Podcast Transcript: 'Coffee &' - Episode 2 - What is Specialty Coffee?

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Episode 2 - What is Specialty Coffee?

Welcome to another episode of the Coffee & Podcast, where specialty coffee means so much more. We are on a quest to cultivate freedom for victims of human trafficking, all while drinking wicked awesome coffee. I'm your host Philip Klayman. I'm one of the co-founders of Three Tree Coffee Roasters here in Statesboro, Georgia. And today we're gonna be talking about specialty coffee. What is specialty coffee? What does that even mean? Where did it come from? Where is it going? That's what we'll be discussing today in today's episode. So stay tuned.

So today we're gonna be talking about specialty coffee. You may have heard of that term before or maybe not. Uh, three Tree Coffee considers itself a specialty coffee roaster and there's lots of phenomenal co specialty coffee roasters all around the world. And so we wanna unpack what does that term specialty coffee even mean? To share this, I actually wanna start, uh, with how I began in specialty coffee. My first job in coffee was in Athens, Georgia back in 2010. And I honestly don't even know how I got the job <laugh> because I didn't like coffee when I interviewed for the job. They never even asked me, do you like coffee? Do you know anything about coffee? I knew nothing and I didn't even like it. Instead, they asked me, if you were a vegetable, what vegetable would you be? And I answered a carrot and it got me the job.

So I hope that helps you in the future with interviews. But long story short, I ended up getting this job at a specialty coffee shop and suddenly, you know, I'm starting to drink some more coffee and give it a try. But it still didn't captivate me, right? Didn't captivate me. It wasn't until I went to a coffee cupping, which is a formal, uh, coffee tasting event at a local roaster in Athens, Georgia. When I had that aha moment, I was at a thousand Faces, which is a great specialty coffee roaster in Athens, Georgia. And I'm around this table with a bunch of other people that all look like hipsters. I felt so out of place, I felt very self-conscious. Do I belong here, do I not? And there was at least eight coffees on the table and we start sipping them one by one. And I remember they're sharing all these crazy nuanced flavors.

I'm tasting, you know, jolly Rancher with a hint of chocolate covered citrus leaves, and I'm just tasting coffee after every single one. I'm just like, it tastes like coffee. I can't tell a difference between any of these. And I felt out of place. I kind of thought they were totally making all this stuff up. I was very confused about what was going on until I got to that one cup. I'll never forget, there was that one cup and I took a slurp and I tasted it. I tasted liquid blueberries. It seems like that's most people's tasting, uh, entrance into specialty coffee as liquid blueberries, right? It's blueberries syrup. It was such a good coffee and I could tell there was a difference with that cup. And everyone in the room was also saying it tasted like blueberries. So that was very affirming to personally, and it was in that moment where I suddenly realized, oh wow, there is more to coffee.

It can taste really unique and really different. So that's kind of how I got my start into specialty coffee and that was my aha moment. Um, so now let's talk about what is specialty coffee. Specialty coffee is an industry. There are lots of different stakeholders that play different roles in this industry to create really craft quality coffee. Um, and the whole focus of specialty coffee is to make the coffee production chain more equitable and more sustainable. That's it. That's what specialty coffee is focused on. Let's make the coffee production chain more sustainable and more equitable. Now we can further unpack specialty coffee, uh, by three different characteristics that make up specialty coffee. The first emphasis in specialty coffee is an emphasis on it is an emphasis on transparency. Transparency. What that means is we just wanna know information about the coffee. Where did it come from?

What farm did it come from? Who's the farm owner? What elevation was it grown at? What type of coffee plants is this? There are different varietals of coffee plants that will produce different flavors, right? What was the processing method? There's all sorts of information at the farm level that's really good to know at the consumer level if that coffee was upheld to high standards all along the way. And so an emphasis of specialty coffee is transparency, just knowing information about your coffee. Another characteristic of specialty coffee is empowerment across the production chain empowerment. And what that means is that we think every single stakeholder in the coffee production chain should be treated fairly and should have some level of freedom and self decision to thrive and be successful. And sadly, coffee has a history of slave labor. And so on the farming side and on the producing side of this coffee production chain, you have a lot of collateral damage where you have a lot of farmers making very little money for their work and you actually have lots of farmers that can't even for the bills, for their own farm, they're not even making enough to cover their costs.

We consider this unfair, right? And in specialty coffee, there's this expectation of more. Let's make sure that we're empowering people across the entire production chain. So the first characteristic is transparency. Second characteristic is empowerment. And that leaves the third characteristic, which is high quality, really good. We want it to taste really, really good. We want it to be craft artisan, boutique, high quality coffee right? Now, this isn't just subjective in specialty coffee, it's actually quite objective. There are people who are trained to be professional, uh, graders of coffee. Um, they train their palates, they, they train their mouths to know what is delicious coffee and they actually score coffees from all around the world. And in specialty coffee, if a coffee score is more than 80 points out of a hundred, if it scores more than 80 points, it is officially specialty coffee. Okay? So quality is a big emphasis on this.

And what sort of things will cause coffee to not score 80 points? Well, there can be defects on the beans because of pests, because of bad weather patterns, because of bad soil. Um, improper harvesting, a lot of these things can just hinder the quality potential of a coffee. Um, so quality is a very important aspect of specialty coffee. And what's really fun is that if quality is upheld all along the way from the farmer to the logistics and transportation to the roaster, all the way to brewing the cup of coffee at home or at your local coffee shop, then suddenly you can taste some really fun, unique, nuanced flavors. That's where suddenly you have that one cup and it tastes like blueberries and your mind is blown, right? Or you have a different cup that's more caramelly rich and smooth, or you have something that's totally different than that floral bright zingy.

