Skip to content
Why Specialty Coffee is in a League of its Own

Why Specialty Coffee is in a League of its Own

What Is Specialty Coffee?

Specialty coffee refers to the highest quality coffee beans produced in micro-lots from single origins or estates. In contrast to commercial coffee, which is often a blend of beans sourced from multiple regions, specialty coffees showcase unique flavor profiles from particular terroirs or farms.

The specialty coffee culture celebrates coffee excellence through direct trade relationships with farmers, innovative processing techniques, and artisanal roasting. Specialty roasters tailor their practices to highlight the distinctive characteristics of each coffee variety and origin, resulting in an incredible range of flavors from floral, fruity, and herbal to earthy, nutty, and chocolatey.

Commercial coffee is graded based on commodity standards, while specialty coffees are assessed through cupping evaluations that consider factors like aroma, body, acidity, and overall taste experience. Specialty grade coffee scores 80 points or above on a 100 point scale. This meticulous attention to quality and taste has helped transform coffee from a daily commodity into an artisanal food experience appreciated for its diversity of origins, processing methods, and flavors.


What Makes Specialty Coffee So Special?

Specialty coffees start with varieties of the coffee plant that produce better flavor. The best beans are carefully hand-picked at peak ripeness. Special attention is paid to processing, with techniques like longer fermentation times bringing out more complex flavors, and roasting is done in small batches to highlight the nuances of each origin.

The result is a coffee with vastly superior flavor that showcases the unique terroir and characteristics of its origin. Specialty coffees feature defined acidity, intense aromas, and complex flavors that typical commercial coffee lacks, and they provide a more refined and rewarding coffee drinking experience for true enthusiasts.


Coffee Processing Methods

After the coffee cherries are harvested, there are several processing methods that can be used to prepare the beans for roasting. These methods play a major role in developing the flavors and aromas of the final cup of coffee.

Honey Processing

Honey processing, also called pulped natural processing, is a hybrid of washed and natural processing. The fruit skin and some pulp are removed soon after picking, and the beans are then dried with some sticky mucilage still attached, resembling honey. This gives the beans more time to interact with the sugars and acids from the fruit before drying. Coffees processed this way tend to have flavors that are fruitier and sweeter compared to naturals.

Natural Processing

The natural process, also called dry processing, involves drying the whole coffee cherry intact after picking. The cherries are laid out in the sun on large patios, allowing the fruit flesh to dry slowly while still on the bean. This draws out more fruit sugars that get absorbed by the bean. Naturals tend to have very intense fruitiness, sweetness, and complexity.

Anaerobic Fermentation

This experimental process involves putting the beans in an oxygen-free environment to ferment before drying. It creates complex fruit flavors and aromas through enzymatic activity. The results are very clean, sweet, and fruity coffees. This innovative technique is being used more for very high end specialty lots.
The type of processing and length of fermentation transforms the chemical composition and flavor of the beans in distinct ways. Roasters choose particular methods to highlight desired characteristics in the coffee’s profile.


Roasting Specialty Coffee

Specialty coffee is roasted differently than commercial coffee to optimize flavor profiles. Lighter roast profiles are commonly used to highlight the unique characteristics of the coffee's origin, such as its varietal, terroir, and processing method. Specialty coffee roasters tailor the roast profile to the individual bean variety and the desired flavor outcomes.

Lighter roasts are stopped before reaching first crack. This preserves more complex aromatics and brighter acidity from compounds that break down later in the roasting process. Medium roast profiles are ended shortly after first crack to balance acidity with subtle roasted notes. Darker roasts continue roasting until second crack, producing more bitterness, roasted flavors, and body at the expense of acidity and origin character.

Roast profiles are carefully developed through experience and experimentation to create desired flavors for specific beans. Extensive cupping is done to determine optimal roast levels that showcase each coffee's peak characteristics. Rather than roasting dark by default, specialty roasters find the unique roast profile that allows a coffee to reach its highest potential. This nuanced approach to roasting is essential for specialty coffee.


