Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Premium is a word merely added to a coffee by the marketing departments of some coffee brands. It is widely abused and has no real meaning or objectivity in terms of coffee quality.
Specialty coffee, also referred to as single origin coffee, artisan coffee or 3rd wave coffee is a well defined coffee industry niche involving coffee farmers and coffee industry professionals, since the 90’s.
Specialty coffee is rated by a cupping score out of 100 by professional coffee tasters, called Q-graders. The higher the score, the better the quality of the coffee and the higher is the price.
If we see a bag of coffee which has the name of coffee farm it came from, along with coffee bean varietal name, altitude it was grown at, method of processing and date of roasting, we know it is a specialty or single origin coffee.
Most single origin coffees retail in small quantity air tight bags with a gas escape valve. Some will have global affiliations mentioned too like Fair Trade or Certified Organic or simply an affiliation logo of SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America).
In simple terms, Specialty Coffee looks at the entire coffee chain, right from the farm till it reaches your cup. For a coffee to taste its best it should’ve been roasted not more than a month ago, and it will taste best if brewed within 15 mins of grinding the beans.
Just like the wine industry, the source or origin of coffee beans and how they were processed is important, followed by the tasting notes, mostly by licensed Q- graders, using a flavor wheel such as this, during cupping events.
This is followed by careful roasting of the beans, depending on intended use, darker roasts although preferable for espresso, generally rob the coffee beans of its original flavour notes, thus lighter roasts are generally preferred for other brewing methods such as the cafetiere or pour over, the preferred serving method in artisan or specialty cafes around the world.
Last but not the least, a well trained barista with proper training, tools & equipment is the final and most important link between carefully processed coffee and your cuppa. He or she can make or break this entire chain!