Specialty Coffee

Written by Sarah Provost
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What exactly does the phrase "specialty coffee" mean? According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, the term was coined in 1974 and refers to coffees grown only in ideal climates. Their flavors, shaped by the unique soil and climate that produces them, are distinctive. Specialty coffee must adhere to strict standards, tested by a process known as "cupping."

There are six qualities tested for in a cupping. First is fragrance, which refers specifically to the smell of the beans after they are ground. After the coffee is brewed, that scent is called aroma. The third qualification is taste, which is self-explanatory. Nose refers to the vapors released in your mouth by the coffee. Aftertaste means the lingering flavor and nose after the coffee is swallowed, and body refers to the feel of the coffee in the mouth.

The distinction between specialty coffees and commercial coffees is becoming more and more blurred as supermarkets carry "special" coffees from large brand names in an attempt to get in on the booming specialty market. These coffees are a compromise that ranges from atrocious to passable, with those sold in whole beans faring best.

Buying Specialty Coffee

With the proliferation of coffee shops and the appearance of specialty coffees on supermarket shelves, it's easier than ever before to buy specialty coffee. For the best quality, buy freshly roasted whole beans, either from your local coffee shop, by mail order or Internet, or directly from the roaster, if you're lucky enough to have one in your area. Grind it just before brewing, follow brewing instructions exactly, and enjoy a cup of pure pleasure.

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