Brewing Specialty Coffee

Brewing specialty coffee requires care and precision to properly extract the nuanced flavors. The recommended brew methods for specialty coffee are pour over, French press, and espresso.

  • Pour over is one of the best ways to highlight the subtle notes and aromas of specialty coffee. It involves slowly pouring hot water over the coffee grounds to extract flavors during a controlled brew time. Proper water temperature (195-205°F) and grind size are key for optimal extraction.
  • French press is another exceptional brew method that fully immerses the coffee grounds in hot water. Use a coarse grind and brew time of around 4 minutes. The fuller body from the French press complements the complex flavors of specialty coffee.
  • Espresso is a classic way to enjoy specialty coffee, concentrating the flavors into a potent shot. Look for roasts labeled as "espresso" and grind the beans fine. Extract the espresso using an espresso machine for about 25-30 seconds.

Proper extraction is vital for specialty coffee to reveal its full range of tastes and aromas. Focus on the recommended brew times, water temperature, and grind size for the method used. Tweak these factors to draw out sweetness, acidity, or other flavor notes as desired.

When tasting specialty coffee, deeply inhale the aromas first before sipping. Take short, quick sips to coat the tongue and perceive subtle tastes. Note flavors like fruits, nuts, chocolate, caramel, and more. Finally, observe the finish and aftertaste before evaluating the overall experience in the cup. Specialty coffee offers a complex sensory journey from the first whiff to the last sip.


Distinctive Flavor Profiles

Specialty coffees are prized for their wide range of distinctive and nuanced flavors that reflect the coffee's origin, variety, and processing methods. These complex flavors go far beyond just "coffee" flavor into a diverse world of fruit, flower, earth, and spice notes.

Some of the common flavor notes found in specialty coffees include:

  • Fruity - Berry, citrus, stone fruit, and tropical fruit flavors like blueberry, lemon, peach, mango
  • Floral - Fragrant, sweet floral notes like jasmine, honeysuckle, rose
  • Earthy - Mineral-rich flavors like clay, forest floor, tobacco
  • Chocolaty - Dark cocoa, milk chocolate, chocolate malt
  • Nutty - Almond, pecan, walnut, hazelnut, peanut

The specific flavors present will vary widely depending on the coffee's origin - for example, coffees from East Africa are renowned for their bright, floral and citrusy flavors, Central American coffees frequently feature chocolate, caramel and nutty notes, while Indonesian coffees exhibit earthy, herbal flavors.

A specialty coffee's flavor profile tells the story of where it was grown, how it was processed and roasted, and makes it a unique coffee drinking experience.

Experienced coffee tasters can often identify a coffee's origin just from its distinctive flavor characteristics. The diversity of flavors to discover is what drives specialty coffee drinkers to continue exploring origins around the world.


Pairing Food with Specialty Coffee

Certain foods can complement and bring out the complex flavors in specialty coffees. Pairing coffee with food is an excellent way to highlight and experience subtle tasting notes.

Dark chocolate pairs wonderfully with specialty coffee, especially coffees with chocolatey notes like the Black Basalt Dark Roast Blend. Fruity coffees, like the Colombia Yellow Geisha, complement citrus flavors like orange. The acidity of the coffee balances the sweetness of the fruit. Light, flaky pastries like croissants allow coffee origin flavors to shine through, making them ideal partners for floral, fruity washed coffees.

Savory foods like eggs, bacon, and avocado work well with specialty coffee's complexity. The saltiness and savoriness contrast with coffee's acidity and sweetness. Smoky barbecue flavors pair nicely with darker roasted coffee flavors of chocolate and spice.

Experiment with different pairings to find complementary combinations that highlight the unique tasting notes of specialty coffees. The region, processing method, roast profile, and brewing technique all impact the flavors and determine ideal pairings. An immersive coffee tasting experience allows you to appreciate a specialty coffee's full flavor spectrum.


