Is Speciality Coffee Too Expensive?

I saw a post in which they implied that Speciality Coffee is overpriced because of the latte art. As you can tell by the title of this site, I’m really passionate about coffee. Because I wasn’t always this informed, I’ve done some research about this issue and here is what I’ve learnt.

Most of the coffee that we (by we I mean US and Europe) consume is grown in South America, Africa, South East Asia…

On average, let’s say we are paying from 1,50€ to 3,00€ per coffee. This last one having extra vanilla syrup or (if you’re like me) a chosen filter coffee.

What’s the cost of coffee in the producing countries?

The Fairtrade minimum price is set at 1.40€ per half a kilo for washed Arabica coffee. That is IF it is fairtrade. If you sell just one coffee, you’re making a profit. Do you see the gap between what is paid to the farmers and the prices of coffee shops?

Now, sure, different countries, different salaries, different jobs…

But it seems unfair to me how the countries that grow coffee – the ones who do the actual physical labour – get paid a minimal amount in contrast with what the coffee shops are earning. 

Also, consider this: the bigger the franchise, the more coffee (in quantity) they will need.

Some of these franchises, they roast their coffee “dark”, so that the taste is all the same. If you roast it dark (i.e. a “hint” of burnt taste), you don’t really need coffee plants that take very specific conditions to grow. Instead, you go for the cheaper option (remember manual vs machine picking?) because you honestly just need the product to sell it.

It feels like these companies don’t care about the farmer and their method and their production, it’s about money. Which I get, it’s a business, but still…

What can I do, though?

What I personally do is to go to Speciality Coffee Shops. Main reason being that baristas working there are as nerdy about coffee as I am. I get to ask “where is the coffee from” and don’t seem like a posh customer.

But also, as a company specialised in coffee, they (normally) care about the quality and process of the coffee they are serving.

What is Speciality Coffee?

According to the SCAE (Speciality Coffee Association of Europe), who focuses on customers’ perception of the quality:

Speciality coffee is defined as a crafted quality coffee-based beverage, which is judged by the consumer (in a limited marketplace at a given time) to have a unique quality, a distinct taste and personality different from, and superior to, the common coffee beverages offered. The beverage is based on beans that have been grown in an accurately defined area, and which meet the highest standards for green coffee and for its roasting, storage and brewing.

The SCAA (Speciality Coffee Association of America), on the other hand, focuses on objective measurement of the quality in a relatively formal set-up known as cupping. The cupping form provides a means of recording important flavour attributes for coffee: fragrance/aroma, flavour, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, uniformity, clean cup, sweetness, defects, and overall. Coffees that score <80 points out of a possible 100 will be classified as speciality. 

SCAA also kindly acknowledge the role of many professionals that participate in the process:

Speciality coffee can consistently exist through the dedication of the people who have made it their life’s work to continually make quality their highest priority. This is not the work of only one person in the lifecycle of a coffee bean; speciality can only occur when all of those involved in the coffee value chain work in harmony and maintain a keen focus on standards and excellence from start to finish.

Where can I find these Speciality Coffee shops?

Generally, they have all sorts of coffee brewing methods and your latte will have a latte art on top. They are not as economical as other shops and it’s not because of the latte art.

It’s because they’ve seen the process from the plant to your cup. They know about the farms and farmers and pay the right and fair price. Speciality coffee shops (generally) make sure baristas prepare the coffee with as much care as the farmer planted the coffee.

Also, I have written about my favourite coffee shops in London, Madrid and Taipei (more coming soon…).

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