This is what's so fun about specialty coffee, is tasting those unique flavors. So three characteristics of specialty coffee, transparency, empowerment and quality. Another term that's worth bringing up when we're talking about specialty coffee is third wave coffee. You may have heard of this term. It's thrown out pretty flippantly all the time that we are in the third wave of coffee or maybe we're beyond the third wave of coffee. And so I kinda wanna unpack that a little bit and I'll go ahead and start by just demystifying it a lot. It's basically the same thing as specialty coffee with maybe less rigorous qualifications. To call it specialty coffee or not. Third wave in specialty can be somewhat synonymous and lots of people have a lot of different opinions on this, but if you look at the core principles of each, they're somewhat similar. Now, why the third wave?

Well, because there were two waves before, so let's go back in time a little bit. And let's start with the first wave of coffee. The first wave of coffee, coffee happened in the early 19 hundreds and we could call it the commoditization of coffee. Coffee at that time was really only for the elite. It was not available to the masses. And in the early 19 hundreds, you had some coffee companies that started pioneering this to be available to all people. Now, the reason they were able to do this was because of advancements in technology, right? Suddenly it could be mass produced faster, um, and for cheaper, for better or worse, and suddenly it's now can be available to everyone even in their own home. So some examples of companies that pioneered this movement would be Folgers, right? The best part of waking up maybe is Folgers into your cup.

And companies like Maxwell House, right? These are companies that made coffee accessible to everyone and became a commodity available to everyone. Did it taste good? No. Was it ethically sourced? No. But that's coming later on. So the first wave of coffee was all about it being a commodity. Throughout the 19 hundreds, you had what is called the second wave come up. And the second wave had two main focuses. The first one was an emphasis on the cafe culture. Now we're talking about culture. First wave was commodity. Second wave is all about culture. Suddenly you had coffee houses popping up available to the masses where people started to gather and feel more of a sense of community around coffee. Clearly one of the big examples for this second wave would be Starbucks. They pioneered a whole path to make the coffee house a common place to gather, right?

And to hang out with your friends. In fact, there are some, even some sitcoms during this time that really revealed this, uh, second wave culture coming through. Think about uh, the sitcom Seinfeld or even friends, the central perk, right? How they all gather in the coffee shop. That's the thinking of the second wave of coffee is it's about coffee as a culture. Let's gather in a place and gather around this commodity. There's another interesting, uh, development within the second wave of coffee. And that is that suddenly you had an emphasis on espresso based drinks, the Italian way of making coffee, right? This is where you get your macchiatos, your cappuccinos, your cortados, your cubanos, your long blacks, your…all these different terms for different ways to make espresso drinks. And for those of you who don't know, espresso is simply concentrated coffee because of pressure.

It utilizes pressure to make a concentrated coffee. Well, that first started in Italy in the early 1900s and in the second wave of coffee it started making its way into this cafe culture, right? So that's the second wave of coffee that now brings us to the third wave of coffee, which is basically specialty coffee. But the strongest emphasis is on quality and artisan quality and artisan emphasis on making it as best as you can. Not just any coffee, the best coffee, right? And how can we uphold that potential? All along the way, you do have some emphasis in the third wave about empowerment. Uh, but even then there were some third wave movements around quality before ethical thoughts were even coming into the the equation as well.

So there you have it. We've talked about specialty coffee and we have further unpacked what is third wave in relation to the specialty coffee. Remember, specialty coffee is focused on transparency, empowerment, and quality. And that begs the question, what's next for specialty coffee? We've seen where it's been, where's it going? Well, the short answer is it's not going anywhere. Uh, some studies have shown that specialty coffee is expected to grow by 12% year over year, over the next decade. And in North America, that's actually 20% year on year. Over the next decade, specialty coffee is continuing to grow. And what's the fourth wave? Some people may ask. I've heard two really interesting takes that I think are worth sharing with you. The first thought is that emphasis on empowerment and ethical sourcing to an even deeper level. Once again, that didn't always have a context in the third wave, and it seems to be a much bigger focus of a lot of specialty coffee shops these days.

Maybe we're in the fourth wave because we're focusing on those ethical standards. One other thought is making specialty coffee more approachable and more available to the masses. Ironically, as coffee got more of an emphasis on quality and artisan, it almost started to become more aloof and distant to the masses. And people don't understand the terminology, they don't understand, they don't feel comfortable drinking this 'cause they don't even know what this means or what it is. Well, if that's the case, then we're excited to be doing this podcast because we wanna demystify all this for you. Specialty coffee is fun and we wanna make it more accessible to consumers all over. So there you have it. We've talked a little bit about specialty coffee, and I want to give you one reminder before we leave today, everyone starts somewhere. At one point, I didn't even know what specialty coffee was, and I thought every coffee on a cupping table tasted the same. And over time, as you train your palate, as you start learning the terminology, you really do start tasting some fun, unique differences and some nuances, and you learn so, so much. Everyone starts somewhere. We all have more room to grow and I invite you into taking your next step into specialty coffee as well. I appreciate you joining on today's podcast and we'll see you next time.

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