What is the difference between specialty coffee and Starbucks/store-bought coffee?

Updated: Aug 22

Quarantine time in 2020. The world is shut down and I am taking my final college course online. The boredom sets in so quickly. I turn to digesting hours of YouTube content. There’s always this point where you are watching YouTube for so long that you fall down a rabbit hole and suddenly become an expert in a field you don’t even really care about. For me it was watching HVAC repair videos. Now I know nothing about HVAC, nor do I care about it, but for a while a good HVAC Youtuber had me hooked on that nonsense. When I finally came to my senses and thought about how much time I am wasting on learning about Air Conditioning systems, I decided I could be learning about something useful. I wanted to learn how to brew a better cup of coffee. That is a useful skill considering I have been drinking coffee almost every day of my life since I was in fourth grade.

After watching hours videos from James Hoffman, Sprometheus, and European Coffee Trip to name a few, I felt I had what I needed to make a better cup of coffee. I bought a Hario v60 and the cheapest kettle available at Target so I could do my first pour-over. To my surprise, IT WAS TERRIBLE. I went back to Target to buy a blade grinder so I could grind my coffee fresh. I try again, still horrible. I get mad thinking that I have been tricked once again by Youtuber’s into thinking I am an expert in something I am not. I was rinsing my paper filters, I was using bottled water, I was doing the circular pours, I was grinding coarser, I was grinding finer, I did everything, and was still getting the same old cups of coffee I was used to. I felt lied to, I am not tasting the blueberry, tea, molasses, brown sugar, “insert whatever tasting note you want here”. I stare at all of the coffee equipment I have amassed and think long and hard about what I was doing. What is the one thing all of my brews had in common? Then it hits me like a truck.

The beans.

It finally dawned on me that the Starbucks Italian Roast coffee beans I was prone to buying was maybe not the right choice. I did more research on the difference between the coffee I was buying from the grocery store to the other coffees I could buy. That is when I discovered specialty coffee. My journey led me to the Birdrock Coffee roasters in Carlsbad, CA. I go in and buy a Bag of Monkey Bite Espresso Roast (Yeah, I got an espresso roast for pour-overs, I got stressed out my first time in there, I am a recovering agoraphobic, leave me alone.) I take my coffee skills and put them to the test on this coffee. The rest is history.

I am aware that is the longest intro of all-time but it proves an important point. You can have the best coffee equipment in the world, professional level barista technique, and the most perfect grinder, but if you are using bad coffee, you will never have a good cup of coffee. But what is the difference between the grocery store coffee I was used to getting and specialty coffee?

The first big difference is the freshness. The amount of time from when the green coffee is purchased, to the time it was roasted, to when it gets bagged and loaded on trucks, sent to stock rooms at stores, wait for existing supply to finish, then gets shelved in the back and slowly moves its way to the front. It could be six months or more for that whole process to play ou

t! While coffee is pretty much shelf stable for one years time, its window for optimal flavor is around 2-3 weeks from the roast date. With specialty coffee you are often placing an order on a site, it gets roasted then sent out and arrives your door maybe a week after roast. This is perfect for freshness. You do not want to be drinking old grocery store shelf coffee, trust me!

The second and probably biggest difference between specialty coffee and the stuff from grocery stores is the beans themselves. For coffee to be labeled specialty grade it must have a cupping score of 80 or higher. The stuff on the grocery shelves is more commodity coffee, bought at a low price, roasted in giant batches, ground, then shipped out. It has to be cheap coffee, how else are the big companies like Starbucks supposed to pay all of the middlemen and still turn a profit?

Those two differences alone should be enough to convince you to try some specialty coffee and compare it to whatever coffee you currently drink. I promise that much like me, you will not be able to go back to that darkly roasted pre-ground garbage.

So I challenge you, yes, YOU! Go get a bag from the grocery store, and pick up a bag of specialty coffee and compare the two back to back. The differences will slap you across the face immediately.

If you are looking to try some small batch, roast to order, specialty coffee goodness, then you should check out our 8-ounce bags or Sample Pack options at Temecula Coffee Roasters. I pushed hard for 8-ounce bags so that you can buy a ton of different kinds of coffee at once and not get bored! The beans that currently excite me the most are our Ethiopian, Costa Rica, and Kenya coffees. But do not just take my word for it, go try some for yourself! USE CODE: HAPPY4TH for 20% off all orders NOW-July 15!

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