Exploring the World of Third Wave Specialty Organic Coffee Beans

Exploring the World of Third Wave Specialty Organic Coffee Beans

Coffee has undergone an incredible evolution, from a simple commodity to a complex, nuanced beverage. The rise of specialty organic coffee beans represents the culmination of this transformation. Specialty organic coffee belongs to the “third wave” - the current era focused on coffee quality and appreciation of subtleties.

This guide will explore what makes specialty organic coffee unique and how to experience the best specialty organic coffee. We’ll cover:

  • The meaning of “specialty” and “third wave” coffee
  • Why organic and sustainably grown beans matter
  • Notable organic coffee origins and flavors
  • How specialty organic coffee is roasted and brewed
  • How to choose top-quality beans and cafes
  • Tips for buying, storing and brewing organic coffee
  • How to develop your palate and coffee knowledge

Understanding specialty organic coffee allows you to savor the complex flavors and support sustainable agriculture fully.

1. Defining Specialty Coffee and the Third Wave

The “first wave” of coffee refers to the ubiquitous, mass-produced coffee that dominated the 20th century. The “second wave” brought espresso drinks and cafe culture led by chains like Starbucks.

The “third wave” is:

  • Focused on quality - highest grade Arabica beans, careful roasting, brewing, and preparation.
  • Champions small, direct trade farms - often single origin beans rather than blends.
  • Prides transparency - details like variety, terroir, and precise brewing recipes shared.
  • Strives for sustainability - environmentally and socially responsible growing and sourcing.

“Specialty coffee” refers to coffees that score 80+ out of 100 on coffee taster certification exams. Only about 15-20% of world coffee production qualifies.

Specialty coffees exhibit distinct flavors related to origin, variety, processing, roasting, and preparation. Aficionados value these beans for their unique tasting profiles.

Specialty coffees command higher prices, but enthusiasts find the elevated cost worth it for the experience.

Within specialty coffee, organic and sustainable beans signify the pinnacle - preserving both high quality and environmental responsibility.

2. Why Specialty Organic Coffee Matters

Organic means grown without synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides per USDA standards. Some key benefits of organic:

  • Health - No chemical residues make it safer for consumers, farmers, and workers.
  • Soil health - Organic methods like compost nourish the soil rather than deplete it.
  • Biodiversity - Organic farms foster more diverse animal and plant life.
  • Sustainability - Organic practices sustain the land for future generations.
  • Flavor - Many feel organic beans produce better tasting coffee.

Additionally, organic coffee is often shade grown. Benefits of shade growing:

  • Mimics natural rainforest habitat with canopy trees sheltering coffee plants.
  • Protects habitat for birds and wildlife that pollinate coffee.
  • Controls temperature and increases humidity for better coffee fruit maturation.
  • Requires less water and fertilizer compared to sun cultivation.

Beyond organic certifications, specialty coffee producers follow sustainable practices like:

  • Fair wages and labor rights for farm workers.
  • Investment in community programs for growers.
  • Reforestation efforts and protection of local ecosystems.
  • Renewable energy, reduced water use, and proper waste disposal at facilities.
  • Direct purchasing from smallholders.

Drinking specialty organic coffee supports both sustainability and superb flavor.

3. Notable Specialty Organic Coffee Origins

Many coveted specialty coffee regions have excellent organic offerings. Here are some standouts:


  • Birthplace of coffee - over 5,000 diverse indigenous varieties.
  • Floral, fruity, spicy flavors like jasmine, orange, bergamot.
  • Organic regions: Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, Limu


  • High grown arabica with rich flavor cultivated by indigenous growers.
  • Strict standards and regulations govern growing.
  • Citrus, chocolate, spice, vanilla notes in the cup.
  • Top regions: Acatenango, Atitlan, Fraijanes Plateau.


  • Unique microclimates yield diverse flavor profiles.
  • Balance of chocolate, fruit, and earth tones.
  • Organic regions: San Ignacio, San Martin, Cajamarca.


  • Known for full body, low acidity, intense flavor.
  • Earthy, herbal aromas, flavors like cedar, spice, tobacco.
  • Organic offerings from regions like Lintong and Gayo.


  • Revered for sweet, balanced Blue Mountain coffee.
  • Refined, mild profile with cocoa, nutmeg, orange notes.
  • Organic beans from districts of Mavis Bank and Silver Hill Gap.


