What Is Specialty Coffee?
What is Specialty Coffee? Great question. Depends who you ask!
It means many things and has been a decades long conversation in our industry. I have written and talked about coffee beans as specialty by using the basics from SCAA standards. Here's my definition based on my experience as a member of the SCAA/SCA (Specialty Coffee Association): Specialty coffee is coffee that is free of primary defects in a 1-pound sample and with a notable taste. This definition best serves Fidalgo Coffee's needs and goals, but the story keeps going. For example, a cappuccino is to me the essence of specialty coffee as a finished beverage, which is where the specialty coffee retailer picks up the story. One of my favorite traits that I see alive and well in specialty coffee in America is the pursuit of making it better. Better beans, better coffee. Better roasting, better coffee. Better grinder, better coffee. Better water, better coffee. Better coffee maker, better coffee. Specialty coffee centers on the ingredient and then technique. The quality standard flows from the farm to the cup. I like to break it down into four parts--Producers, Importers, Roasters and Retailers.
This is where the story begins. The Farms, the Processing of the fruit, the Mill and the Exporter. Each of those steps are part of complex operations mostly organized as Cooperatives. Fedecocagua Coop is a a good example from Guatemala.
The Importer works with the Producer at country of origin. At Fidalgo Coffee we use Royal Coffee who is a Specialty Coffee Importer. Royal Coffee only imports specialty coffee. They send their representatives to coffee farms, producer cupping labs and mills to evaluate, cup and sample coffees before making purchases. Fidalgo Coffee relies on its Importer to source coffees to specification for our roasts, blends and single origin offerings. Fidalgo Coffee also uses Royal Coffee to facilitate our direct purchase of the Tierra Nueva farm's entire crop in Honduras each year. Fidalgo Coffee's relationship with Royal Coffee Importers gives our company advantages with reliable supply chain, consistent quality and in meeting sustainability goals such as verification of shade-grown farming, organic and fair-trade certification.
That's what we at Fidalgo Coffee are. When we go to coffee country we are introduced as Roasters. Fidalgo Coffee is a specialty roaster. Our part in this industry is near the end of the story for the coffee beans. We put the finishing touch on the coffee by roasting, blending and packaging the coffee. Each roaster has a different personality. At Fidalgo Coffee we roast from light to dark and we practice Post-Roast blending. Which means roasting the different coffees in a blend separately and then blending the coffee. Our quality standard means that we blend immediately after roasting. Never holding roasted coffee in tubs for later blending days later. All Fidalgo Coffee is roasted and then packed immediately after roasting. Why? Because the enemies of coffee are air, light and humidity. We want to get those beans in the bag immediately to allow the aromatics to condition inside the bag. This helps our customers make delicious espresso.