Our Previous View on Specialty Coffee
It’s been exactly a year since Earthlings served its first cup of coffee to the public! Big thanks to our customers for their kind support and awesome response to specialty coffee. We couldn’t have done it without your love for good coffee, so we are investing more into our next workshop headquarters to offer Kuching an even better specialty coffee scene. It will have more sophisticated coffee equipments and much more space to provide professional education and trainings for coffee enthusiasts.
Specialty coffee is beginning to pick up in Sarawak, and it may be a little confounding for those who have always been drinking local Nanyang coffee; for there are substantial differences between the two. Over the year, we have collected many feedbacks and questions posted by our active customers. We would like to further discuss and explain on some of the obscure terms regarding the specialty coffee industry. This is an interesting, yet extensive topic, so there will be more articles, like this one, to come in future posts.
Our Definition of Specialty Coffee
Let us begin with the question that is frequently asked: What is Specialty coffee, and what is our take on the subject? Specialty coffee is interpreted differently in various contexts. The term "specialty coffee" was first used by Erna Knutsen in an issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal published in 1974 to differentiate coffee beans that are produced in special microclimates and the various flavours they exhibit. The general concept is to set apart truly outstanding coffees from the vast dominance of commercial coffees.
The specialty coffee movement (particularly Third Wave) has come a long way for many years in different countries. Specialised organisations such as Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE),Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), and Cup of Excellence (CoE) have come up with more refined standards and practices for the specialty coffee industry.
In certain countries, which the specialty coffee industry is more mature, most specialty cafes have developed their own standards regarding the quality of their coffees served. Our situation was quite different, the local market was not exposed to specialty coffee at the time. So we thought the best way to bring specialty coffee into Sarawak is through formal training and examination through top global organisations to calibrate our understanding.
We found the following points are the pillars of specialty coffee as we know it.
Species and Varietals
Specialty coffee mainly works with higher grade Arabica beans that can break down into numerous sub varietals, namely Typica, Bourbon, Ethiopia Heirloom, Geisha, SL28 and the list goes on. The organic composition of the beans plays the biggest role in what the coffee will eventually taste like. The right farming practices are also crucial. There should be strict quality control from plantation to harvest, to post processing methods, coffee demands the attention of countless professionals throughout the entire process before it falls into our hands.
Cupping and Grading
So how can we tell whether the crops we received are up to standards? We need to sample and select the green beans we think are presentable in the cup. Our licensed Q-grader is the one who makes purchasing decisions, he would cup every single sample prudently, judging from its fragrance, aroma, flavours, acidity, body, aftertaste and a number of overall factors to come up with a final score. Only those that score 80 and above qualify as specialty grade according to SCAA and CQI standards. These sensory skills require tasting a lot of coffees and many years to build.
Roasting and Extraction
Roasting is done by our SCAA and SCAE certified roaster who tests and manipulates different roast levels, who then finds a suitable roast profile to best present beans of every unique origin. Extraction is the final stage of transformation. Here is where our SCAA certified barista and Golden Cup Technician step in to find the best methods of extraction in order to bring out the flavours and aromas. Extraction can be done as espresso coffee or brewed coffee. Different methods of extraction can change the outcome dramatically. Both roasting and extraction are very sophisticated processes, hence we will write more about them in future articles.
Another very important factor that defines specialty coffee is freshness. In general, medium or darker roast coffee should be consumed within a month; under optimum storage conditions. In fact, the flavours and aromas of roasted coffee start to slowly decline after the first week. Espresso coffee, on the other hand, needs a “breathing period” before its full potential shows. The length of time needed is different according to the coffee’s roast profile and method of extraction.
When we call a coffee “specialty”, we know it is guided by a set of professional standards that entails a great deal of knowledge, skills, and experience. Specialty coffee cannot be achieved by simply pulling shots from commercial coffees that have been on the shelf for months. It requires a lot more time and effort, which are positively correlated with its higher price tag. However, in a market unfamiliar to specialty coffee, the correlation is not always positive. Some are selling commercial coffee (not even freshly roasted) at the specialty price tag or even higher.
Some may feel that all the specialised qualifications we have mentioned make specialty coffee sounds unattainable. That’s really not the case. Plenty of specialty coffee professionals that we have met from in and out of the country serve excellent coffee without any certificate to prove it. Our team had spent years and had travelled overseas to learn and pass those papers because we started up in a town with no relevant references to specialty coffee. Our goal is to ensure every dollar our customer spent on specialty coffee is worth its value, thus we call for strict professional standards, and a system that maintains quality at every stage.
Nonetheless, specialty coffee is still a beverage, so making it as delicious as possible really isn’t that farfetched. All that complications before roasting doesn’t really concern drinkers. We do advocate home-brewing. We believe with simple guidelines and fresh coffees, anyone can brew a palatable cup of specialty coffee.
To sum it up, specialty coffee, in our perspective, is really a simple act of consistent pursuit for good quality coffee. Just like how we would judge the quality of any food, we take the basics such as its source and freshness into consideration. We believe there is a common consensus among coffee professionals in the effort and endless passion we put in to make our coffee special.
PS: In case you want to learn more about coffee beyond just its tastes, here’s a video about fresh coffee and health- http://youtu.be/JaQNy0Ef4YY.