What makes Speciality Coffee, well… Special?

We aren’t massive fans of the term speciality coffee. We just want to make great coffee and make it for everyone. But in a world where instant is the majority player, and big businesses buy low quality beans at low prices, we have to accept that, for now, the coffee that we offer is pretty special.

And don’t just take our word for it. There is an actual system that measures it. Like the wine industry, where a sommelier will grade a particular wine based on key flavour attributes such as sweetness, acidity and body, coffee is graded by licenced Q Graders on similar attributes.

Coffee can receive a maximum point score of 100 but any coffee scoring 80 points and above is what the SCA (Speciality Coffee Association) identify as Speciality Grade.

Until it is graded, the idea of Speciality Coffee is simply theoretical. There are numerous steps in a coffee’s journey from bean to cup. Analogy time: think about looking at a view through several glass windowpanes. If one of those windows is dirty it’s going to fog your vision. Now, if you imagine each window is a step in the coffee journey, a dirty ‘window’ will cloud the flavour of your brew!

Like wine, the flavour of a speciality coffee will be a reflection of its journey. Each step can improve or remove flavours and nuances and that’s why you will find tasting notes on every bag of Fireheart Coffee.

What are the steps in a coffee’s journey to becoming speciality?

  1. Terroir- Specialty coffee usually grows higher up the mountain. Warmer day-time and cooler night-time temperatures help to implant more flavour into the coffee cherries. The coffee also needs to be planted in ideal soil conditions, with sufficient rainfall and sunshine. Climate plays a big part!

  2. Ripeness – Once a coffee tree has matured in the ideal Terroir, the cherries must be picked at the perfect time at their prime ripeness. Again, this stage is critical to a coffee gaining a speciality grade. Just 24 hours between picking can impact a coffee’s score by several points.

  3. Processing – Coffee needs to then be carefully processed once it’s picked. A washed coffee will usually be placed into fermentation tanks before being washed and then laid out to dry. A naturally processed coffee with be laid out to dry immediately after picking and carefully turned and moved to prevent mould and defects from occurring before removing the dried fruit from the bean. If the bean is dried unevenly, insufficiently, too slowly, too quickly, or it rains and gets wet again this will likely prevent it from being speciality. Once a coffee is dried to reach an ideal moisture content it then needs to be milled and sorted. This process can be completed by hand or using machinery.

  4. Transport – Once a coffee has made it through the perilous processing journey it needs to be transported from its origin to a roastery, usually thousands of miles away. Speciality-grade coffee must be handled with care because if one of the bags rips, the risk of the beans becoming contaminated increases and their chances of a specialty grade decreases.

  5. Roasting – Once a coffee arrives at a roastery the roaster must then use their skill and technical knowledge to unlock the maximum flavour of the coffee. Once a coffee has been roasted to its maximum potential, a roaster will then save and replicate the specific roasting techniques for that coffee to maintain consistency. This is called roast profiling.

  6. Brewing – The last step in the coffee journey is of course… brewing! All the work put into a coffee at every stage could all be for nothing if brewed incorrectly. Following our brew guides can help you unlock the full potential of your brew!

At Fireheart we follow a strict set of Sourcing and Quality Control policies. Every coffee is meticulously cupped, scored, and profiled before we release it. We only source speciality-grade beans and we will always pay AT LEAST 50% OVER FAIRTRADE to producers and farmers.