A Place to Start.
Specialty coffee can be tricky. As delicious and luxurious as it is, it hasn't always been accessible to everyday Black people. Despite the known history of coffee originating on the continent of Africa, (namely, in Ethiopia), the world of specialty coffee has been quite whitewashed. Many of us have had the experience of walking into a cute, hipster-ish coffee shop and feeling unwelcome. For many, it's turned us.
However, a powerful ecosystem of Black-owned coffee enterprises exists to dispel the airs of exclusivity and whiteness that have guarded the gates of specialty coffee. From importers, to roasters, to brands, to brewers, to influencers, Black people are reclaiming our heritage, and we are making "plenty good room" for more of us.
Here are a few tidbits to introduce you to the luxury of specialty coffee.
1. What is specialty coffee?
Specialty coffee that high quality "good good." It's coffee that's grown at a higher altitude, cultivated with great care and processed with ingenuity. It is exported, imported, roasted, and sold with an emphasis on quality. In fact, when professionally graded for quality (i.e., aroma, flavor, mouthfeel/body, acidity, etc.), specialty coffee is graded at 80 and above, on a scale of 100. This is why we believe that this coffee is a treat and a luxury. When one sips it and savors it, they might recognize that it offers a heightened sensory experience when compared to lesser-quality (or, commodity) coffee.
Furthermore, speciality coffee is (or, should be) imported and sold with an emphasis on equity, truth telling, and justice. Because specialty coffee is of a higher quality, it is inherently more expensive. In an industry that has notoriously taken advantage of coffee farmers and producers, and their families, it is critically important that consumers are aware that, by paying more for a great coffee, they are supporting the livelihood and the dreams of the people who produced it.
2. Basic Brewing Equipment
To brew a great cup of coffee, you'll need just a few basic items. These will enable you to make incredible in the comfort of your own home.
1. Good water
Coffee is 98% water. Great tasting coffee starts with great tasting water. Grab your favorite water, whether it's from your tap or from a bottle. Try to avoid distilled water, and consider a filter pitcher for ease and consistency of flavor.
2. Coffee Grinder
A coffee grinder is helpful when you're brewing specialty coffee because it's often sold whole. This ensure peak freshness while it's on its way from the roaster and into your hands. A simple blade grinder will work just fine, but you will get more mileage from a burr grinder. Burr grinders are a great investment because you will be able to grind to the right size for several types of brewing devices, and you won't have to work so hard to achieve consistency with your coffee grounds. As with all things, consistency is key!
3. Kitchen Scale
You'll want to pay attention to the ratio between your coffee and your water. Too much or too little of either one will lead to imbalance flavor in your cup. A scale will help you to measure the right portions of water and coffee. Fancier scales also come with timers, which will be helpful when you start nerding out and following coffee recipes. Watching the time will keep you from under-extracting or over-extracting your coffee.
4. A Manual Brewer and Filter
By now, you might be used to your coffee pot or your K-Cup brewer. And, these are fabulous for when you're brewing in a hurry. But, when you have some time to slow down and enjoy your brewing process, you'll want a manual brewer, such as a Kalita Wave, a Hario V60, or a Chemex. The Kalita Wave is an example of a flat-bed brewer, which are believed to promote a more stable extraction process. It brews slower, due to its shape and three small holes at the bottom of the. The V60 is an iconic cone-shaped brewer, that thoroughly - and quickly - brews by drawing your hot water through the center of your coffee bed. The Chemex, also iconic, is a cone-shaped carafe that's great for brewing coffee in larger batches.
When you're selecting your brewer, be sure to get the accompanying filter. Most brewers have brand-specific paper filters, which eliminates any guesswork. For a more sustainable approach, consider a CoffeeSock. these are washable, reusable cloth filters that come in a variety of sizes. For brewers such as the Kalita and V60, consider getting a carafe to brew into. You can always brew directly into your mug, so these aren't necessary. However, they will also help guide your portions. I really enjoy brewing into carafes because they allow me to swirl and smell my coffee before i pour and enjoy.
5. Gooseneck Kettle
A gooseneck kettle is going to help you to control your stream of water as you're brewing. You'll be able to control your pour patterns, your rate of flow, and the amount of water your pour. Basically, the gooseneck kettle is all about controlling your water. You don't need an expensive kettle to achieve this, but with a little more investment, you can get a kettle with temperature control.
6. Finally, of course, great coffee.
We got you on this one. ❤️
3. Make it a ritual.Manually brewing your coffee will not only result in a delicious cup, but the process can serve as a meditative, reflective moment of mindfulness. While all of the steps can seem like a lot, they will provide you with a few precious moments if you slow down and take them in.
Rituals mark time and helps us to ease into our transitions. For example, we ritualize our births with birthday celebrations. We ritualize death with funerals, processionals, and annual days of remembrance. We ritualize growth and maturation with certain rites of passage. We ritualize our faith by practicing spiritual disciplines. Food and beverage rituals are also quite unique, and they vary from culture to culture. The foods and beverages that we prepare by hand, and our techniques, spices, and recipes, are a way of underscoring our identity and connecting us to larger networks of belonging. Think of the fares that are prepared for special occasions, and even the daily substances that hold you fast, and you're likely thinking of a personal or familial ritual of nourishment.
Rituals are defined by the meanings and symbolisms that we ascribe to them. When you're brewing a cup of Black coffee, you're supporting an ever-unfolding narrative of Black freedom. But, when you slow down, and fully embrace the sensory experience, you're making time to underscore your own humanity, to draw yourself into the present, and to practice self-care and spiritual wellness, even if it's for the 4-6 minutes that you are brewing your coffee.
So, slow down! Listen to the sound of your coffee as you're measuring and grinding. Smell it when it's dry as you're pouring it into your brewer and filter. Breathe in deeply as you're pouring your hot water on your coffee. Listen to the sound of the coffee as it's dripping into your mug or carafe. When it's done brewing, swirl your coffee around, take a deep smell before you pour. Pour slow, sip slow. Take a moment to familiarize your palate with your coffee before you slurp it down. Add your favorite stuff, if you don't like it black. And, enjoy your moment.
We deserve to relish and savor our moments. Especially coffee moments. With the heightened degree of mindfulness and patience, your coffee "fix" can become a powerful ritual of grounding, reflection, and spiritual wellness.