What is Specialty Coffee and Why Does It Matter


 The world of coffee can be subjective, just like many other consumable goods.  There is no universal answer to what people enjoy or their motivations behind choosing one product over another.  Sometimes it may be branding that draws you to a particular coffee over another.  Or perhaps it is nostalgia of remembering a parent or grandparent drinking a particular brand that brings back fond memories every day with your morning cup.  Your preferences may differ from mine or anyone else's, and there is nothing wrong with that…until you get to a point where you are trying to assign a value to that product.  One way the coffee industry attempts to do this is by assigning certain coffees with the moniker of “specialty grade” to help distinguish it from lower quality coffees.


So, What Exactly Is Specialty Coffee?

Well, the short answer is that specialty coffee is a coffee that scores 80 points or higher on a 100-point scale by a certified coffee grader.  But how a coffee achieves a score of 80 points or higher is a longer answer.  Specialty coffee is a commitment to quality at every stage of the coffee production process. In fact, the Specialty Coffee Association states it perfectly when they say that “Specialty coffee can consistently exist through the dedication of the people who have made it their life's work to continually make quality their highest priority.”  Each member of the supply chain, from the coffee farmer all the way to the roaster and eventually the consumer holds a critical role in making the term specialty coffee reflect the quality of product that the price point represents.

So now that we understand a little bit more about the term specialty coffee, why does it matter? Well first, let's talk about the benefits for the consumer.  Because of the quality imparted into the beans throughout the supply chain, specialty coffee can provide a superior sensory experience as compared to commodity grade coffees.  By this, we mean that specialty coffee offers a diverse range of flavors and aromas. These nuances are influenced by factors such as the coffee bean variety, the altitude at which it's grown, the soil composition, and the precise roasting process. The result is a coffee that can display tasting notes ranging from fruity and floral to chocolatey and nutty undertones.

The emphasis on quality in specialty coffee, however, is not just a matter of taste; it extends to the ethical and environmental aspects of coffee production. When you choose specialty coffee, you are often supporting fair trade practices. This ensures that the hardworking farmers receive fair compensation for their labor. Also, by selecting specialty coffee, consumers play a crucial role in promoting sustainability and ethical practices within the coffee industry and its impact on the environment. This aspect is critically important to Cold Blooded Caffeine’s brand, where we promote the environmentally friendly nature of specialty coffee, specifically focused on reptiles and amphibians.

As renowned coffee expert Kim Elena Ionescu emphasizes, "Specialty coffee is not just about exceptional taste; it's about creating a system that benefits everyone involved." Unlike commodity grade coffee, which often relies on large-scale, monocultural farming practices that can lead to deforestation and soil degradation, specialty coffee often involves small-scale, shade-grown cultivation. Dr. Mark Pendergrast, author of "Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World," highlights that these practices not only promote biodiversity but also contribute to carbon sequestration and the preservation of natural ecosystems. By opting for specialty coffee, consumers play a crucial role in fostering environmentally responsible farming methods, ensuring a positive impact on our planet's health and biodiversity.


For Those Looking to Explore the World of Specialty Coffee, Here Are a Few Tips:

  1. Don’t be afraid to explore: Try different varieties of specialty coffee from various regions to discover your preferred flavor profiles.  Also, don’t limit yourself to one roaster, as each typically has a style and region of coffee that they prefer.  
  2. Experiment with various brewing methods: Pour-overs, French press, and espresso can all create very different tasting experiences even with the same coffee.  While some coffees may be suited for a particular application, it is a lot of fun playing around with different ways to brew. 
  3. Chat with other coffee enthusiasts: Don't hesitate to consult with your local barista or roaster.  I have never yet met a specialty coffee professional who will not willingly talk your ear off about their favorite coffees, brew methods, ect.  

As the coffee industry continues to push forward, remember that specialty coffee is not just a trend; it's a movement towards a more sustainable and mindful coffee culture. By choosing specialty coffee, you are not only indulging in a delightful cup but contributing to a positive impact on the lives of coffee farmers and the environment.

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