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The World of Specialty Coffee: What You Need to Know and What to Order

Galena Roasters is a small-batch specialty roasting company located in Galena, Illinois. Since 2018, Galena Roasters has been dedicated to bringing its beloved town exceptional coffee and an exceptional experience.

Coffee has evolved from the old cup of pick-me-up into a complex and evocative beverage. Enter the world of specialty coffee, where the beverage is beyond standard commercial grade coffee and designed to be an experience. Similar to wine, specialty coffee is crafted and celebrated for its flavors and characteristics. This blog post will e

xplore what specialty coffee is, how the roasting process differs, and what to order at your local shop to enhance your experience as a coffee drinker.

What is Specialty Coffee?

Specialty coffee is much more than your average cup of joe. To earn the designation of "specialty coffee," the coffee beans must score 80 or above on the SCA scale and have a limited number of faults in the green coffee before roasting. This strict quality requirement ensures that only high quality beans make the cut. But what sets specialty coffee apart isn't just the score; it's the entire journey from farm to cup.

The Growing Process

The best coffees are typically grown at higher elevations. These coffee trees are well attended by the coffee farmers. It involves hand picking only ripe cherries, usually with multiple pickings during each harvest. The quality of the coffee is significantly influenced by the attention to detail at this stage.


Once harvested by the farmers, the coffee cherries undergo processing. Generally this is the means by which the cherry skin and flesh is removed from the bean and the bean is dried. A washed process involves holding the coffee cherries in fermentation tanks for a short period and then washing away the fruit and skin leaving the coffee beans to be put out on the drying beds. For a natural, or dried in the fruit, processed coffee the whole coffee cherry is put out on the drying beds. During this drying phase some fermentation occurs inside the cherry and the coffee beans absorb some of the fruit and fermentation flavors as they dry. After the coffee is dried it is milled to removed the fruit and skin from the coffee beans. These are the two predominant processing methods and they must be executed in a high quality way in order to produce specialty coffee.

Resting Period

After processing, the coffee is allowed to rest for about 30 days at its origin. This resting period enhances the flavor and quality of the coffee, making it an essential part of the specialty coffee process.


Roasting is basically the process of applying heat in a controlled manner in order to make the beverage extractable from the coffee beans. How this heat is applied and in what style of roaster makes all the difference in the flavor and complexity of the final product. A good coffee roaster has great machine control and is intuitive in they’re roasting techniques in order to intentionally modulate the flavor profile of the roasted coffee, creating nearly intoxicating aromatics and complex and layered flavors for the coffee consumers’ pleasure.


Brewing starts with a high quality grinder that produces a very uniform grind size from the coffee beans. There are many extraction or brewing methods which differ greatly in their process and the type of brewed coffee they produce. But what they should all have in common in order to translate all of the skill and care that has gone into producing these amazing coffees is good quality water heated to the proper temperature, high quality roasted coffee ground to a uniform size correct for the respective brewing method, and high quality equipment and filters for creating the best brew.

Ethical Considerations

Part of the specialty coffee definition involves ensuring that farmers receive a premium price for their beans. This fair compensation is essential for sustainable coffee production and a commitment to social responsibility.

What to Order at a Specialty Coffee Shop

Now that you understand the meticulous process behind the specialty coffee industry, it's time to explore the menu and order something that truly showcases the expertise of the barista and the quality of the beans. Here are some suggestions:

Light or Medium Roast Coffee

If you're looking to explore the coffee itself, go for a light or medium roast. The lighter roasted coffees retain higher percentages of their original terrior, which is all elements contributing to the growth of the coffee such as soil type, elevation, plant variety, etc. Roasting lighter preserves more of the unique flavor notes of the beans, allowing you to savor the nuances and complexities. If you’re typically a dark roast drinker you should drink the coffee that you like. But if you’re interested in exploring try the medium roast for additional sweetness and complexity.

Espresso-based Drinks

If you’re looking to check out the skill of the barista or the quality of the espresso order a latte with an extra shot and no syrups. Some folks like syrups, etc. in their espresso based drinks and good espresso certainly adds to the quality of those beverages. However if you’re looking to experience the subtleties of the espresso then only adding an amount of steamed milk will be more revealing.

Dairy Alternatives

Specialty coffee shops often offer a variety of dairy alternatives, such as oat, almond, soy, and coconut milk. Try different milk options to find your favorite, as these alternative choices can complement the coffee in distinct ways.

Why Choose a Specialty Coffee Shop?

Ordering a cup of coffee or espresso at a specialty coffee shop rather than a chain offers a multitude of benefits and a unique experience that caters to those who appreciate the art and science of coffee.

Quality and Freshness

Specialty coffee shops prioritize quality above all else. They should source their beans from reputable sources, whether it’s a specific coffee farm or importer or whether it’s a favorite roaster or they’re own in-house roaster. This ensures that you get the freshest and highest-quality coffees available. Chains typically focus on price and volume, which can sometimes compromise the quality and flavor of the coffee.

Diverse Coffee Selection

Specialty coffee shops usually offer a diverse range of single-origin beans, each with its own unique flavor profile. This variety allows you to explore different coffee origins, processing methods, and roast levels, providing a more nuanced and enjoyable coffee experience compared to the limited choices at chain stores.

Expert Baristas

Specialty coffee shops are staffed by highly trained and knowledgeable baristas who are passionate about coffee. They can provide recommendations, offer insights into the coffee's origin and flavor notes, and even customize your brew to suit your preferences. Chain stores often have a more standardized approach to coffee preparation, sometimes even serving from an automatic espresso maker which eliminates the skill of the barista. Ordering coffee at a specialty coffee shop offers a more personalized, high-quality, and socially responsible experience compared to chain stores. It's a chance to savor the nuances of coffee, support local businesses, and connect with a passionate coffee community. If you're looking for a truly exceptional coffee experience, consider giving your local specialty coffee shop a try.

Specialty coffee is more than just a caffeine fix; it's an experience of flavors, craftsmanship, and social responsibility. When you step into a specialty coffee shop, you're not just ordering a drink – you're immersing yourself in a world where every detail matters. So, whether you're a coffee connoisseur or a curious newcomer, make your next coffee order at a specialty coffee shop an exploration of quality and taste. Embrace the nuances, support ethical practices, and savor every sip of your specialty coffee.

This blog is part of our series on the Ultimate Guide to Coffee Terminology.

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