Feb 16 2012

This year Portland will host the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Annual Convention. As we at McMenamins Coffee Roasters are preparing to participate in this important and exciting event, an opportunity presents itself to discuss the label "specialty coffee."

For a coffee to be designated "specialty," it must be rated 80 or above on the Specialty Coffee of America's scale of one to 100. This rating system looks for any defects as well evaluating the color, moisture content, aroma and a variety of other criteria that pertain to the overall quality of the bean. Beyond this however, the term refers to an entire industry focused on high-quality coffee where all aspects of production are constantly being improved upon.

photoSpecialty coffee professionals are familiar with the growing regions within the producing nations. The nuances in flavor that these origins feature are known and appreciated. Fair trade coffee is important as a benefit to the producers and to ensure a healthy supply of high-grade product. When possible, relationships are maintained between roasters and producers.

Roasting is often done on a micro scale, allowing great attention to be paid to each batch ensuring quality and freshness. Light roasts are often preferred in order to emphasize the full flavor of premium beans. Roasting is regarded as a craft, and great care is taken to maintain high standards. The roasted coffee is always handled in accordance to a series of guidelines that promote freshness.

photoBrewing methods are studied and constantly evolve. Techniques such as French press and various types of individual pour-over brewing are taking their place among the more common methods of coffee preparation. Although some of these methods are labor intensive, they are generally seen as assets due to their ability to enhance the flavor profiles of various origins.

This industry has been on the rise for more than thirty years. The origins of specialty coffee can be partially viewed as a response to the underwhelming, low-priced, mass-produced coffee that dominated the market in early decades of the 20th century. The general focus of the coffee industry at that time was on production volume rather than flavor. With the eventual backlash, attention to quality became increasingly important.

photoToday, the specialty sector makes up over 20% of the American coffee market and continues to expand at a rapid pace. This thriving culture features trade associations, awards for roasted coffee, barista competitions, annual conventions, industry publications and a host of other endeavors that help to facilitate the increased development of the specialty coffee industry. As a micro roaster dealing strictly in specialty coffee, we at McMenamins Roasters feel right at home in the abundant culinary world of the Pacific Northwest.

About the author: Kelly is the Assistant Coffee Roaster for McMenamins.
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