When people talk about speciality coffee, they talk about third wave coffee, about direct trade, about fair trade or organic coffee. It is pretty easy to get lost in the range of coffees that are offered and called special, so I will try to make it as simple as possible.
Speciality coffee starts with the producers. Producers of speciality coffee have coffee plants in the highest altitudes under the best circumstances. Their focus is on the quality of the coffee beans, not on the quantity. The coffee cherries will be hand picked at their peak of ripeness and only the beans that are free of defects will be sold. For coffee producers the step from regular coffee production towards speciality coffee isn’t easy. It takes a good amount of money in the beginning, to invest in better plants, and move the focus from quantity to quality. Farmers have to not only train themselves, but also everybody who is involved like the pickers and other workers. That change doesn’t come overnight, it is a long winded process and it also means a lot of work.
The next step on the way of a speciality coffee bean are the green coffee buyers. Green coffee buyers usually have huge warehouses to store large amounts of coffee.They have a register where the roasters who buy from them can choose from the available coffees and those coffees get delivered from the warehouse to the roaster. If the coffee is traded directly like what we do here at Gaia, the roasters buy the coffee from the farmers and no green coffee buyer is involved. In both cases, the coffee gets cupped, which basically refers to the coffee getting roasted to basic light roast so you can smell and taste the coffee as well as several other things that get evaluated. In the end each coffee gets a score that is based on the same evaluation criteria. The highest official cupping score is 100 points, specialty coffees are considered 80 points or above.
From here on the next step is the roaster. Coffee roasting is a super important step on the way from the coffee fields and into your cup. While the coffee gets roasted, the chemical and physical properties of green coffee beans transform into roasted coffee. That process produces the characteristic flavors of coffee. Simply said, the lighter the coffee is roasted, the more it has its original taste like fruits or flowers. The darker the beans get, you will find more nuts and chocolate notes, and often plastic and rubber notes too if roasted too dark.
The Barista is the last person in the chain (who is often you at home!). Find someone who knows how milk and espresso work perfectly together, as there is a true art of understanding the physical properties of milk and coffee. They have to know how to adjust the espresso machine right for every single coffee to highlight the different characteristics of each coffee.
I like to imagine every coffee as its own individual color. Every step on the journey of the coffee bean impacts how the tones of the color change. Let’s say we have a "blue" coffee bean. That shade of blue can change depending on the growing, processing, roasting and preparing. All of these factors can change the blue to become a lighter or darker blue, or it can totally loose its connection to the original blue... but it will always be blue!
After that little journey of the story behind a speciality coffee bean, we hope you enjoy your cup of Gaia coffee.
If you are wondering now why we don’t have any certifications like Fair Trade or Organic, watch out for our next posts and we will tell you why!