How Do You Know If You're Drinking Specialty Coffee? | Chattanooga Coffee Box

According to the National Coffee Association of America, coffee drinkers from coast to coast believe that 48% of the coffee they consume is specialty. For this to be true, we must assume the average coffee drinker knows what specialty even actually means when it comes to coffee. Then to make things a little more interesting, what does "third wave" and "gourmet" coffee mean?

How to Understand Specialty Coffee

For the most part, there are two options when it comes to drinking coffee. Should it be regular or specialty coffee? Do we even know the difference and should we even care? Whether we do or not, let's discover what specialty coffee means.

It all starts with the producer and for them, quality ensures a higher profit option. This means that coffees that are free of defects and picked at their peak will make their way into the next set of hands in the specialty chain.

That coffee is then analyzed by a green coffee buyer, certified by the SCA, and whose job requires a palate that can keenly identify coffee quality via cupping. Through the cupping process, the coffee taster can assess a coffee's score and determine whether it is specialty grade quality. 

The next person in the specialty chain can also hold certification by the SCA, the roaster. Roasting is an art that requires a high degree of knowledge and experience to produce specialty level roast profiles.

After the coffee has been roasted and left to rest for several days, the barista ensures each bean reaches its full brewed promise. If the specialty bean is not brewed properly it is possible that its true flavor potential could be lost.

Is Specialty Coffee Actually Special?

Not expecting to see yourself on this list? In fact, it is the consumer who completes the lifecycle of the specialty coffee bean by actively seeking out and choosing specialty coffee options. When you take the time to find a local coffee bar or roastery that is dedicated to quality, or take an extra moment to learn from your barista about the people whose hands and passion produced the cup you're enjoying so that you can make more informed choices, you demonstrate not only a commitment to a higher standard of quality of taste and flavor but also a commitment to a higher standard of living for every person who contributed along the way.

Specialty Coffee vs Third Wave Coffee

You’ll often hear “specialty coffee” and “third wave coffee” used interchangeably, so the third wave is not a cup of coffee; it’s a mindset around loving the guest in all things.” Well, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) scores coffees on a 100-point scale. Coffees that score 60 points or above are considered commercial-grade; at 80 points or above, they are graded as “specialty”.

Should the Term "Third Wave" Be Overlooked?

Third-wave coffee is an experience. Specialty coffee is what we serve in that experience. For specialty coffee, you don’t need the third wave. You don’t need that service to obtain quality, but to create a great experience you do need that element. In other words, the third wave needs specialty. Specialty doesn’t need the third wave.

Third-wave coffee: a movement, an experience, an increased focus on consumer education and service. However you define it, I believe we are lucky to be witnesses of the industry’s evolution. With an increased focus on production and quality, it’s leading to fairer, better coffee that benefits all parts of the coffee supply chain.

So next time you step into a third wave coffee shop, don’t be afraid to ask your barista more about your drink. This is, after all, the third wave.

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