Coffee has always been an important crop in America and Europe. But recently it's evolved from that bitter, watered down drink with milk and sugar, to a cup that has depth and flavor. This unique coffee is known as Specialty Coffee. Specialty Coffee is coffee from a special geographic microclimate that has been perfectly brewed and freshly roasted just enough so its distinct flavors are released.
Specialty coffees have been exploding throughout New York over the past few years. I, myself, have been to shops like Stumptown and Ninth Street Espresso, where my black coffee has more of a sweet citrusy flavor with a lighter body one day and then one that tastes fruity and full on another.
I was talking with my friend Andrew Blumhagen this afternoon, who's an extremely talented barista. He happily shared with me the process that goes into serving Specialty Coffee--and there's a lot of thought and care that goes into it. Like wine, each cup of coffee is distinctly different from another.
Coffee is actually a fruit that grows on trees. The soil, climate, varietal (type of coffee tree) and how the coffee is processed helps to define the taste of the coffee. The processing stage occurs after the coffee cherry is picked but before it's roasted. I wish I could write you a recipe on how coffee is processed but each origin processes their coffee differently; for example, in Kenya the bean is soaked in a tank of the coffee fruit’s mucilage three times for periods of 24 hours each—allowing the fruit to ferment. Coffee beans from Ethiopia and Brazil on the other hand are dried out in the sun. The different processing techniques combined with the different environments make coffee from each origin more distinct. You can really taste the difference of coffee from each area.
The beans in Specialty Coffee are all hand-picked and only the good, ripe beans are used and sent to the distributors. Professional coffee tasters scale the coffee and only the finest may be sold. Unlike Starbucks, specialty coffee roasters tend to roast their coffee to bring out the most sweetness, acidity (like in food, not PH acid) and body. This tends to be a lighter roast than the typical coffee you will find in more commercial coffee shops. Specialty Coffee doesn’t revolve around the bitterness, the roast, the certified organic sign, or the fair trade logo (most Specialty Coffees would fall under fair trade or organic if they applied to be certified. Most coffee roasters actually work directly with coffee farms. This not only ensures that the money goes right to the farm, but means they are paying higher prices for higher quality coffee).
The philosophy of Specialty Coffee is to do as little to the coffee as possible, so it can speak for itself. But the process of finding the voice of the coffee revolves around a lot of trial and error during the extraction process. This means when trying to make one’s coffee taste vibrant, the barista must experiment with the amount of time the coffee is brewed, the water temperature, the size of the grounded coffee, and the dosage of coffee in the cup.
If you're a daily coffee drinker, like myself, I advise you to try some Specialty Coffee if you haven’t already. Some of the major distributors of Specialty Coffee are Intelligencia, Stumptown, Counter Culture, and Ritual. My favorite cup is Ninth Street Espresso’s Brazilian Coffee from Intelligencia. Ninth Street Espresso is located on 700 East 9th Street and is open 7a.m.- 8a.m. everyday.