Talking Specialty to the Ordinary Consumer
"Non-fat White Chocolate Peppermint Latte with whipped cream please" proudly pleaded 15 year old Kayla to the green apron adorning barista.
Probably much like you, I spent years thinking what was special about 'specialty coffee' was the especially complicated coffee order I needed to memorize in order to gain legitimacy and status as a coffee consumer. While Frappuccinos and cafe culture dramatically changed the trajectory of our favorite morning beverage, the specialty coffee wave is defined by much more.
Specialty Coffee was first coined by Erna Knutsen, of Knutsen Coffee Ltd., in a speech to the delegates of an international coffee conference in Montreuil, France, in 1978. In essence, the concept was quite simple: special geographic microclimates produce beans with unique flavor profiles, which she referred to as ‘specialty coffees.’ Underlying this idea of coffee appellations was the fundamental premise that specialty coffee beans would always be well prepared, freshly roasted, and properly brewed. This was the craft of the specialty coffee industry that had been slowly evolving during the twenty-year period preceding her speech.
Today specialty coffee is most commonly understood as Arabica coffee with a cup score of 80+ points, according to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). Known for distinguishable flavors and dedication to quality, specialty coffee offers the consumer a craft experience in every cup. According to the National Coffee Association of America, the retail value of the U.S. coffee market is estimated to be $48 billion dollars with specialty comprising approximately 55% value share. (research conducted in 2015).
This bourgeoning coffee sector offers much potential: more fair compensation for farmers, higher quality coffee, increased business opportunity, and much more. It also demands a greater sense of criticality.
If the worlds finest beans are picked from the tip-top of mountains then we must consider the risk to the farmer to safely harvest them and the environmental tradeoffs of removing the natural cover to transplant coffee. Specialty coffee is many things (including delicious), but it's not clearcut. There are a set of best practices and good habits which, over time, we'll solidify and share with you.