Help, There’s a Bag of Specialty Coffee in my Kitchen!
Words (of encouragement) by Katie Burnett
So, your friends have been talking about specialty coffee. They say they’ll never go back. They say they’re tasting dried apricots and 63% cocoa chocolate every morning. They say you should try too...
Up until recently, getting into specialty coffee as a consumer was considered a statement of snobbery and elitism, and to be fair, it kind of was. Only a couple of years ago, specialty coffee was hard to find and shrouded in mystery. Now, with more and more roastery’s pushing specialty coffee into all of our hands, it’s like buying organic vegetables instead of generic.
So where should you start?
I’ve worked at a specialty coffee roastery for 3 years now, alongside colleagues who have been in the industry for just shy of a decade. Here are a few of the questions we ask our customers in our shop, questions you can also ask of yourself as you stare blankly at a specialty coffee retail shelf.
What flavour experience am I looking for?
This is the most fundamental guiding question. Am I looking for a coffee to drink with milk and lovingly hand to my significant other in the morning? Do I want to challenge my ideas of flavour and taste something new? Do I want to do both? Often the experience we’re after will spark certain flavour ideas in our minds. Comfort is chocolate and nuts and challenge is citrus and acidity, for example. This can also be as easy as seeing “raspberry” on a bag and grabbing that bag because you like raspberries. Allow the flavour notes on the bag to guide you. If you don’t yield the results you’re looking for, reach out to the roastery you bought the bag from for some recipes and brew guides.
Plenty of people who work in the specialty coffee industry are there because of a single, mind-blowingly excellent cup of coffee. A single sip that took him back to eating granadillas in his grandmother’s garden or a flat white that tasted like the banana ice cream of her holidays on the south coast. For most specialty coffee professionals, there was an eye-opening flavour experience. The point here is that we need to be open to new experiences. The reason you’ve read this article this far is because you’re looking to try something new and in order to successfully do that, being open to newness is important. Person A didn’t even think that coffee could taste like fruit, never mind evoke vivid childhood memories.
Photo by Coffee Magazine
An excellent place to start is a brew guide from the roastery and allowing the flavour notes to guide you. This will provide you with a reference point from which you can choose your next bag, if you enjoyed the level of acidity in the coffee but not the berry notes you can look for a more citrusy coffee next time.
Once you’ve done this, you can start learning about the effect that processing method, varietal, origin and roast-style have on flavour. Even here, keeping the flavours you enjoy as the guiding light.
Now, you’ve bought your beautiful craft bag of specialty coffee: brewing at home is the next step. In order to get the desired flavours from a more nuanced coffee, brew technique is important. Thankfully, there are many brew guides on YouTube and other social media platforms to come to your aid. A great place to start is James Hoffman’s YouTube channel, where he chats through the basics of particular brew methods and brews coffee live on camera. You don’t need to have a fancy espresso machine to make great coffee at home: filter coffee is cheaper to set up, more forgiving as a brew method and uses less coffee to the amount of water (less coffee used up for volume of coffee in the cup) and arguably a much better way to taste the coffee, as it captures all the intricacies and nuance of a coffee where tasting espresso is a very acquired skill.
Photo by Max Whitehead on Unsplash
Brewing at home is a great way to start learning about specialty coffee and there’s a massive community around home-brewing. From coffee YouTubers to the roastery you bought the bag from, they’re all excited to have you in their space and share what they know.
I hope that this article encourages you to walk into your local specialty coffee roastery (if you don’t have one, there a bunch of specialty coffee roastery’s with online stores) and ask some questions or at least give you some indication of how to guide yourself through their range of coffees.
Welcome and happy brewing!