  • The original home of coffee beans centuries ago.
  • Bright citrus acidity, chocolatey sweetness when grown at high elevations.
  • Organic beans from Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz.

This list provides just a sampling - organic specialty beans hail from every major producing country. Part of the allure is trying organic coffees from unique terroirs worldwide.

4. How Specialty Organic Beans Are Grown

The meticulous methods used to cultivate organic coffee are key to quality:

  • Varietals - Heirloom varietals like Typica, Bourbon favored for better cup quality over high yield.
  • Shade - Grown under canopy of trees at proper altitude and temperature.
  • Weeding - Manual removal of weeds rather than herbicide spraying.
  • Pruning - Selective pruning of branches for ideal fruiting and plant shape.
  • Fertilizing - Compost, manure, worm castings, and natural minerals used.
  • Pest control - Preventative methods and natural repellents rather than pesticides.
  • Harvesting - Pick only perfectly ripe cherries by hand. Floating to separate underripe beans.
  • Processing - Natural/dry or washed processing, with careful monitoring to avoid defects.
  • Drying - Use drying tables and patios to control moisture reduction.
  • Milling - Removal of dry outer shell layer before export. Avoids contamination.

This holistic approach coaxes out the best attributes of the coffee without taking shortcuts. The result is evident in the purity of flavor.

5. Roasting Specialty Organic Coffee Beans

To maintain quality from farm to cup, specialty organic beans are roasted with care:

  • Origin focused - Roasts customized to highlight unique traits of bean origin and processing.
  • Light roast - Specialty beans often roasted light to preserve delicate flavors.
  • Small batches - Roasted in small batches to maximize freshness.
  • Artisan roasters - Attention to bringing out optimal development of flavors.
  • Temperature control - Tight control over heating to perfectly reach roast stage.
  • Sampling during roast - Frequent sampling to guide decisions on roast degree.
  • Record keeping - Detailed data logging profiles each roast batch.
  • Trained senses - Roaster's auditory, visual, olfactory senses inform roast tweaking.
  • Resting - Freshly roasted beans rested to stabilize flavors before brewing.

Specialty coffee roasters are craftspeople dedicated to their art. Their skill transforms green organic beans into perfection.

6. Brewing Methods for Organic Coffee

Brewing specialty organic coffee requires equal proficiency to highlight sublime flavors:

  • Pour over - Slow draining through filter to optimize extraction. Devices like V60 or Chemex.
  • French press - Steeping grounds completely immersed in water. Plunger separates grounds.
  • AeroPress - Rapid pressure extraction that produces concentrated coffee.
  • Cold brew - Steeping at cool temperatures for smooth flavor.
  • Espresso - Using high pressure extraction to produce thick, concentrated espresso.
  • Automatic brewer - Can make great coffee with proper equipment and technique.

No matter the brew method, keys to optimizing organic coffee include:

  • Freshly grinding whole beans just before brewing.
  • Carefully monitoring dose, grind size, water temperature and chemistry.
  • Controlling flow rates and total brew time.
  • Starting with clean equipment.
  • Adjusting variables methodically to balance sweetness, acidity, and body.

With proper equipment and technique, exceptional organic coffee can be brewed.

7. How to Identify and Choose Top Quality Beans

Seeking out truly specialty-grade organic coffee means looking for:

  • Direct trade - Purchased directly from farm level through long term partnerships.
  • Single origin - From a specific farm or cooperative, not a blended origin.
  • Recent crop - Roasted within a few weeks of harvest at origin for freshness.
  • Roast date - Clearly labeled with roast date, not just best by date.
  • Organic certified - Bearing legitimate USDA or similar organic certification logo.
  • Higher elevation - Grown at altitude over 3500 ft. for better fruit maturation.
  • Bean grade - Number 1 or 2 organic grade with few defects and proper screen size.
  • Tasting notes - Detailed flavor notes like berry, lemon, chocolate provide insight.
  • Transparency - Producer name, origin, varietal, process, elevation and harvest data.
  • Ethical practices - Company commitment to sustainability and fair pay.

Finding beans that check all these boxes brings you a step closer to wonderfully flavorful organic coffee.

