WHAT IS SPECIALTY COFFEE? – Black River Roasters


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What is Specialty Coffee?

This is a question that perhaps haunts many involved in the specialty coffee industry, as it is difficult to pin down one all-inclusive definition. Although it is evident that those who use that term are referring to a certain level of quality, and are often known as the “purists” of the coffee industry, specialty coffee includes a great deal more than simply how the coffee is prepared.

At its origin, the term “specialty coffee” was used to refer to specific geographical microclimates that produce beans with unique flavor profiles. Following this came the idea that these specialty coffees should always be well prepared, freshly roasted, and properly brewed. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) points to the chain of hands through which coffee passes, from seed to cup, to explain what goes into making a coffee “special.”

Coffee most often arrives in the final consumer’s hand after a long series of baton handoffs from farmer to miller to intermediaries to roaster to brewer, and the final experience is dependent on no single actor in the chain dropping the baton… [So] this is not the work of only one person in the lifecycle of a coffee bean; specialty 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.

And indeed, there are standards set by the SCA that coffees must measure up to in order to be considered specialty grade. The industry is, however, increasingly focusing on sustainability in coffee, both in terms of environmental standards as well as ethical practices on the socio-economic front. As stated by the executive director of the SCA, “even if a coffee results in a great tasting beverage, if it does so at the cost of the dignity, value or well-being of the people and land involved, it cannot truly be a specialty coffee. ” Although it is a greater challenge to assess and measure these values than it is to rate great-tasting coffee, they are nonetheless at the forefront of what the specialty coffee industry pursues today.

In short, specialty coffee is defined by the quality of the product at its every stage, as well as by the quality of life that coffee can deliver to all those involved in its cultivation, preparation, and enjoyment!
How does the BRR Team Work to Achieve Specialty Coffee?

Organic - In pursuit of being environmental responsible, Black River Roasters is a USDA certified organic roastery. The term “organic” comes with a heavy weight of qualifications. A product’s organic certification comes from every level of the production process. It starts at the farms, includes the actual roasting process, as well as the bags and packaging materials. Once these conditions are verified by the USDA, the product may then be legally advertised as “organic.”

FairTrade - In an attempt to ensure that our coffees are ethically sourced, Black River Roasters sources not only organic coffees, but a great deal of Fair Trade coffees as well. The Fair Trade certification helps producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions by ensuring farmers are paid for their work at a standardized price, also providing safe conditions for workers, and resources for improved socio-economic and environmental standards.


Roasting specialty coffee requires highly skilled and experienced individuals, able to understand the science and chemistry in the roasting process. Black River Roasters ensures that each batch is carefully monitored and controlled to achieve not only a desired roast level, but also a profile that highlights the unique qualities of each coffee to accurately represent its country and region of origin.

Research is constantly advancing our understanding and knowledge on how to better brew coffee - specifically, to extract the right qualities in the right amounts from any given bean, for every type of brew method. This requires managers to be keeping up with new research, being aware of the origins of a coffee, and open minded to experimentation and change. 
Baristas are not only brought through an extensive training program to brew coffee well, but also to understand what goes into the brewed coffee - from seed to cup. The BRR team is one where there is always continued training and education, so that awareness does not stop with the company, but is shared through our team and with our community.

As passionate as we are about our values of transparency and honesty as a specialty coffee shop, including the ethics and sustainability within the industry,
none of this would be possible without our community - you!

Every part of the BRR community - its managers, baristas, and customers! - play a role in increasing awareness and positivity. This often happens through our own educational events, our involvement in local events such as farmer’s markets, and our sponsorship and support of local businesses and schools. This ever-changing beverage has been the center of many societies throughout history where ideas, culture, and community have been created and shared. Here at Black River Roasters, we strive to maintain and cultivate such an environment.