora species). These different varieties therefore make a very significant difference in quality. If the plant grows at a good cultivation height, the right amount of sunshine and rain falls and has been cultivated with much effort and work by the coffee farmers, you get a coffee that carries the very specific taste of the region from which it comes. The special origin is also called “Terroir” (the gourmets among you have certainly heard this before at wine tastings.)
Our current coffee comes from Honduras in the microregion Marcala in La Paz. More about this coffee and the COMSA cooperative that grows it can be found in the next blog post!
2. Light Roasting
The coffee bean was not always so brown, it had to be roasted first. (No, really?!).
Roasting coffee requires a lot of know-how and complex machines, but the process itself is no more complicated than baking biscuits. How do you recognize good biscuits? Sure, really good dough! We get it from the coffee farm with its perfect climate. Unfortunately, many coffee roasters burn their biscuits when it comes to roasting. The roasting process (this has to do with the Maillaird reaction and caramelization), which unfortunately also destroys or masks the natural aromas of the specialty coffee. Some coffee roasters would like this to happen, because this is the way to ensure that every bean tastes the same regardless of its origin and quality. A dark roast can also conceal unpleasant aromas of old or rotten beans. However, good coffee should be lightly and gently roasted until it has a dark brown colour. If the beans are oily and black, they have clearly been over-roasted. A little tip: If you are not sure if the coffee will taste good the next time you visit the café, look at the coffee beans in the grinder and imagine that your biscuits have the same colour: Would you eat them?
3. Careful Preparation
Before the coffee lands in the bottle, it must be prepared correctly. Specialty coffee should be handled with special care to extract all the fine flavours and taste components. The quality of the water plays a major role here. Too hard water destroys the special taste of good coffee. The correct infusion time, the degree of grinding and the correct filter method are also important for this. The barista at your favourite café knows this and prepares your coffee with great care. At Philosoffee we do exactly the same – but everything is a bit bigger than the hand filter or the espresso machine in the café around the corner. We work with experts who help us extract the coffee cold and after it has been filtered several times, put it into the bottle.
4. Sustainable Prices
In addition to the right conditions for the plant itself, specialty coffee is all about dedication and attention along the value chain. Good coffee means a lot of work – especially on the coffee farm. Good coffee is not a matter of course. If most coffee farmers don’t have much of what they earn at the end of the year, the motivation is not particularly high to make an effort for such poorly paid work. The living conditions of most coffee farmers are precarious. On average, 63% of coffee-growing families in Guatemala, Mexico and Nicaragua still lived under serious food shortages in 2010.
And that’s exactly why speciality coffee also means paying coffee farmers a reasonable price for us.
* Effects of Fair Trade and Organic Certifications on Small-scale Coffee Farmer Households in Central America and Mexico, Authors: V.E. Mendez et al. Publisher: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (volume 25, issue 3). Year: 2010.