Drinking Specialty Coffee: What Kind Of Difference Does It Make?
Specialty Coffee is better
It tastes better, you get interesting stories about the coffees you drink. But have you considered that drinking specialty coffee is more than just drinking better tasting coffee?
Most people going to cafes probably love the atmosphere, the design of the place, or the craftsmanship that makes damn good coffee and community that keeps people connected. It also makes a difference to creating a more sustainable coffee market
It's all this, and much more. Here are some reasons why drinking specialty coffee is more than better flavour and it makes a difference not just to you, the drinker.
Coffee Is Not Just Black
Specialty coffee is defined by one foundational belief: That coffee is unique and has distinct characteristics
Specialty roasters and coffeeshops are about serving better coffee that is grown well, roasted well, and brewed well. Gone are the days where we buy generic tasting coffees that need to be roasted to cover defects.
Instead, now we want to highlight and preserve characteristics unique to an origin or farm
We value Sweetness, acidity and complexity of flavour amongst other things, and it takes so much work to communicate all these experiences to the customer
Great coffee doesn’t happen overnight
Growing coffee is hard. Growing great coffee is even harder.
There are many things that can go right or wrong in the chain. There are many factors that can dictate the end result in the cup. The choice to be selective in picking, for example. There’s also a neat to sort rigorously at origin in the mills to ensure consistency. Processing techniques are important in determining whether flavours are lifted or muted, or whether storage and warehousing helps to keep all those flavours in check.
At farms, training in harvesting, equipment for processing, warehousing and quality control all require investment. Many importers pre-contract with exporters, which in turn allows trusted exporters to pre-finance quality investments with various producers. This comes back around, ensuring that producers and exporters are being paid more.
Sustainability at the source
The idea of specialty coffee is about paying better prices for better quality. Many farmers around the world are seeking better lives through coffee. Whether they own a few trees in their backyard, or large farms covering large areas, specialty coffee has become a medium for which farmers have an alternative way to sell their coffees to earn a sustainable wage
We do this through a system designed and maintained by the SCA. It's a whole bunch of parameters that help to define what a specialty coffee is, from not finding twigs and sticks in your coffee beans, down to flavour balance and acidity. (A read for another time. There are WAY too many things to explain here). Simply put, anything that scores a quality score above 80 points is considered "specialty"
We source our coffees from Nordic Approach, who constantly pays fixed prices above the C-price.(More on that in this link)
For example, Nordic Approach working in Rwanda means that they pre-contract at an average price of USD 6.58/kg. Working backwards, the parchment coffee sold to the dry mill from the washing station would cost USD3.31/kg, which means the farmers get paid USD 1.99/kg
Mercanta Ltd, another importer that we work with, pays a minimum FOB origin price of USD1.80/lb, which helps to offset the volatile C-price which many producers are at the mercy of
It helps our roasters and baristas curate better coffee selections by giving us objective parameters.
But it also means that we're paying better prices that incentivise our producers to keep standards high to achieve those levels of quality
The Coffeeshop Struggle
Craftsmanship becomes a big thing in coffee shops.
We want to deliver an enjoyable experience with the coffees that we've sourced to all our customers, presenting and highlighting their natural characteristics to share with our customers.
It takes a ton of work and a lot of variables that goes into a cup of coffee that does it's best to preserve and present the natural characteristics of the coffee, so it comes as no surprise that coffee professionals would deem it a waste to be adding sugar to a beautifully brewed pour-over
Coffeeshops serve as the last line of contact right before the customer. One cup can make or break an experience, and that's why you see so many coffee shops value consistency and quality in order to show customers what specialty coffee is about.
We spend hours dialling in our coffees in the morning, come up with detailed workflow procedures, train and re-train each other, participate in competitions in order for us to present the work of coffee better to the customers
What can we do to support this?
It’s simple. Drink more, and appreciate more.
At the end of the day, all that work culminates in you, the consumer. Keep an open mind to your barista, buy more coffee from your roaster, and support your local coffeeshop.
A little help goes a long way: The more you buy from your coffeeshop, the more they can buy from their roaster, the more the roaster can buy from an importer, the better the prices will be for the mill and the farmer, eventually.
Great coffee isn't just good product
It is the future of sustainability