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What makes a coffee stand out: A dip into the world of specialty coffee

What makes a coffee stand out: A dip into the world of specialty coffee

What makes a coffee stand out: A dip into the world of specialty coffee
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By Murali K Menon  Feb 14, 2020 1:22:14 PM IST (Updated)

Sherri Johns, who has over four decades of experience in the specialty coffee business and is the Coffee Mentor and Head Judge at Araku, tells CNBCTV18.com exactly what constitutes specialty coffee.

In a month or two from now, Araku Coffee will open its first café and roastery in the country. The 6,600-sq ft space will come up in Bangalore. It is expected to be followed by another one in Mumbai. Araku Coffee, which is backed by the late industrialist Kallam Anji Reddy’s NGO Naandi Foundation, is among the best specialty coffees as well as the first 100 percent organic coffee blend to come out of India. The cafe in Bangalore will be Araku’s second outlet globally. It debuted first in Europe, in 2017, with the opening of the Araku Cafe and store in the heart of Paris. In early 2018, the brand won a gold medal for the best coffee pod at the prestigious Prix Epicures OR 2018 awards.

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The coffee is cultivated by an adivasi cooperative in Araku Valley, near Vishakapatnam, in Andhra Pradesh, and the collective is among the largest Fairtrade and organic certified coffee cooperatives in the world. In 2017, Araku opened its first café. As the coffee growers in the valley prepare for yet another harvest season, Sherri Johns, who has over four decades of experience in the specialty coffee business and is the Coffee Mentor and Head Judge at Araku, tells CNBCTV18.com exactly what constitutes specialty coffee.
Sherri Johns.
The value of the global specialty coffee market is about $12 billion.
That number might not appear significant when compared to the $200 billion global coffee industry, but it is a segment that is growing each year. According to analysts in the industry, the global organic coffee market is expected to increase more than $2.2 billion in market size between 2016 and 2021.
A lot of the worlds specialty coffee comes from central and South America. So, you have Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Brazil. And, of course, there’s India and Kenya, too. The people who drink the most specialty coffee are the Scandinavians. Americans are up there too — a Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) report says that the US had 29,300 specialty coffee shops in 2013, up from 2,850 in 1993 — but the Japanese are the ones who buy the world’s most expensive specialty coffee. They are ready to pay top dollar for it.
 
The widely accepted definition of specialty coffee is one that scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale. A score between 90 and 100 is graded outstanding; 85-89.99 is graded excellent; 84.99 to 83 is very good and coffee scoring 80-82 is generally entry-level specialty. 79 and below is commercial coffee. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has a series of more detailed specifications. SCA is the union of the SCAA and Specialty Coffee Association of Europe. It sets standards for specialty coffee at every stage of coffee production.
The SCA also sets clear standards on the coffee grading process. Cupping, a process by which each and every sample is taste-tested and recorded for its quality or lack thereof by cuppers or ‘master tasters’, is an integral part of it. Much like a wine sommelier, we score coffee based on sweetness, which comes from the sugars in the coffee cherry itself. A clean coffee stands for the transparency or clarity in the cup reflecting how the coffee has been processed. Coffee is also assessed for its aroma and body – viscosity – and thickness on the palate. The body can be smooth, thick, full, rich, velvety, round or silky, while flavours that can be discerned include milk chocolate, nuts, spice, mango, apricot, strawberry jam, green peppers, olives, and also umami. Acidity in coffees is a most misunderstood component. Acidity is the brightness and sparkle in a cup. The three most common acids in coffee are citric, malic and tartaric. Think of orange, green, and red fruits. It is important to note that while good acidity is sparkling and bright, bad quality acidity is sour. The best quality coffees also offer complexity in a cup. The terms cuppers generally use to describe this are ‘spine’, ‘structure’, ‘dimension’ and ‘layered’.  After a cupper spits out the samples, what is left on the palate is called the finish or after-taste. One also looks for balance in a coffee – how all the components complement one another.
The way a specialty coffee is processed influences its taste and character, and there are two ways in which it is processed. Simply put, both these processes are concerned with removing the coffee bean or the ‘seed’ from the coffee fruit or ‘cherry’. The washed process involves picking the red cherries and running them through a pulper. The pulper is a machine that gently squeezes the seed from the fruit, after which it undergoes fermentation and is then dried. Then, there is the natural process, a more traditional method, which involves drying the cherries on raised beds in the sun. Roasting, too, influences a coffee’s character. High-quality specialty coffees have sweetness and subtle nuances which skilled roasters will cull from the bean during the roasting process.
The world’s most expensive coffee is grown in Panama. In July last year, a lot of Gesha beans from an estate in Panama was sold at $1029 per pound at auction.
Murali K Menon works on content strategy at HaymarketSAC. Read his columns here.
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