Speciality Coffees

Here at Smokey Barn, we’re often asked to define exactly what is speciality coffee and why it makes a better choice than the non-speciality variety. Chances are you’ll have noticed that the ‘speciality’ label is pretty much everywhere these days and its meaning has become rather skewed, but in the case of coffee, what exactly does it mean and what can you expect to get for your investment?


Speciality Coffee Defined?

As far as the actual origins of the term go, speciality coffees first emerged in the United States a fair few decades ago when gourmets began introducing non-generic coffees as alternatives to supermarket staples. If, for example, you brewed up a coffee at home or ordered a cup in a restaurant, this wouldn’t qualify as speciality coffee. However, if you went to a more dedicated coffee house or perhaps a smaller, more independent coffee retailer, you’d probably have access to an array of weird and wonderful coffee beans and products that aren’t found on most supermarket shelves.

These were the original speciality coffees and coffee products, which at the time were also commonly referred to as ‘gourmet’ coffees, though this latter term has over recent years lost about 99% of its meaning. When and where a coffee was non-generic for pretty much any reason at all and also didn’t tend to be sold in standard stores or used in the average restaurant, this qualified it for the ‘specialty’ handle.

And so it remains today as if you pick up a genuinely specialty coffee from a quality supplier, chances are it will be a type of coffee that isn’t readily available elsewhere. These days, picking up superb quality specialty coffee beans is as easy as ordering online or visiting a high-end coffee retailer, but as time goes forward the line between what qualifies for speciality and otherwise is becoming increasingly blurred – something for which we have the world’s biggest retailers to thank/blame.


Blurred Lines

Technically speaking, in order for any coffee to qualify for the ‘speciality’ sticker, it needs to be a quality whole bean or ground coffee product that was produced for purpose and not simply spun-off from a generic coffee. Unfortunately, so many brands and retailers have now turned to slapping the speciality sticker on their own products simply as a means to jack up the price, when in reality they’re nothing of the sort. They add a note of vanilla with artificial flavourings and call this speciality, they alter the size of the coffee grounds and do the same – these and so many other generic twists may deviate from the norm, but speciality coffees they most certainly aren’t.

It’s important to have your wits about you in order to make sure you aren’t taken for a ride when looking for a genuinely high-quality speciality coffee of the highest calibre. More often than not, the only way of making sure you take home what you’re looking for every time is to shop with a dedicated speciality coffee retailer, rather than a supermarket that will tell you anything to hike the price and make an extra buck or two.


Does Speciality Matter?

In terms of what the difference is and whether speciality coffee really matters, it all depends how seriously you take your coffee. Generally speaking, when a quality speciality coffee has been manufactured it has been produced from the very start with one specific goal in mind. It’s not a case of gathering a random assortment of beans and coming up with some weird and equally random concoction, but rather knowing what you want to achieve long in advance and then making it happen – a little like would be the case with a quality craft beer. This is of course why buying speciality coffee online tends to be slightly more expensive than picking up generic beans, but what you get out of the deal is so much more.

By buying speciality coffee, you’re able to identify what it is you like most about coffee in general and really dive head-first into a world of enhanced java pleasure. It’s not until you try out a few speciality coffees at least that you begin to realise that all coffee most certainly does not taste the same - the differences from one bean and roast to the next really are night and day. Quality coffees smell better, taste better, last longer and generally give you a far more enjoyable overall experience. So while cheap speciality coffees may be few and far between…at least the high quality ones…it’s a price that’s more than worth paying.

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