From farm to cup: The making of specialty coffee

Coffee could very well be considered the adult equivalent of pocket money, except it’s a reward for simply getting out of bed and you have to pay for it yourself.

So, every morning (maybe the odd afternoon as well), you visit your regular spot, grab a coffee and life improves just a little, or maybe even a lot.

When you take the time to visit your local cafe, you might’ve noticed that many use beans from all around the world. You might’ve also noticed that some of these cafes use ‘specialty coffee’.

But what you mightn’t have realised is that some of these places are using the term falsely. So, what does it actually mean and what makes specialty coffee so special after all?

The Specialty Coffee Association’s most simple definition of is: “A coffee that delivers satisfaction on all counts and adds value to the lives and livelihoods of all involved is truly a specialty coffee.”

Who are involved?

There is a long process line which again, the Specialty Coffee Association helps to clarify:

  1. First it takes the coffee farmers, who dedicate their lives to growing and harvesting coffee.
  2. Then a green coffee buyer collects the coffee and sells it to a roaster. During this process, the green coffee buyer has the responsibility of communicating information about the coffee to the next person inline, the roaster.
  3. The roaster, – after receiving information about the coffee – uses specialty equipment to roast the coffee beans. All coffee beans have their own requirements to achieve their best roast ‘profile’.

Kindred Coffee roaster David Trotta says roasting specialty coffee is incredibly different to roasting coffee intended for mass consumption. He adds that its delicacy contributes to this.

David says, “coffee is sourced from different regions all around the world and every coffee is different, so this makes roasting the actual product [specialty coffee] very unique. You tailor the roasting to suit the coffee while keeping in mind your customers’ demand.

“When roasting for a non-specialty you’re roasting for a commodity client, your roasting for maximum convenience and often at a lower price point than specialty coffee. They’re [the client] not necessarily interested in high grade coffee or even how nice the coffee will taste.

“Specialty roast, your customer is more discerning. You’re really trying to highlight flavour and have a product which is desirable for the specialty market. It takes a lot longer to design a roast profile for a specialty coffee.”

The process continues:

  1. After the beans are roasted, they’re sent to the cafes where – once in the hands of a barista – are paired with the correct recipe to ensure the coffee achieves its maximum potential. A recipe involves the ratio of coffee to water and style of coffee being brewed.
  2. Finally, the coffee ends up in the hands of consumer aka you. Of course, even coffees which are not in the specialty grade follow a similar process to that mentioned above. But why do some cafes opt for specialty coffee?

For Third Time Lucky co-owner and 2018 Australian Brewers Cup Champion Heath Dalziel specialty coffee has been at the forefront of his practice in recent years. Whether he’s brewing it for competition or for customers in the café, Heath explains there’s something anyone can enjoy.

“One of the things that’s unique is that behind every coffee there is a story, behind mainstream coffee there are stories but with specialty coffee there are so many more,” he says.

“Each coffee in specialty coffee is a new experience, they’re all unique.”

Ultimately, specialty coffee is a hugely complex industry, but it’s also an industry which is full of opportunity, variety and personal stories.

So, when you’re looking for your next morning coffee haunt, try searching for the speciality variety and you too might have a specialty coffee story of your own.

Image by Lara Apollo