Specialty Coffee: A Connoisseur’s Guide

A photo of a latte being poured.

Are you a coffee lover who appreciates the finer nuances of a perfectly brewed cup? If so, then specialty coffee is your gateway to coffee heaven. In this guide, we will navigate the world of specialty coffee, providing you with all the information you need to become a connoisseur.

Specialty coffee is known for its exceptional quality, distinct flavour profiles, and meticulous sourcing and roasting processes. From the moment the beans are handpicked on the mountainside to the final sip, every step is carefully executed to ensure an unparalleled coffee-drinking experience.

In this article, we will delve into the origins of specialty coffee, uncover the secrets of its cultivation and processing, and explore the various brewing methods that bring out its unique flavours. Whether you prefer pour-over, French press, or espresso, we’ve got you covered.

Today we embark on a sensory journey, introducing you to the different coffee growing regions, the flavour profiles associated with each one, and the best brewing techniques to enhance your cup. 

Grab your favourite mug, because specialty coffee is about to take your coffee game to the next level.

What sets specialty coffee apart?

Unlike regular coffee, which is often made from mass-produced beans of varying quality, specialty coffee undergoes a rigorous selection process. Only the finest beans, typically sourced from specific regions, are considered for specialty coffee production. This attention to detail results in a cup that is bursting with flavour and complexity.

The cultivation and processing methods used for specialty coffee also contribute to its unique characteristics. Specialty coffee farms also often employ sustainable practices that prioritise the health of the soil and the wellbeing of the workers. These eco-conscious methods, combined with meticulous processing, result in beans that are rich, aromatic, and free from any defects.

The coffee bean selection process for specialty coffee

At Howden Coffee, we taste test every single variety of coffee we sell online – including many more that didn’t make it! The way we do this is by evaluating samples from different regions to identify the ones with the flavour profiles we think our customers will love the most. Factors that determine this include the aroma, acidity, body, and aftertaste of the coffee.

Once we know which beans we want to sell, they are sourced directly from farmers who maintain close relationships with specialty coffee roasters. This direct trade model ensures fair prices for the farmers and promotes sustainable farming practices. It also allows for traceability, so you can know exactly where your coffee comes from and the story behind it.

The art of coffee roasting for specialty coffee

Roasting is where the magic happens in the world of specialty coffee. Roasters carefully control the temperature and duration of the roast to bring out the unique flavours of each batch of beans. This delicate process requires skill and precision to strike the perfect balance between acidity, sweetness, and body.

During the roasting process, the beans undergo chemical changes that transform their flavours and aromas. Lighter roasts tend to bring out the beans’ natural acidity and fruity notes, while darker roasts develop deeper, bolder flavours with hints of chocolate and caramel. Roasters experiment with different profiles to showcase the diverse range of flavours found in specialty coffee.

Brewing methods and equipment for specialty coffee

To truly appreciate the nuances of specialty coffee, it’s essential to use the right brewing methods and equipment. Each brewing method extracts flavours differently, resulting in a unique taste experience.

One popular method is pour over, which involves slowly pouring hot water over a bed of coffee grounds. This method allows for precise control over the extraction process, resulting in a clean, bright cup of coffee. For this method, we recommend using a gooseneck temperature-controlled kettle so that you don’t scold the beans or pour the water on too heavily. 

Another popular option is the French press, which uses a plunger to separate the coffee grounds from the brewed coffee. This method produces a rich, full-bodied cup with a robust flavour profile. If you’re at home with a bigger group, a French press is a fantastic time-efficient route to quality coffee.

For those who want to experience the pinnacle of coffee, then espresso is the way to go. This brewing method uses high pressure to extract flavours quickly, resulting in a bold and flavourful shot of coffee. Espresso machines are a staple in specialty coffee shops, allowing baristas to showcase their skills and create intricate latte art. At the end of the day, any delicious coffee starts with a quality shot of espresso.

Tasting and evaluating specialty coffee

Tasting and evaluating specialty coffee is an art form in itself. Just like wine tasting, coffee cupping involves carefully observing the aroma, aroma, acidity, body, and flavour of the coffee. Our top tip for tasting coffee is to use a points system where you can easily and precisely compare and analyse the various elements of each coffee.

When tasting specialty coffee, it’s important to pay attention to the intricacies of the flavour profile. Notes of fruit, chocolate, floral, nutty, or even earthy tones can be detected with much more clarity in specialty coffees, each providing a unique sensory experience. Developing your palate through regular tasting sessions will help you appreciate the nuances and complexities of different coffees.

Why not buy a mid-budget supermarket coffee and compare it with a specialty coffee? This should highlight the difference between the two even further. 

Popular specialty coffee regions and their unique flavours

Specialty coffee is grown in different regions around the world, each with its unique flavour profile. You’ll notice that many of the locations are located along the equator, which is primarily because of the climate, which includes tropical climates and rich soils. 

Let’s explore some of the popular coffee regions and the flavours associated with them:

1. Americas: Coffee produced in the Americas often comes from locations such as Guatemala, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru. The characteristics of these coffees are often well balanced, nutty, spicy, and a mild acidity.

2. Africa: Known for having slightly more acidic coffee, locations like Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Kenya all grow sensational coffee. The characteristics of which tend to be bright, fruity, and medium-bodied.

3. Asia: With such a diverse mix of countries making up the Asian market, you’ll find some of the world’s finest coffees on this diverse continent. From Sumatra to, Papua New Guinea the coffee is typically earthy, chocolatey, sweet, and heavy-bodied.

Specialty coffee shops and cafes around the world

As specialty coffee continues to gain popularity, specialty coffee shops and cafes have emerged worldwide. These establishments are dedicated to showcasing the best of specialty coffee, sourcing the best possible beans and brewing a seriously good coffee; not your average Starbucks!

Whether you’re in Devon or Dundee, you’ll find specialty coffee shops that take their craft seriously. 

How to become a specialty coffee connoisseur

Becoming a specialty coffee connoisseur takes time and dedication. Here are a few steps to help you on your journey:

1. Explore different flavours: Try coffees from different regions and experiment with various brewing methods to develop your palate.

2. Learn about the process: Dive deeper into the cultivation, processing, and roasting methods used in specialty coffee production. Understanding the journey from farm to cup will deepen your appreciation for the craft.

3. Connect with the community: Engage with the specialty coffee community by attending workshops, joining online forums, or participating in coffee events. Share your experiences and learn from others who share your passion.

Embracing the world of specialty coffee

Specialty coffee offers a world of flavours and experiences for coffee lovers who seek something beyond the ordinary. Through meticulous sourcing, roasting, and brewing, specialty coffee provides a sensory journey like no other.

By exploring different coffee regions, experimenting with brewing methods, and expanding your knowledge, you can become a specialty coffee connoisseur. So, grab your favourite mug and get ready to embark on a delicious adventure into the world of specialty coffee. Your taste buds will thank you.

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