Over the last few years I have gone all in on specialty coffee. Initially I owned the gear and thought I’d just keep using the same beans I was already using and see what happens. Well that didn’t work out like I had hoped. People encouraged me to buy specialty coffee beans in order to get that same quality cup I was enjoying in third wave coffee shops. I finally did that.
It made a huge difference. Specialty coffee is not always easy to identify. There are plenty of coffee shops popping up along with more Starbucks saturating your neighborhood. So what sets specialty coffee, aka third wave, apart?
There are many tell tale signs. I’d like to addess a few with you here.
When wandering into a local coffee shop check the beans. Many coffee shops will have whole beans for sale. Some shops roast their own, others feature one or more outside roasters. The first thing I look for is a roast date. It’s a huge tell. If the coffee being sold has an expiration date instead of a roast date, it is most certainly not specialty coffee.
Specialty coffee is small batch roasted and many would recommend that the beans be consumed within two to four weeks. Next time you are at the grocery store or Starbucks take a look. They will provide an expiration date and it is usually a ways off, anywhere from 6 months to a year. Not so with specialty coffee. Most of my coffee bags at home can last me a month to two months without noticing any signification degradation in flavor.
Obviously roast is a matter of preference, but most specialty coffee roasters will range from light to medium at its darkest. That’s not to say that others will go into the dark range, but the vast majority do not. The reason being, that after the coffee beans reach second crack they release oils from within the bean and the majority of subtle flavors are lost at that point. Coffee beans start green. As they roast they become brown, that transition is called first crack. If they roast further they near black and reach second crack. Look at a bag of Starbucks beans, they will be shiny as a result of second crack. A specialty roast lacks that shine, they will often look a matte shade of brown.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most specialty coffee shops are thrilled to have new customers. They love to educate and inform people that are discovering a new kind of coffee. Many shops even offer free cuppings or pourover lessons so you can brew coffee at home just as well as they do in the shop.
Specialty coffee shops offer a lot of preparation options as well. Manual brew, drip, and espresso are just a few. If you want coffee in it’s purest form go with a pourover or drip. If you like a more concentrated taste have an espresso. Lattes are a great way to enjoy esspresso as well. Sweetner and flavor options may not be as vast at a specialty shop, but don’t let that deter you. Specialty coffee wants to showcase the beans as the star of the show, not the caramel or cookie straw. Many are surprised that they don’t need as much cream or sugar with specialty coffee. The coffee has so much flavor packed into the beans.
So give the local shop a try. If you don’t know of any leave a comment below and I’d be glad to put you on the right path. I’d love to hear about your experience. I hope you enjoy your new adventure in coffee.