Specialty Coffee is Truly in a League of its Own

Specialty coffee offers coffee lovers an unparalleled experience through its complex flavors, origins, and processing methods. These unique coffees showcase distinctive floral, fruity, and chocolatey notes you simply can't find in bulk commercial coffee. From the misty mountains of Colombia to the tropical islands of Hawaii, specialty coffee takes you on a journey across the globe with each sip.

The craft of creating specialty coffee is just as meticulous as the art of enjoying it. Properties like variety, terroir, elevation, and processing all influence the flavors you'll find dancing on your palate. Then comes the roasting, brewing, and tasting - equally important steps in unlocking all the subtle nuances these coffees have to offer.

At Paradise Roasters, we are passionate about sourcing the world's finest specialty coffee beans and bringing their stories to life in every cup. We've highlighted just a sampling of our offerings here, but so much more awaits. We invite you to explore our collection of single origin coffees, prized geisha varietals, organic and sustainably grown beans, and other rare offerings. Come discover your new favorite coffee and join Paradise Roasters on an adventure in exceptional flavor!



Specialty Coffee FAQ

What exactly is specialty coffee?

Specialty coffee refers to the highest quality coffee beans produced in micro-lots from single origins or estates. In contrast to commercial coffee, specialty coffees showcase unique flavor profiles from particular terroirs or farms. They are prized for their complex flavors, origins, and processing methods.


How is specialty coffee different from regular coffee?

Specialty coffee is made from the highest quality beans and roasted specifically to highlight unique flavor characteristics. Regular commercial coffee is made from lower quality beans, usually blended from multiple origins, and roasted dark. Specialty coffee celebrates the nuances of different origins, varieties and processing methods. Commercial coffee produces a generic "coffee" flavor.


What flavors can I expect from specialty coffee?

Specialty coffees exhibit a wide range of flavors from floral, fruity, and herbal to earthy, nutty, and chocolatey. Specific flavors depend on the origin, variety, processing method, and roast level. You may find notes of berries, citrus, cocoa, caramel or spice. The flavor profiles are more complex and distinctive than in regular coffee.


How should I brew specialty coffee?

The best ways to brew specialty coffee are pour over, French press, and espresso. These methods allow the subtle flavors to shine through. Proper brewing technique is key - use the recommended temperature, grind size, and brew time for the method. For pour over and French press, a medium grind and 3-4 minute brew time is typical. For espresso, use an espresso roast and fine grind with a 25-30 second extraction.


What foods pair well with specialty coffee?

Some excellent pairings for specialty coffee include:

  • Dark chocolate - complements chocolatey coffee notes
  • Croissants or other light pastries - allows fruity coffee flavors to shine through
  • Eggs or avocado toast - savory flavors contrast with coffee's sweetness
  • Citrus segments - highlights floral and fruity notes in some coffees
  • Barbecue - smoky flavors pair nicely with darker roasted coffees

The specific pairing depends on the coffee's flavor notes. Experiment to find combinations that highlight the unique tasting notes of your specialty coffee!



Paradise Roasters Offers The Most Exclusive & Rare Coffees

Our specialty coffees have been rated 93 - 97 points by Coffee Review on over one hundred occasions since 2002! 

Paradise Coffee Roasters combines passion and precision in every cup. Our selections are characterized by their unique identity, seasonal flair, and the stories of budding origins. We believe in fostering direct relationships with our farmers, ensuring every bean is sustainably cultivated. Each cup of Paradise coffee is a fresh narrative, as we roast to order exclusively for you.

For a taste of paradise delivered to your door, start a coffee subscription today!

Did you enjoy this article? Good news - it was just a taste. For more caffeinated wisdom, click here:


Older Post
Newer Post
Close (esc)


Use this popup to embed a mailing list sign up form. Alternatively use it as a simple call to action with a link to a product or a page.

Age verification

By clicking enter you are verifying that you are old enough to consume alcohol.