What Is Speciality Coffee? Your Practical Guide to Its Origins, Brewing, and More

The world of speciality coffee can appear mystical and complex. However, we’re determined to dispel some myths and prove that knowing how to buy and prepare great roasted coffee beans is pretty simple.

Use this guide to find out everything you need to know about speciality coffee, where it comes from, how to shop for it, and how to brew your precious beans at home.

What is speciality coffee?

Speciality coffee is the very finest coffee available. It’s the much better alternative to commercial coffee — the kind you’ll generally find in supermarkets, ready ground or processed into instant granules.

Speciality coffee is in a league of its own, quite different from the everyday ordinariness of commercial coffee.

Speciality coffee is sometimes called ‘gourmet coffee’ or ‘artisan coffee’ and those names give you a clue to what it is all about. It’s the pinnacle of great tasting coffee, made with great skill and art and equivalent to the world’s finest wines, whiskies and other delicacies.

To check whether coffee is a speciality coffee or not, look for a certification of quality. One mark of superiority is the ‘cup of excellence’ logo. This means a panel of experts has tasted it and marked it as one of the finest coffees available.

You might also see a grading called a ‘Q grade score’.

Speciality coffees are graded 80+ out of 100, with 90+ reserved for the absolute best of the best. A score below 80 does not grade as a speciality coffee. If you don’t see a mark of quality of Q grade score, you are unlikely to be looking at a speciality coffee.

What are the secrets of speciality coffee?

You might now be wondering what needs to happen for a coffee to be a cut above the rest.

What are the different steps and processes that can make one coffee better than another?

Here are a few key differences between commercial coffee and speciality coffee.

1. Single origin beans

Speciality coffee is of single origin. This means that the beans come from one farm or producer only. Commercial coffees are typically a blend of ground beans from a variety of origins, possibly even from different countries.

The labelling on a great speciality coffee will tell you every detail of where the coffee was produced, right down to the individual farm and the region and country.

Look out for spectacular beans from a range of countries and continents, including Costa Rica, Indonesia and Uganda.

Myth Buster 1: Blends can be great, too.

Single-origin isn’t always the best. Blends by knowledgeable, skilled coffee producers can be excellent. They offer a consistent, well-designed balance of flavours that can be utterly delicious.


2. High standards of farming

Speciality coffee producers avoid the mass farming methods of commercial coffee production. They prioritise methods that produce the best tasting beans over convenience and cost.

Speciality coffee often begins its life at higher altitude farms where coffee plants have optimal growing conditions.

Speciality coffee farmers give their coffee plants much care and attention every step of the way, from sowing the seeds, growing and nurturing them, and then handpicking the harvest. The coffee fruits are then processed with diligence, with each farmer applying their expert knowledge of coffee to produce speciality beans.

The land the coffee is grown on is well-looked after, too.

You’ll notice that speciality coffee is often grown amongst special nature reserves.

Environmental and ethical standards are important in the world of speciality coffee. Its production tends to go hand in hand with high standards of labour and fair trade. This is just another reason why you’ll pay a little more for speciality coffee.


Myth Buster 2: Great coffees come from all over the world.

Brazil produces more commercial coffee than any other country in the world, with Colombia not far behind. However, these countries don’t dominate artisan coffees.

For example, at Three Coffee, we also source fantastic beans from Uganda, Ethiopia and Burundi in Africa, and Indonesia, Yemen and Papua New Guinea in the Asia-Pacific region. We travel frequently, always on the lookout for high-quality coffee from little-known regions.


3. Premium roasting techniques

When beans are ready, farmers sell their beans directly to coffee roasters like us. The next task, roasting the beans, is more technical than many imagine. While the exact processes we use are a closely guarded secret, we always work based on the following principles.

  • We are guided by the individual flavour profile of the beans. We always aim to roast ‘transparently’ and never mask any of the beautiful, natural flavours already present.
  • Consistency is key. We use specialist roasting intelligence software and strict quality control procedures to ensure every pack we sell is in perfect condition.
  • We have three in-house graders who are responsible for taste testing every batch to ensure the utmost quality.

Rigorously applied high standards in both sourcing and roasting processes are what help set commercial and speciality coffee apart.

Golden rules for enjoying speciality coffee: shopping, brewing, storing and more

These rules will help you get the most out of your beans.

Rule #1

Use up your beans within around 6-8 weeks after their roasting date.

While your coffee will be safe to drink for a long time after this period, it’s only at its best for this long.

After 6-8 weeks, it will start to lose its incredible aroma and some staleness may begin to creep into the taste.

You’ll find the roasting date printed on the pack of speciality coffees.

Rule #2

Have fun with speciality coffee shopping.

There’s an incredible range out there and finding this out is part of the joy of coffee. So, see what’s available in your local area, buy online from speciality retailers like us at Three Coffee, share great finds with friends and swap tips.

We colour code our beans based on flavour and style so you can take a shortcut to discovering new coffees you’ll adore.

Rule #3

You know your favourite brewing method. However, whether you love the best espresso coffee or French press coffee, you must get your grind size right foremost. Good at-home grinders allow you to adjust how fine your coffee is.

You need very fine particles for very strong coffees like Turkish or espresso.

For Aero-press and drip coffee, move the dial towards medium. French press coffee and cold brew benefit from a coarse setting. Use trial and error to find the best setting to suit the beans, the brewing method and your preferences.


Rule #4

Water-to-coffee ratios are key to getting a consistently good cup.

Experts typically recommend somewhere between a 14:1 and 17:1 water to coffee ratio. Beyond that, it’s down to individual preference.

Use a digital scale to find your ideal ratio and then recreate it every time for the perfect cup.

Rule #5

Store your beans in a cool place in an airtight container. They must be kept in the dark, too. All these steps will prevent oxidation and light damage that can cause the beans to become stale quickly.

Myth Buster 3: Don’t keep your beans in the refrigerator or freezer.

You may have heard that it’s a good idea to keep coffee in the refrigerator or even the freezer. The problem with these places is that they are too moist.

Eventually, your beans will soak up flavours and aromas from everything else stored nearby, ruining them completely.

Above all, remember speciality coffee is fun.

Enjoy experimenting with beans, brewing methods and more so you can find the quirks that make your perfect cup of coffee.

To find your new favourite bean, browse our store today.


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