Speciality Coffee: 5 reasons why it’s better
Speciality coffee is often surrounded by a lot of misconception, regarded as a luxury item that’s out of reach for most ordinary coffee drinkers. However, it’s so much more than the stereotypes it’s branded with, more within reach, and more important than you might think.
Whether you buy whole bean, ground or straight up instant, the large proportion of coffee found in your local supermarket is known as ‘commodity coffee’, a reasonably cheap coffee with some flavour and serves the main purpose to give that morning wake up kick. However, what you may save in time, money, and effort, reflects a commodity market focussed on efficiency and small margins often resulting in those at the end of the chain (farmers and producers) end up receiving less than they need to improve and develop their coffee crop. Not only that, but you end up missing out on what coffee is really meant to be like.
Fortunately, there’s a better way of doing coffee. Here are five reasons why speciality coffee, when pursued properly, is special, and why it’s just the thing for you.
Speciality coffee is better quality than commodity coffee
The reason why ‘speciality coffee’ is given its name is due to its quality. Simply put, it’s the best out there. Coffees are given the title ‘speciality’ when the beans, after being extensively tasted by coffee experts, have been awarded a score over 80/100. This means that the ‘green’ coffee is excellent and that, when paired with great processing, great roasting, and great preparation the coffee is the best quality it can be. Unfortunately, if any of the steps leading up to that first sip aren’t thought about, you can end up wasting that amazing coffee bean that has travelled thousands of miles to get to your cup. A lot of roasters may buy ‘speciality’ coffee however they don’t have the expertise or experience to maintain the speciality flavour of each different coffee crop. Consequently, while speciality-grade coffee is better than commodity, ‘speciality’ easily becomes a label simply to increase sales and boost image.
At Postroast, we do the hard work in finding local roasters who pursue excellence from the farm to your cup. All of our Partner Roasters source sustainably, pay fairly, and roast exceptionally, and we connect you to them. So, instead of spending ages combing through a supermarket shelf trying to find something half decent, all the hard work is done by farmers, pickers, tasters, roasters, and us, ensuring that every coffee you see on Postroast is truly delicious.
Climpson & Sons
It gets better. Speciality-grade coffee required greater levels of investment to achieve a consistently high-quality crop. It’s important to note that whilst different species of coffee will inherently be higher and lower in quality a lot of the investment is in the production of the crop. Often speciality coffee varieties are grown at high altitudes, with the correct acidity soil, moisture content amongst other factors. Farmers work hard to get a high percentage of good quality cherries, which are sorted out into different quality grades, with those of high quality getting the speciality label and the lowest quality cherries going into your cheaper commodity coffee. The aim of the game is to get a harvest with the highest proportion of high-quality cherries.
In contrast, commodity coffee is either the aforementioned reject beans from speciality farms of gathered mechanically from multiple farms and regions in huge batches, which are then mixed together in vast lots. With little attention paid to quality or consistency due to demand and time pressure, the result is a coffee with a flavour spoilt by various issues with low-quality beans and is then roasted extremely dark to get rid of any funky flavours whilst maintaining a basic “coffee” flavour. Disappointingly, this is what millions of people are drinking, whether they buy coffee in a high street coffee chain or purchase coffee from the supermarket for their homes. If you look up any coffee adverts from the 1970’s you’ll soon get a picture of the commodity market in full swing.
It’s a travesty when you consider that so many people believe the coffee is just a stimulant with a bitter taste, missing out on the vast array of natural flavours that coffee boasts of when it’s produced sustainably and with care. With speciality coffee, you can enjoy the very best that coffee has to offer.
Speciality coffee is more traceable than commodity coffee
Imagine you bake a cake. You spend ages on it, making sure everything is measured accurately, mixed in well, and timed to perfection. You add your own twist to it when you decorate the top. It takes hours to make.
Now imagine that cake is taken and mushed together with loads of other cakes, a lot of them bought from supermarkets and past their sell-by date, and together they’re made into one monstrous cake. It certainly tastes like ‘cake’, and the price is probably quite low.
But anyone who buys and tastes this cake will have no idea who you are. They won’t be able to appreciate the hours you put in, the little personal touches, the skilful craft. And to top it all off, the people who took your cake, mixed it with all the others, distributed it, and sold it took a huge share of the profits, leaving you with barely anything. That’s not fair, is it?
As we mentioned previously, commodity coffee is mostly untraceable, to the point where the country printed on the label might not even be entirely correct, as coffee can be mixed from multiple origins and only has to state the major coffee source. In the conventional trade model of a commodity product, commodity coffee inclusive, there are many people in the supply chain: farmers to middlemen, exporters to traders, importers to corporate roasters. More people means the identity of the farmer is completely lost, and that farmer will receive only a fraction of the final price. Think of it as the ‘fast fashion’ of the coffee world.
With speciality coffee, there are far fewer middlemen. Local roasters and importers seek to build long-lasting relationships with farmers themselves, meaning greater investment into farmer’s individual projects to ensure that the coffee they grow gets better with each season. Roasters will also celebrate the farmer and their hard work by celebrating them on their websites and packaging and visiting them occasionally. When you buy a bag of speciality coffee beans, most likely you’ll see the name of the farmer and the farm on which they were produced. And as you sip your delicious brew, you can know that a lot of what you paid will go directly to that farmer. Everyone wins.
