We all know that once you try Specialty Coffee, properly done, it is impossible to go back to drinking commercial coffee the same way you had been doing before.
You enter the new world of different varieties and origins, and this world is huge, and still unexplored. You start trying, you look for the new things, you make lists of coffee shop to visit and roasters to buy coffee from.
Specialty Coffee. Why we choose it? Complex, delicate, interesting, after all, thousands of different combinations – origins, varieties, processes, different estates, different roasts. It is a heaven for those people who like to discover something new, taste-wise. Educate the palate. Gain new experiences.
But. There is a huge BUT in all that story. And I meantioned it before. To represent all that it really has, Specialty Coffee should be properly prepared.
While a commercial coffee is roasted almost till the charcoal state, when you cannot distinguish the origin and even if it is arabica or robusta, it is irrelevant to how it is going to be prepared. It has an expected taste, and you’ll get that taste it even if you do it all wrong. The expected taste, of course, is not a coffee taste, as many people still think, but the taste of the roast itself, the taste of burnt.
Commercial coffee is roasted the way that it is indifferent to how it’s gonna be prepared. Better said, it is roasted to be prepared with no certain rules. You can try it once – try to follow the rules of coffee preparation with the commercial blend. Controlling everything, the water, the tamping, the dose… You’ll be unable to prepare a decent cup. Commercial coffee is designed that way that you can “just make it”, without thinking much. Enter the traditional cafes, and see how espresso is prepared there, from the coffee ground 2-3 hours ago, that was sitting there in the hopper, not measuring the dose, and using the tamping tool that comes with the grinder, if tamping at all.
Specialty Coffee is exactly the opposite.
You need a certain equipment, precision and knowledge. And coffee.
By the way, this is the reason many coffee shops fail when trying to introduce specialty in their menus.
Let’s suppose that they got a proper equipment, and probably even have a proper coffee.
But. There is a huge problem in the minds of people, to begin with. Many years seeing people preparing commercial coffee is making it hard to believe that you actually have to have knowledge when working with specialty. And you have to have knowledge. And you have to be precise. Measuring EVERYTHING EVERY TIME. So there is a total failure in having knowledge and being precise while serving specialty.
Because commercial coffee basically says “you don’t need to think, it is easy, it is just coffee”.
And specialty coffee says “measure everyting”.
But measuring everything is hard.
So many baristas don’t do it.
So many coffee shops fail in serving specialty for that reason.
There is an infinite difference between a well extracted shot, and an underextracted sour something. And to not to get that underextracted sour something you have to know what you are doing, in general, and what you have done, with that shot in particular.
For me it goes like that. I prefer a well extracted specialty coffee. And then I prefer a commercial coffee. Saying that badly prepared specialty is the worst of the scenarios. You pay more, you get a barista who is neglecting the rules, and coffee is not forgiving him for that. But the person who is drinking that coffee is…you.
And here comes the nightmare of the any roaster, who happened also to be some sort of a perfectionist.
You have no control of how your coffee will be prepared, after you sell it.
You chose the green coffee to buy, among many others. You found a roast profile for that coffee. You roasted it. You sold it.
But after that…. There is terra incognita. The most important thing – the satisfaction of your customer, depends on how good they are in brewing your coffee. Depends on their education, and palate.
For example, if your customer makes filter coffee with the grind for espresso. You are fucked up. Or when he doesn’t know how to adjust the espresso machine. Again. Or when using a blade grinder. Or pre-ground coffee. Or using your coffee 2 months after the roast date.
Education and knowledge is the key of Specialty Coffee for that same reason. Because unlike commercial coffee, there are certain rules, and certain precision needed. Because. “Good coffee doesn’t just happen”. That’s why so often in Specialty Coffee you will hear people talking about educating the customer. Because the satisfaction on the high level is deeply connected with the knowledge.
I started writing about the desperation of the specialty coffee roaster, but I am gonna finish with the other thought that I just had. Maybe the satisfaction from Specialty comes also from the fact of not-being-easy? After all, as we all know, we start appreciate much more things when we understand what it takes to make them.