Specialty Coffee Beans: From Whole Bean Coffee to Roasted Coffee

As you invite your friend over for a coffee date, the aroma of freshly brewed specialty coffee beans fills the air.

You carefully pour the aromatic liquid into their cup, and they take that first, eagerly anticipated sip. Their eyes widen in delight as the flavors dance across their palate. Curiosity reaches the sky, and they ask about the source of this exceptional coffee. 

What could that be? Well, these are specialty coffee beans… KitchenZap made a short, yet great explanatory video about what’s the difference between specialty coffee beans vs commercial coffee:

And in this blog post, you can learn the basics of specialty coffee bean: from understanding the concept of high-grade coffee through its history up until the latest wave of coffee.

1. What are specialty coffee beans?

Specialty coffee beans are the highest-grade coffee beans available, and they’re known for their exceptional quality and distinctive flavors. These beans are grown in specific regions under optimal conditions, to meet standards for size, shape, moisture content, and defect count.

Specialty Coffee Beans Close-Up

Unlike traditional coffee beans, specialty coffee beans are carefully harvested and processed to keep their unique characteristics.

A cup of coffee brewed with specialty beans from Kenya may have a bright, vibrant acidity and notes of grapefruit, while a Costa Rican specialty coffee might exhibit a well-balanced flavor with hints of chocolate and caramel.

To illustrate the difference, consider a traditional commercial coffee blend. These blends often put together lower-grade beans from various origins, roasted to a darker level to mask any imperfections. While they can provide a drinkable cup of coffee, they lack the complexity that specialty coffee beans offer.

2. The 3rd wave of coffee: from whole beans to highest-grade specialty coffee

The coffee industry has undergone three significant waves in its history:

First Wave

The first wave focused on making coffee readily available and convenient. Mass production was often prioritized over quality.

The main characteristics of first wave coffee were: 

  • Canned and freeze-dried coffee
  • Instant coffee
  • Coffee as a commodity

Second Wave

The second wave introduced the concept of specialty coffee shops and highlighted the importance of quality.

Second wave introduced coffee shop chains and focused on other types of coffee too:

  • Starbucks and other coffee shop chains
  • Focus on espresso drinks and flavored syrups
  • Introduction of whole bean coffee

Third Wave

The third wave brought a new level of appreciation for specialty coffee beans and the art of coffee brewing.

The current characteristics of third wave:

  • Single-origin and small-batch roasting
  • Direct trade relationships with farmers
  • Emphasis on sustainable and ethical sourcing
  • Education about brewing methods and flavor profiles

The third wave of coffee is where specialty coffee beans truly shine!

Third wave coffee prioritizes the highest-grade beans, expert roasting techniques that contribute to exceptional flavor. 

3. Coffee roast levels for specialty coffee beans

The roasting process is the most important step to unlock the full potential of specialty coffee beans.

As a (home) barista you should carefully monitor the roast levels to get the desired flavor profile and bring out the unique characteristics of each bean.

The roast levels range from light to dark:

  • Light Roast: Light roasts preserve the coffee’s natural acidity and brightness. They are fruity and reveal floral notes. These roasts are favored by those who appreciate the delicate nuances of specialty coffee beans, as the lighter roast allows the flavors to shine through.
  • Medium Roast: Medium roasts are about a balance between acidity and body. They have a more rounded flavor profile, and might include caramel or chocolate flavor.
  • Dark Roast: Dark roasts produce a bold, smoky flavor with a slight bitterness and minimal acidity. 

When roasting coffee, roasters often opt for light to medium roast levels. This is mainly because with this technique, the beans are preserved in their exception quality.

4. Single origin specialty coffee beans

Single-origin specialty coffee beans are sourced from a specific geographic region or even a single farm or estate.

The beans unique flavors are influenced by the tiniest of factors like soil composition, elevation, climate and after that, processing methods.

To be honest, if you want the best of the best and appreciate the greatest flavors, single origin specialty coffee beans are your go-to

Some popular single-origin specialty coffee beans include:

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Best one-touch coffee maker
Ethiopian Coffee, Yirgacheffe Region, Usda Organic, Whole Bean, Kosher, Fresh Roasted, 16-Ounce
  • 100% Pure Ethiopian Coffee Beans - Yirgacheffe, Medium-bodied and brilliantly acidy with rough, fruity or winy tones. Thick body and an earthy aroma coupled with lemon, blueberry and blackberry notes.
  • USDA Organic, Medium/Light Roast whole beans allowing the true flavor characteristic to come through for a remarkable taste.
  • Fresh roasted then immediately packed and sealed to assure freshness.
  • 100% Customer Satisfaction Guaranteed.

Kenyan AA

Best one-touch coffee maker
Kenya Aa Coffee, 100% Pure, Whole Bean, Fresh Roasted, 16-Ounce
  • 100% Pure Kenya AA Coffee: With a rich body, pleasant vibrant acidity, fragrant aroma and flavor notes of raspberry, cranberry, fresh-cut redwood, alyssum-like flowers in aroma and cup.
  • Flavor Notes: Raspberry, Cranberry, Fresh-cut Redwood, and Alyssum-like Flowers
  • Roast Profile: Medium/Light roasted whole beans allowing the true flavor characteristic to come through for a remarkable taste.
  • Highest Grade: The "AA" grade marks out the very largest beans that naturally contain the largest amount of aromatic oils that are so integral to the coffee-drinking experience
  • Freshly Roasted: We fresh roasted then immediately packed and sealed to assure freshness.
  • 100% Customer Satisfaction Guaranteed.

Guatemalan Antigua

Best one-touch coffee maker
Guatemalan Coffee, Antigua, Ground, Medium Roast, Usda Organic, Fresh Roasted, 16-Ounce
  • Guatemalan whole coffee beans from Antigua, Guatemala that provide a rich, full bodied taste with a smooth, sophisticated flavor and an intense aroma. Medium Roast.
  • Flavor Notes: Floral, Raisin, and Pleasant Acidity.
  • This single origin, whole bean brew is from the Santa Barbara Estate in Antigua, Guatemala, comfortably located between two Caribbean volcanoes in the high altitudes in which coffee thrives.
  • The young volcanic soil found in this area is nutrient-rich and fresh, the ideal growing place for gourmet, small batch coffee.
  • Fresh roasted the immediately packed and sealed to assure freshness
  • USDA Organic Certified

As a coffee enthusiast, these are the first ones you have to try to truly understand the power of single origin coffee!

5. Coffee blends with specialty coffee beans

While single-origin specialty coffee beans offer a unique flavor experience, coffee blends with specialty coffee beans provide a harmonious balance of flavors. Coffee blends made with specialty coffee beans are a whole lot different than producing coffee with lower quality beans.

This type of blending involves the careful combination of beans from different origins or roast levels to create a well-rounded, complex cup of coffee. These coffee blends often use specialty coffee beans to enhance the overall flavor of your drinking experience.

Some popular coffee blends with specialty coffee beans include:

  • Espresso blends: Just combine some specialty Arabica beans with a small amount of Robusta to add body and crema.
  • Breakfast blends: A balance of light and medium roast with brightness and sweetness. Perfect to start your day with it.
  • Decaf blends: A decaffeinated specialty for the ones that prefer low-caffeine option.

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