Speciality coffee is more sustainable than commodity coffee
‘Sustainability’ has now become a trendy word that’s thrown around a lot to please an increasingly aware generation of consumers. But it’s easier said than done. And for something to be truly sustainable, it’s got to put people, planet, and profit on a level playing field. Social, environmental, and economic sustainability are all interlinked and equally important.
Sustainability is absolutely key to speciality coffee. Long-term relationships between roasters and farmers, steady investment, and a combined pursuit of achieving each coffee’s full potential make for a more sustainable model which is employed across a large part of the speciality market. By aiming to make coffee better for everyone in the chain - farmer, roaster, and you - everyone benefits: farmers get fairly paid, local roasters get supported, and you get to drink exceptional coffee all year round.
Kiss the Hippo
However, in the commodity coffee, volatile pricing is a real issue which affects thousands of farmers around the world. It means that farmers cannot plan their future or stick to a sustainable model of producing coffee. Low prices mean that many farmers barely make enough from their crops to pay their workers, maintain their farms, and gain a steady income to support their families. In fact, when the prices on the commodity market plunge, farmers often have to abandon their enterprise for whichever resource represents the best cash crop.
And while certification schemes like Fairtrade provide guidance, it’s not an inclusive model. Individual smallholder coffee farmers are not eligible to partake, and it doesn’t guarantee long-lasting relationships between roaster and co-operative. ‘Direct Trade’ is one of the best initiatives for farmers, since importers and roasters will pay more, (often up to 40% more than the fair trade baseline price ) and take a greater risk for the sake of sustainability. However, as with the term ‘speciality’, ‘Direct Trade’ can be used solely to increase sales while not being practised consistently.
Dear Green Coffee Roasters
Here at Postroast, we’re passionate about helping you find the best sustainable and ethical coffee in the easiest possible way. All of Postroast’s Roaster Partners have to sign our Roaster Agreement prior to joining our family, which guarantees that every roaster you see on our site is pursuing sustainable, ethical, and top-quality ways of producing their coffee.
One such example of a roaster putting their money where their mouth is is Coaltown coffee who are B-Corp accredited — a legal binding accountability framework to show that they are meeting all of their ethical and sustainability claims.
Speciality coffee supports local businesses
Gradually, more and more people are becoming aware of the benefits of investing in their local economies. From pubs to clothing shops to independent cafes, the desire to spend disposable income at locally-run establishments is on the rise.
Coffee roasters can, and should, be included on that list. There are over 400 independent roasteries across the UK, and we showcase the best of the bunch here on Postroast. The roasters we work with are all run by people who are passionate about their craft and brilliant at doing it. All of them are seeking to sustainably source the best quality coffees they can find and then roast each coffee uniquely. They prioritise their craft over the desire to maximise their profit for the sole benefit of the shareholders and no one else. Big isn’t always bad; however, in the world of coffee, it often leads towards a sacrifice in the supply chain to lower margins and decrease price in an attempt to dominate the market.
Through their long-term working relationships with individual farmers, our roasters get to the bottom of what each coffee’s potential is. Nothing can be added to coffee beans, but only taken away. So, to maintain as much of the original coffee fruit’s natural flavours and characteristics as possible, our Roaster Partners work diligently and delicately to ensure the coffee they’re producing is as good as it can be.
And if there’s a roastery local to you, we encourage you to pay them a visit and find out what they’re about. Do a bit of digging and see what they’re doing to produce their coffee sustainably, ethically, and excellently. If you trust them, you’ve hit gold. There really is nothing like popping into your local roaster, having a friendly chat, and buying a bag they’ve produced themselves to take home and enjoy. Coffee is made great by the people who make it.
People are special, not a commodity
That’s the most special thing about speciality coffee: it celebrates people. It puts them over profit. It honours their craft. It invests in them so that they, as well as their product, can improve year on year. And it results in the most delicious coffee for you to enjoy.
We will say that the speciality coffee industry is by no means perfect. There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of direct payments to farmers, ensuring complete transparency throughout the supply chain, and preventing the pressure of high rating scores deterring farmers from entering the speciality market. We don’t want to appear to be heavily idealising a situation that’s often far from ideal. However, the important thing is that many roasters are working hard towards achieving this ideal and getting closer to it; on top of this, more people are supporting this movement towards better coffee for everyone than ever before.
And that’s another wonderful thing about speciality coffee: it creates a wonderful community who want to enjoy the best coffee in the best possible way. As mentioned above, you can go to your local roaster, talk about the coffee beans they’ve been recently roasting, finding out about who grew them, and what to expect in terms of flavour and how to perfect your brew method. It’s an exciting movement that promotes innovation, rewards hard work, and achieves exceptional results, and anyone can be part of it.
Ultimately, people are not a commodity. In such a globalised world, our choices have far-reaching impacts. And that includes the coffee we choose to buy.
So, instead of chucking into your shopping basket a tin of instant commodity coffee which has most likely been untraceably gathered, unsustainably produced, and, let’s be honest, tastes pretty average, we invite you to discover the better way of doing coffee.
It’s why Postroast exists, and why we’re so passionate about what we do! We’re here to connect you with the best speciality coffee roasters in the UK, enabling you to enjoy coffee at its best: when it champions those who produce it through sustainable and exceptional production, and when it tastes absolutely stunning.
What are you waiting for? Pop across to our shop, have a browse and discover the wonderful world of better coffee for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.