What Makes Minas Espresso So Special? A Look at Specialty versus Commercial Coffee

July 7, 2021
Home  >  Blogs > What Makes Minas Espresso So Special? A Look at Specialty versus Commercial Coffee
If you’ve taken a look at what the coffee market has to offer, then you may have noticed the term “specialty” used to distinguish certain coffees. These usually produce a higher quality brew, but what exactly makes specialty coffee so special? The answer isn’t as simple as you may think. From rigid score charts like the Q-grade offered by the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) to fickle standards set by coffee aficionados, it seems there isn’t a clear guide on what makes for a specialty coffee. Below we’ll cover what earns the coveted title and what that means for you next time you’re browsing for coffee! 
A Journey from Tree to Table
There are two myths that should be dispelled before diving into the complexities of specialty coffee. The first being that coffee is “made” into something that tastes great. Conventional foodstuffs are usually refined from some raw form, but coffee is unique in that it isn’t exactly made better in production. Rather, the flavors present in excellent coffee are preserved throughout its life. One may think of roasting as a refinement of sorts, but it helps to think of the process as a method of eking out tasting notes already present within the original product. In short, coffee isn’t created— it’s cultivated.

The second myth is that good coffee relies on the sole effort of the barista, or the roaster, or the farmer. The reality is all these roles are critical in producing a good specialty brew. If even one of them slacks on their job, the results could be underwhelming at best and at worst: you no longer have specialty coffee. Everyone plays an equally important part in assuring the quality of the coffee being brought to you, the consumer.
  The Coffee-Ranking System

If you’re new to the world of specialty coffee, then you may not know what a Q-grader is. Similar to a wine sommelier, a Q-grader assesses the overall quality and accompanying aspects of a particular type of coffee. What makes them distinct in this regard is where they get their namesake. At the end of a Q-grader’s assessment, the coffee in question earns a Q-grade, which is based off a one-hundred-point scale designed to quantify all the qualities we associate with good coffee. This widely recognized scale offers a standardized method of quickly determining the caliber of coffee being used, with 90 – 100 being Outstanding, 85 – 89.99 being Excellent, and 80 – 84.99 being Very Good.

From a technical standpoint, the Q-grade works well enough to rank coffees and determine which are objectively superior… what does this mean for your average consumer though? Sure, a 90 Q-grade sounds good, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the coffee other than the fact it ranks highly among other coffees. This is where the more complex aspects of specialty coffee come to the fore. While there isn’t a hard set of guidelines to making specialty coffee, there are standards most specialty coffee producers meet. These standards aren’t codified into law, but the coffee community recognizes a few certain qualities as being universal to specialty coffee.

 The Meaning of a High Q-Grade

What are these qualities found in specialty coffees? The SCA offers us some insight into the processes involved in producing high-grade coffee. To start, all the beans present in a batch are sourced from the same country, if not the same facility. Picking of the ripe cherries, for instance, is done by hand rather than machine, so as to not damage the beans. Quality control is much more rigorous, with any molded, damaged, or otherwise flawed cherries being discarded.

The same can’t be said of commercial grade coffees. Most big-name producers source their beans from multiple countries, let alone different facilities. Cherries of varying ripeness are picked in mass or even by machine. Quality control in these facilities is much more lax, as the greater volume of beans makes it harder to find imperfections.

How is this reflected in the end product though? There are a plethora of factors that lend to overall brew quality. Specialty coffees tend to have much subtler flavors that are lost in commercial practices. Rarer, more desirable tasting notes like citrine, floral, and even spicy are drawn out by the gentler methods used by specialty coffee producers. Not only this, but overripe or underripe beans carry an astringent quality that can overpower the brew. When it comes to molding, even a small amount of mold can introduce off-flavors that ruin a cup of coffee. The importance of specialty coffee standards really can’t be overstated, as it affects all these factors.
 Shop Minas Espresso

If you’re familiar with the processes used by us at Minas Espresso, then you might have noticed many of the specialty coffee practices outlined above are performed every day by our experts here. Minas Espresso prides itself on being a producer of true specialty coffee, sustainably sourced in Minas Gerais, Brazil.  If you haven’t had the chance to try one of our signature roasts and blends, you’re missing out! Whether pre-ground, whole bean, or in quick-and-easy K-Cups, Minas Espresso has whatever you need for your next cup of coffee.

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