Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Question was posed:

"What is Specialty Coffee?"

John Says...

Although great strides have been made in the industry, the sad fact is the term "Specialty Coffee" has lost its meaning, and 'Artisan Coffee' is nearing the same state. When Specialty Coffee started, many think of Starbucks and Peets as the forerunners. Others think of what George Howell did in Boston in the 70's and 80's the true forerunner to 'Specialty Coffee'.

Is Specialty Coffee the Starbucks model?
Is it about focus on blended, syrupy, gimmicky, profit first drinks? Is it about being a cool "coffee shop"? Is it about the 'Third Place' or is it about the coffee at the 'Third Place'?

Or is Specialty Coffee something more? Is it about craftsmanship, about elevating coffee to a new level? Is it about understanding the bean, how the various flavor elements found in different varietals can be combined together in a grand symphony of flavors? Is it about truly understanding why we fresh grind, dose a particular amount, distribute uniformly and tamp uniformly? Is it about CoE coffees, and Is it about "coffee as a culinary experience?" Is it about customers' smiles coming from what's in the cup, rather than what the barista are wearing?

Whatever the term has become, "Specialty Coffee" should truly be about Special Coffee!
I think there should be a definite distinction between the average "coffee shop" and "Specialty Coffee". Specialty Coffee should not be about frappaccino type drinks, 32 ounce lattes, or the latest copycat Starbucks drinks. Specialty Coffee does not need gimmicks such as sexy barista, funky furniture, Organic jalapeno lattes, double punch Tuesdays, BOGO coupons, balloon animals, etc.

Specialty Coffee should be about what the 'average' coffee shop looks to for inspiration. As an industry do you want to be a host of Starbucks wannabees competing on who can create the tallest whipped cream on their banana caramel double fudge (half-caf)latte? Or do you want to be something that both proprietors of old and new can aspire to be? Specialty coffee should not pretentious or exclusionary. Excellence welcomes all who care to champion the quality cause and wield her cup. Specialty Coffee should mean something other than a fancy catch-phrase. Specialty Coffee should be about raising the bar. And if this is so, why do so many aspire to be average, or fail to even see the where the bar has been raised?

All of us barista, shop owners, roasters, and coffee enthusiasts should be leading the industry to the best of our ability, helping it progress, and living up to the embodiment of what Specialty Coffee can be.

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