Specialty Coffee: An Inside Look at the Process, Products, and Top Brands

Specialty coffee is a term used to refer to the highest grade of coffee available in the world. These are coffees that have been sourced from specific microclimates, carefully processed, and expertly roasted to bring out unique flavors and characteristics. Unlike commercial-grade coffee, specialty coffee is known for its rich taste and aroma, consistent flavor profiles, and overall higher quality experience.

What is Specialty Coffee?

Specialty coffee, as defined by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), is a coffee that scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale. It’s a term used for coffee beans that are grown in ideal climates and are carefully harvested to ensure the highest quality.

The Making Process of Specialty Coffee

The making process of specialty coffee involves multiple critical stages:

  1. Sourcing: Specialty coffee is typically grown in specific regions known for their ideal coffee-growing climates, such as parts of Ethiopia, Colombia, and Costa Rica.
  2. Harvesting: Only ripe coffee cherries are hand-picked. This ensures the highest quality and reduces the risk of including underripe or overripe beans that could affect the flavor.
  3. Processing: After harvesting, the cherries are processed to remove the outer pulp and mucilage. This can be done through dry (natural) or wet (washed) methods. The method used will influence the flavor of the coffee.
  4. Roasting: Specialty coffees are usually roasted in smaller batches to better control the process and to bring out the unique flavors of each bean.
  5. Brewing: Finally, brewing should be done correctly to ensure that the flavors and characteristics of the coffee are preserved. This often involves using the right amount of coffee, the correct water temperature, and the proper brewing time.

Products Used in Making Specialty Coffee

Several products are commonly used in the specialty coffee-making process:

  1. Coffee Grinders: A good quality grinder is crucial to get the right consistency of coffee grounds for brewing.
  2. Coffee Machines or Brewers: Depending on the preferred brewing method, this could be a drip coffee maker, a French press, an espresso machine, or a pour-over set-up.
  3. Specialty Coffee Beans: The star of the show. These are high-grade beans sourced from specific regions and carefully processed and roasted.
  4. Water Filter: Since water quality greatly affects the taste of coffee, using filtered water is recommended.

Top Specialty Coffee Brands

There are numerous specialty coffee brands around the world. Some notable ones include:

  1. Stumptown Coffee Roasters: Based in Portland, Oregon, Stumptown is known for its commitment to quality and sustainable sourcing.
  2. Blue Bottle Coffee: This Oakland-based brand is known for its high-quality beans and focus on single-origin coffees.
  3. Intelligentsia Coffee: With several locations around the U.S., Intelligentsia is a pioneer in direct trade coffee sourcing.
  4. Counter Culture Coffee: This North Carolina-based brand is committed to sustainability and education, and they offer a wide range of single-origin and blended coffees.


What makes a coffee "specialty"?

Specialty coffee is a term used for coffee beans that score 80 points or above on a 100 point scale by the SCA. They're usually grown in specific regions known for their ideal coffee-growing climates and are carefully harvested and processed to ensure the highest quality.

Why is specialty coffee more expensive?

Specialty coffee often involves more labor-intensive processes, from careful harvesting and meticulous processing to small-batch roasting. Plus, these coffees are often sourced from specific regions and farms, sometimes even from single lots within a farm, which adds to their uniqueness and cost.

How can I brew specialty coffee at home?

You'll need high-quality, freshly roasted specialty coffee beans, a good grinder, and a coffee brewer. You'll also need to learn the correct ratios of coffee to water for your chosen brewing method, the right grind size, the right water temperature, and the correct brew time.

Can I use any type of coffee maker for specialty coffee?

While you can use any type of coffee maker, some brewing methods are better suited to bringing out the complex flavors of specialty coffee. This includes pour-over methods, French press, and espresso machines. It’s also important to use freshly ground coffee, ground to the appropriate size for your brewing method.

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