Specialty Coffee Part 2: Origins Or How I Ended up Opening a Coffee Shop

The idea that a coffee could be traced back to a particular region or, even further, a specific farm, is a still a novelty for some. That coffee from different regions is nuanced and unique is also surprising, even for those that drink coffee daily.  

While I’ve been a regular coffee drinker since I was a teenager, these concepts were new to me until 2010 when I started frequenting coffee shops in the then burgeoning specialty coffee scene in NY.  Coffee for me, like for many others, was an everyday commodity, something that could either be good or bad. The latter becoming apparent when one needed a glob of milk and sugar in order to drink it. At the end of the day, however, it really didn’t matter. Coffee was something I needed, not something I relished.

This all changed once I started trying these so-called “single origin specialty coffees.” Suddenly drinking coffee went from a necessary habit to a valued ritual. It went from something that was almost only practical to something that was ethereal and gratifying.

Coffee is grown in about 50 countries that lay in an area called the “coffee belt,” which is between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.  With my newfound craving to find unique flavors and peculiarities in coffee from all coffee growing countries came the desire to find patterns and rules. But, to my disappointment, it was and, to a certain extent remains, somewhat difficult to categorize coffees by region.

Some things can, however, be generalized. Coffee from the Americas tends to be more smooth and balanced. African coffees are often dubbed “wild” due to their vibrant and exotic fruity characteristics. Indonesia, a region that I am still in the beginning stages of exploration, is often described as being earthy and unusual. Exceptions to these generalizations, however, are quite common. One of the most memorable and intricately citrusy coffees I’ve recently tasted, for example, came from Colombia, a country notorious for growing “balanced” coffee.  I’ve realized that the exploration of single origin coffee is never-ending and this is part of what I love about it.

I attribute this fascination with the vast variations in flavor and texture of coffees to part of the reason why I chose to work in this field. And there is nothing more rewarding to me than to watch people come into my shop and go through the exact same journey. To share the delight of realizing that something that used to be so mundane can be extraordinary. It is probably one of the favorite things about working in specialty coffee. 

So here are some other recommendations for those seeking to start familiarizing themselves with single origin coffee. Nowadays there seems to be an endless amount of quality sources and roasters to sample. Here are a few of my favorites: Counter Culture Coffee (available at my shop, Café Curuba), PT’s Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee, and the very convenient Tonx Coffee subscription (which I admit that I have not tried since they were recently purchased by Blue Bottle, but when I had it a few months ago it was a real treat).

This is not to mention Panther Coffee, Miami’s unmatched specialty coffee king and roaster extraordinaire that my fellow contributor Andy well noted a few weeks ago is indeed “a big friggin’ deal.” ( Read Andy Giambarba's article about Panther Coffee in New Orleans here). 

So whether you NEED coffee to get started or as a break in the day, treat yourself to a cup of single origin specialty coffee and hold the milk and sugar.