Specialty Coffee | Specialty Gourmet Coffee

Jammie McClure

Coffee was simply coffee. It was either brewed strong or mild, there weren't many decisions to make after that, unless sugar and cream were added. However, specialty coffee has become a term that is synonymous with gourmet coffee beans, flavored coffee, and specialty roasts that are above and beyond the average coffee bean. The history of specialty coffee goes back many hundreds of years when the early coffee drinkers would add cinnamon and other spices to their coffee. It wasn't until the early 1970's when the term specialty coffee was actually used. In the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal in 1979 a coffee buyer by the name of Erna Knutsen used the term to describe the beans she purchased that were outstanding in quality because of their growing climates. As with any other catch phrase, the term began to be used to describe any highly flavored, top quality coffee. It would be another decade before specialty coffee became synonymous with gourmet coffee and a staple among coffee shops and gourmet coffee retailers.


The appeal of specialty coffee was no surprise. Coffee lovers around the world are always on the lookout for a better cup of coffee whether it is one made from higher quality coffee beans or one that has been flavored with spices and oils to give it that extra special touch. Many specialty coffees have been put through testing and tastings to insure that they pass the specialty certification test. These tastes and tests allow the coffee to be certified a specialty coffee. In order to be considered a specialty coffee and certified as such the tasters are looking for six particular traits in the coffee:

  1. Fragrance, the smell of the coffee beans after they have been ground and the fragrance released
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  3. Aroma of the Coffee: The aroma is not the same as the fragrance. Aroma is how the coffee smells once it has been brewed or steeped in hot water.
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  5. Flavor of the coffee.
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  7. Bouquet or Nose: This is how the coffee taste affects the olfactory senses as the flavors enter the mouth.
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  9. Finish or Aftertaste: Similar to the nose or bouquet only it is the aroma or flavors that are left after swallowing the coffee.
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  11. Body: This is the heaviness of the coffee in the mouth; richer, dark roasts have a heavier feel in the mouth than lighter roasts.
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These are the factors that are looked at when tasters or cuppers as they are called are determining whether or not a coffee can be certified a specialty coffee. Certification assures consumers that the coffee is truly a specialty coffee and has not been randomly named as such. Coffee connoisseurs look for specialty coffees and are usually open trying new ones when they find them in gourmet shops or online coffee retailers who carry many different specialty coffees. These companies often offer sample sizes to allow customers to try a small pot of the coffee before committing to a full-sized purchase.

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