For a long time coffee was a simple commodity…it was roasted dark, sold cheap and chugged throughout the day. However, like the beer industry, micro took coffee’s creative side to a new industry high. Type A coffee nerds take insane amounts of care in every step of the process, from visiting the farms that grow the coffee, building relationships with the farmers, to developing unique roast profiles that bring out each unique bean’s individual flavor qualities. Roasting in these small batches allows unparalleled attention to the details.
Erna Knutsen, who was a luminary in the coffee world, first coined the term ‘specialty coffee’ around 1974. Erna knew and pushed forward the appreciation for coffee’s potential. And since then, specialty beans currently represent 55% of the coffee market share; a major force in the US.
So what makes small batch coffee beans so special?
Coffee roasting is the application of heat to coffee beans in order to create chemical reactions that develop the complex aromatic and flavor components of the bean. The goal is to achieve a delicate balance of flavor, acidity, body, and aroma that is both harmonious and intriguing. Small-batch producers have the legroom to innovate on these roasting techniques and to experiment liberally with taste.
Graders are the sommeliers of the coffee world, trained to detect the most imperceptible defects and differences in beans. A coffee is ranked as specialty when it scores 80 points or higher on a 100-point scale according to the Specialty Coffee Association. This is determined by cupping, the way coffee professionals evaluate and compare coffees. Coffee far outshines wine in the number of aromatics and flavors, which is why cuppers rely on the SCA’s Flavor Wheel (at right), a detailed mapping of vocabulary to use when describing and ranking coffee.
The language around specialty coffee is as complex as the beverage
Customers are curious and want to know where their beans are sourced, how they’re roasted, and the nuanced flavor profiles to expect in the bag of beans. The smaller guys are often more transparent about the suppliers they work with, so each cup of coffee can be enjoyed guilt-free by their customers. More companies are specially coding their small batches so the consumer can find out exactly when it was roasted, where it came from and the farming relationship the roaster has to their community. Fair trade is an important relationship as the coffee depends on the skill and care of its farmers – hands in the ground, nurturing life from a small seed – and lot of hard work goes into just getting those beans to the consumer. The majority of the world’s coffee is produced by 25 million small-scale farmers – meaning farmers working 5 acres or less (the average Fair-trade farmer works just 3.4 acres of land). Many of these farmers are dependent on coffee to support their families and entire communities rely on the once-a-year harvest.
Every February, thousands of coffee lovers gather for the Global Specialty Coffee Expo, the world’s largest coffee conference. We’ll be among them meeting with Fairtrade farmers, traders, companies and manufacturers who all converge to talk coffee and enjoy the world’s finest.
Boys in a Soap-Box Car (8oz Whole Bean Small Batch Artisan Coffee – Bold & Strong Medium Dark Roast w/ Artwork)