What Is Specialty Coffee?
Commodity coffee is your typical diner or cafe style coffee and is traded on the commodities market just like cotton, wheat and sugar. It is made up of low grade arabica and robusta beans which are both cheap and low quality. Robusta beans give coffee a higher caffeine content but a harsh bitter flavor while low grade arabica lacks the complexity of it’s higher quality family. You can make good coffee taste bad but you can never make bad coffee taste good.
Lower grade arabica and robusta beans are grown at low altitudes and require less work from the farmer. Due to growing at lower altitudes they don’t develop the complex flavors and oils that higher grown coffees produce. Both robusta and low grade arabica coffee is typically used in cheap, mass produced blends and instant coffee. That bitter cup of coffee at the corner dinner, yep it’s likely a cheaply produced bean.
Quality and taste are what defines Specialty coffees. Arabica beans are more dense and have more chemical compounds in them that produce an incredible lineup of flavors when roasted. It is grown at higher elevations, this gives the beans more time to develop those complex flavors and sugars. Much like wine, the coffee beans flavor development is directly affected by the amount of sunlight, wind and rain the plants receive.
The amount of flavor profiles in specialty coffee are so vast that a coffee grown in a farm next door can taste extremely different. Just like wine, you wouldn’t say all wines from Napa Valley are the same. It depends on the variety, farmer and location just like coffee.