What Makes a Specialty Organic Coffee Shop Stand Out

Seeking out coffee shops as meticulous about the beans as you are is crucial. Signs of an exemplary specialty organic cafe:

  • Extensive organic coffee selection - single origins rather than just blends.
  • Detail on brewing methods - pour over, French press, etc. rather than just batch brew.
  • Coffee flavors and origins detailed on menu boards or packaging.
  • Roast date clearly printed on retail bags - ideally within a month.
  • Passionate baristas eager to discuss coffee and make recommendations.
  • Cafe ambiance focuses on the ritual of quality coffee service.
  • Grinders, water filtration systems, brewing equipment exceed commercial grade.
  • Food menu incorporates organic ingredients in recognition of sustainability.

The mark of a truly special cafe is when the quality of coffee takes priority over everything else. This singular focus delivers an unmatched experience in the cup.

Buying and Storing Tips for Peak Freshness

To enjoy specialty organic coffee at its best, proper handling is key:

  • Buy roasted beans in small quantities to use within 1 month.
  • Choose whole bean over pre-ground to preserve freshness.
  • Store in airtight opaque containers away from light, air, and moisture.
  • Let beans degas for 24-48 hours after roasting before brewing.
  • Invest in a quality burr grinder to grind beans just before brewing.
  • Freeze portioned beans in airtight packaging to halt staling.
  • Thaw frozen beans completely before opening package.
  • Prioritize freshly roasted beans directly from a roaster.

With care, those volatile aromatic compounds that make organic coffee sublime remain intact.

8. Developing Your Palate and Coffee Knowledge

Appreciating specialty organic coffee's nuance requires tuning your senses:

  • Cupping - Systematically tasting and comparing coffees side-by-side.
  • Flavour wheel - Coffee aromas/flavors reference tool for developing vocabulary.
  • Tasting notes - Writing down perceived flavors and aromas during tasting.
  • Classes - Formal cupping/tasting classes through coffee organizations.
  • Variables - Single variable experiments - brewing same bean different ways.
  • Origins - Trying organic coffees from diverse origins and processing methods.
  • Descriptors - Using specific descriptors like citrus, cocoa, etc. not vague terms.
  • Sharing - Discussing aromas and flavors with other enthusiasts.

Broaden your horizons by exploring new beans, recording flavor experiences, and conversing with passionate coffee lovers.

Specialty Organic Coffee Offers Something Different

The label "specialty organic" represents the pinnacle of coffee's transformation from mere beverage to a nuanced sensory experience. By caring deeply about quality, sustainability, and craftsmanship, specialty organic coffee producers and cafes allow you to savor coffees boasting unique flavor profiles. Drinking specialty organic coffee connects you more closely to the natural origins of a delightful cup.

In summary:

  • Specialty coffee means the highest quality beans graded 80+ out of 100.
  • The "third wave" focuses on quality, farms, transparency, sustainability in coffee.
  • Organic beans are grown without synthetic chemicals or fertilizers.
  • Organic coffee often exhibits better flavor and supports ecological farming.
  • Notable specialty organic regions include Ethiopia, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico.
  • Beans are grown using careful, traditional methods to optimize flavor.
  • Roasters use expertise to highlight organic beans' qualities.
  • Brewing right brings out the best attributes of organic beans.
  • Choosing beans with certifications, transparency, and tasting notes helps.
  • Look for passion around quality coffee at cafes.
  • Store and handle beans carefully after purchase.
  • Develop your palate by cupping, recording flavor notes, and experimenting.
  • Specialty organic coffees provide a unique, nuanced sensory experience.

Understanding what makes specialty organic coffee special allows you to better appreciate the complex flavors and support sustainable coffee farming.

Our mission is straightforward: to bring you the best of specialty coffee while promoting sustainability and fair trade. Join us in this coffee adventure and let's make each cup a celebration of exceptional taste and responsible choices.

In conclusion, Third Wave specialty organic coffee beans offer a taste experience that goes beyond the ordinary. At VietSpecialtyCoffee.com, we invite you to explore the world of flavors, sustainability, and ethics. Your coffee journey awaits, and together, let's make it extraordinary, one cup at a time. Here's to the Third Wave revolution!

Viet Specialty Coffee
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Viet Specialty Coffee

We grew up around coffee, for over two generations. You could say we’re steeped in it! Gia Lai province, our home, is one of the most important coffee growing regions in Vietnam and making Gia Lai a little more famous would be a great joy. The best way we can do that is to consistently produce the best specialty coffee in Vietnam. And maybe, who knows, the world!