What is Specialty Coffee?

Have you ever tried to define specialty coffee to someone? Or have you ever asked yourself how does specialty coffee affect all parts of the supply chain? There are many conflicting opinions, most of which contain at least a hint about how Specialty Coffee is defined.

 2.5 Minute read

By Craig Jones

Australia-Pacific Sales Representative

There are many conflicting opinions, most of which contain at least a hint about how Specialty Coffee is defined. Agreed throughout the whole chain, from consumer back to producer though, is price and quality.

Consumers are willing to pay more for quality. Roasters are therefore happy to spend more for quality. Importers know the value of quality and the price attached. Producers then should understand that better quality will bring better prices.

How do we define quality and what is the journey to get there?

For Caravela, quality is defined by numerous factors. We cup individual lots to determine their quality, which correlates to price. Caravela ensures a higher base price than most. We do physical analysis of all coffees . This includes assessment of H2O, water activity, density and, more recently, UV.

All coffees purchased need to meet strict guidelines. The lowest grade of coffee Caravela is willing to purchase needs to score 83+. Additional grades are A, AA, AA (84+,85+ & 86+ respectively). Water activity needs to be between 0.5-0.6, H2O 10-11%. UV assessment is only new and parameters are being set, but this will be another welcome addition to the QC/QA arsenal.

How can a producer meet the criteria?

Our education programme, PECA, can help farmers understand the requirements better. The programme provides education around planting, varieties, controlling Roya, fertilising, pruning, picking times and ripeness, understanding fermentation times, good drying practices and understanding the financial aspect of producing coffee.

“traceability, sustainability, quality of green, flavour profiles all define Specialty. The best importers/exporters will be able to provide this to the consumer end by having infrastructure which allows them to be close to the farmer” 

Are the results immediate?

Any improvement in practices will have an immediate impact. It is possible for non-Specialty coffee to make it into the Specialty bracket with only a season or two of commitment toward quality. In as little as two years we’ve seen producers’ coffee reach the AA grade, 85+, meaning even higher prices.

What is Specialty at the consumer end?

There are many answers here, but traceability, sustainability, quality of green, flavour profiles all define Specialty. The best importers/exporters will be able to provide this to the consumer end by having infrastructure which allows them to be close to the farmer, with programs for education and with vertical integration or control of the whole chain, ensuring all parts adhere to the high standards set.

Specialty is also defined at the consumer end by the stylish cafes that it is served in, with fancy equipment and many brewing methods. The coffee in these establishments is of the highest quality and the consumer is willing to pay a lot more than they would for the commodity coffee. It is this money which trickles its way back along the chain to the producer.

How does this directly impact the producer?

Higher prices and long term relationships mean coffee will be bought year after year. In short, Specialty ultimately means a better life with more security. Access to education is important as the power of many minds will always be able to find new and innovative ways to improve coffee production.

The end goal is to give farmers security by knowing that they have a product that can fetch a good price, with a trusted partner, giving them the reward they deserve for their hard work.

About Craig Jones:

New Zealander, living and working on Northern Beaches of Sydney, in Logistics/QC and sales support for CCAP. Worked for Caravela since December 2016 and has 15 years Coffee Industry Experience

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