The question here that has many confused are the terms of specialty versus gourmet coffee. What defines specialty coffee? What is gourmet coffee? Are specialty and gourmet coffees one in the same?
First off, I think we need to clarify the two terms ‘Specialty’ vs. ‘Gourmet’.
Gourmet is a “marketing” term used to distinguish higher quality products. Therefore the term gourmet just means higher quality.
The term ‘specialty coffee’ was first mentioned by Erna Knutsen, of Knutsen Coffee Ltd., in a speech to the delegates of an international coffee conference in Montreuil, France, in 1978. Her concept of the term specialty was that of special geographic microclimate produce beans with unique flavor profiles, which she referred to as ‘specialty coffees’. Her concept was that the fundamentals for specialty coffee meant that specialty coffee beans would always be well prepared, freshly roasted, and properly brewed.
In an Article published by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) – June 2009 written by Ric Rhinehart. “The first key concept here and through the supply chain, is potential. Until the moment that the roasted coffee is brewed and transformed into a beverage, the concept of specialty coffee is locked up as a possibility, just a potentially wonderful gustatory experience. Starting at ground level, so to speak, we must limit specialty coffee to those that are drawn from the appropriate intersection of cultivar, microclimate, soil chemistry and husbandry. Plant a great variety of coffee at the wrong altitude or in the wrong soil and no specialty product can be produced or get the right combination of cultivar and chemistry, but the wrong climate and the potential for quality is destroyed. Ultimately, plant husbandry is essential to the preservation of potential.
The next key concept is preservation. A ripe coffee cherry on a healthy plant of suitable ancestry planted in the right soil, blessed with appropriate climatic conditions and cared for properly must be picked at the peak of ripeness in order to preserve the potential for greatness that it holds. Coffee buyers often tell coffee growers that the single most impactful thing that they can do for coffee quality is to harvest only ripe cherry.
From the point of harvest a new round of pitfalls arises. The coffee cherry must undergo some initial processing at this point. For the majority of specialty coffee this begins with the delivery of the ripe cherry to a wet mill of some type, large or small. The time that elapses between harvest and the beginning of processing can have a dramatic impact on the final results for the coffee. Specialty coffee is dependent on a quick delivery from the tree to the mill for potential to be preserved.
Whether the coffee is mechanically pulped and then fully washed or if it is processed in a demucilaging machine, the initial processing stage must be carefully managed so that the coffee is not harmed. After removal of the skin and pulp, the coffee must be dried, another critical activity. Dried too quickly or too slowly, dried unevenly, dried and then rewetted, not dried sufficiently – all of these can be disastrous to the final quality of the coffee. From here the coffee must be rested before undergoing the last stages of raw processing and preparation for shipping. At this time relative humidity, temperature and storage containers and conditions all become critical. Finally, the coffee must be hulled, separated by size and packaged for shipping. More critical points arise here, and small mistakes in screening or larger mistakes in the selection of packaging or the storage conditions prior to shipping can bleed the coffee of its potential.
The coffee changes hands again and begins the next stage of transformation, from green bean to roasted coffee. Here we must grapple with the third key concept, revelation. The roaster must accurately identify the potential for the coffee, properly develop the flavors and ultimately properly package the roasted product. An unskilled roaster, equipment that is not operating properly, poor packaging materials or practices can all lead to disaster. Provided that all goes well here and the coffee’s potential remains intact, there are two remaining steps before the long chain of custody that is unique to coffee ends in the consumption of a specialty coffee beverage.
After roasting and before brewing, the coffee must be ground. Grinding is best done as close in time to brewing as possible, as many delicate aromatic compounds are fully released upon grinding and the dramatic increase in surface area necessary to effect brewing also opens the coffee to rapid oxidation and staling. The size of the ground particles is also important and driven by the method of brewing to be employed. Too fine a grind for the selected brewing process and the coffee may be destroyed by over extraction. Too coarse a grind and the coffee may never develop its full flavor potential in the cup.
Finally, after every step from coffee tree to the end consumer has been carefully orchestrated, the final process must take place – the coffee must be brewed. Whether the coffee is to be prepared as an espresso, as drip coffee or in a steeping method like a French press, the exacting application of standards of water quality, brewing temperature, coffee to water ratio and extraction must be applied to create a specialty coffee beverage. ”
Here at Utah Coffee Expressions we value specialty coffees. Our expressions, are in the enjoyment of the aromas and flavor you pour into your cup.
I hope that you found this to be helpful in knowing the differences of the terms Specialty versus Gourmet.