There is a lot you need to consider when you are looking to get specialty coffee beans. The good news is that manufacturers of these beans often expect their customers to be experts, so they go to great lengths to make the technical details of how a coffee blend was grown and prepared available on their sites and their labels. But if you are new to this market, you might have a hard time figuring out what is important for bean quality and how it affects the final product. If that’s your case, this guide will help you. Here’s what you should keep an eye on when buying specialty coffee.
1 – Cupping scale
Put simply, the cupping scale is a method of determining coffee quality as objectively as possible. The scale was developed by the Specialty Coffee Association and has become an industry standard. It plays a big role in determining what specialty coffee is. To be worthy of the title of “specialty,” coffee needs to score over 80 on the scale. And if you are looking for a truly premium coffee experience, you should shop for products that score close to or above 90 on the scale.
A ten-point difference may not sound like much, but the cupping scale only goes up to 100. And the closer to the top of the scale a coffee gets, the harder each point is to earn.
2 – Country of origin
There are many ways in which the country of origin can impact the flavor and quality of different coffee beans. They include obvious factors such as the local climate, weather patterns, soil, and more. But it also reflects local tradition and how coffee growers go about taking care of the coffee beans. Local culture plays a significant role in distinguishing Honduran coffee brands from specialty coffee produced in Colombia or Peru.
While you are checking where a given brand gets its coffee from, you might want to check if they use ethically sourced organic coffee as well. The best brands take care of their farmers, on top of working hard to satisfy their customers.
3 – How the coffee was grown
Growing coffee in the shade often leads to the best coffee beans. Shade-grown coffee is richer in taste and has more nutrients than beans grown in the sun. And this is just one of the ways changing how and where you grow coffee can affect the results.
Another technique involves growing the bean in elevations above 5000 thousand feet. The reduced amount of oxygen in the air makes the plant grow more slowly, which alters the flavor of the final product.
4 – Size of the lot
Think of micro-lots as highly curated coffee beans. These are beans that were all grown on a single farm, under the shade of the same trees, and were all processed together as one lot. This means that the amount of beans in any given lot is limited, but their quality is incredibly consistent. Micro-lots are where you will find single-origin coffee beans with cupping scale ratings over 90, some even close to 100.