Specialty coffee is coffee made from exceptional beans grown only in ideal coffee-producing climates. The unique characteristics of the soil where the coffee plants are grown combined with the ideal climate creates distinctive flavors that makes specialty coffee beans so sought-after. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as gourmet or premium coffee.
The First Specialty Coffee
The first person to ever use the phrase “specialty coffee” was Erna Knutsen, who coined the term in the 1974 issue of the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Knutsen, then a coffee buyer for B.C. Ireland in San Francisco, came up with the term while trying to describe beans with outstanding flavors due to the special microclimates used in their cultivation.
From then on, the phrase became a common term used to describe flavorful, high quality coffee. But it was not until the late 1990s, when the proliferation of cafes and gourmet coffee retailers, that the term specialty coffee entered common usage.
That, combined with the ever increasing popularity of coffee drinking has made specialty coffee one of the fastest growing food service markets in the world. In 2004, specialty coffee netted an estimated $9.6 billion in the US alone.
Why Specialty Coffee?
For the simple reason that a cup of specialty coffee tastes infinitely better than a cup made form ordinary coffee beans. From the time the coffee plant was cultivated to the time they are harvested, dried, and roasted, specialty coffee beans are prepared according to exact standards to ensure great tasting coffee. What’s more, specialty coffee must pass stringent certification process to ensure that it is free of flaws and imperfections, in an test called the “cupping method.”
What is Cupping?
If you consider yourself a specialty coffee aficionado, then you probably heard of the term “cupping” and probably even know the meaning of it. But for the benefit of others who don’t, cupping is a system of evaluation used to test the aroma and taste of coffee beans. Growers, buyers, and roasters employ the cupping method in order to “grade” the quality of a particular sample of specialty coffee.
Generally, there are six things that you should look into when cupping:
* Fragrance – or the smell of the beans after grinding
* Aroma – different from fragrance in that it is the smell of ground-up beans after being steeped in water
* Taste – or the flavor of the coffee
* Nose – in much the same way as the term is used in wine tasting, it means the vapors and flavors released by coffee in your mouth
* Aftertaste – or the vapors and flavors that remain after you swallow
* Body – the feel of the coffee in the mouth
The steps involved in cupping specialty coffee are often very exact and is actually a step by step process. That is why buyers, owners of specialty coffee houses, and brewers hire only trained individuals to do their cupping for them.