Every coffee roaster brings a unique and personal approach to their machine. Coffee people don’t always agree on extraction techniques or brew ratios. We can debate for hours on the most efficient or ethical way to trade coffee, or how the farming and processing method has impacted the quality of a coffee positively or negatively. In many ways, the diversity of opinions among members of the coffee trade is what keeps our industry healthy and vibrant allowing for a breadth of choices for the customer when it comes to the end product and the environment in which it is served. These variations, however, have the potential to create confusion for coffee drinkers, and within the industry, about what exactly specialty coffee is or should be.
At SCAA, part of our mission is to create standards and best practices that the industry can use to better align, while allowing for exploration and creativity within these agreed-upon parameters. We recognize that what’s truly important is what specialty coffee means to the person who is enjoying it. It can be tempting to want to define every detail for the sake of consistency, but the reality is that each customer will have a different set of criteria that they are seeking in their perfect cup of coffee. Allowing for this diversity in offerings among specialty coffee retailers is what will keep this industry relevant for–hopefully–many years to come.
Setting standards is one way that the coffee industry can begin to speak the same language, and we have seen this manifest itself in a very real way around the world over the past few years. The growth of our educational programs and the ongoing development of a worldwide network of SCAA Campuses providing this training are indicators of this global collaboration. Another interesting thing is happening that is much harder to quantify: a growing interest in specialty coffee in traditionally non-specialty markets. This includes coffee-producing countries that have historically exported all of their green coffee (at least all the good stuff), or places that have traditionally been tea-drinking cultures, or small towns that are just now starting to see specialty coffee shops popping up in their downtown areas. In this issue, we’ll take a look at some of these places, and explore the burgeoning specialty coffee culture around the world.
The growing demand for specialty coffee globally has many implications, some positive (more people drinking great coffee!), others which will be challenging to overcome, such as supply constraints caused by labor shortages, climate change, and diseases like coffee leaf rust that threaten the existence of entire farms in many producing regions. We must ask ourselves, how will we maintain this growth in consumption, while also ensuring that everyone in the coffee value chain is benefiting, not just those at the retail end?
Although we may have different perspectives and varying approaches to specialty coffee, one thing that can’t be argued is that coffee is a global phenomenon, and that each link in the supply chain depends on the others to exist. As globalization takes hold and specialty coffee culture blurs the lines between producing and consuming countries, it is thrilling to consider the possibilities for our industry. And if we can grow with purpose and an awareness of our impact on the lives of the most vulnerable members of our coffee family, we can most certainly support this growing specialty coffee culture and ensure that anyone who wants to enjoy a cup of specialty coffee, in whatever way is special to them, will be able to do just that.