Ah, the age-old question: what is artisanal coffee? Is it just coffee made by hipsters wearing beanies and flannel shirts, or is there more to it than that? In this post, I’ll try to get to the bottom of this hotly contested issue and find out what really makes coffee artisanal.
Some believe it's all about the traditional methods, while others see the artistry in the science and skill of modern brewing techniques. Then some believe that artisanal coffee is more about the quality of the beans and the roasting process.
In this post, I’ll try to cover what is the true meaning of artisan coffee and what modern coffee lovers mean when they use the term artisanal coffee.
What Does Wikipedia Have To Say About It?
Does the Term ‘Artisan’ Hold Any Significance in Today’s Coffee World?”
I have written a post about artisanal food, where I briefly explained the characteristics of artisanal food.
For instance, sourdough bread has been made using the same traditional methods for thousands of years, which makes it a truly artisanal product. However, the term “artisan” in the coffee industry often carries a different connotation than it does in the food industry.
Whatever your opinions of what constitutes good coffee, let’s look at artisanal coffee through the lens of true artisanal brewing techniques.
I'll try to be brief! You can otherwise jump ahead!
The Origins Of Coffee
The origins of coffee can be traced back to the 13th century. Back then, coffee was traditionally brewed by steeping the grounds in hot water, which could take several hours to half a day.
A beverage as black as ink, is useful against numerous illnesses, particularly those of the stomach. Its consumers take it in the morning, quite frankly, in a porcelain cup that is passed around and from which each one drinks a cupful. It is composed of water, and the fruit from a bush called bunnu.
— Léonard Rauwolf, Reise in die Morgenländer (in German)none.
By The 16th Century
By the 16th century, the beverage had spread to Egypt, Turkey, and Persia. Turkey is credited with inventing the Ibrik brewing method, which is still in use today.
The ibrik method is one of the oldest coffee brewing methods in the world .
It involves combining finely ground coffee beans with water, and sometimes sugar, and bringing the mixture to a frothy, foaming stage just before boiling. It combines finely ground coffee beans with water (and often sugar) and brings the liquid to a frothy foaming stage, just below boiling.
In the 17th century
Coffee made its grand debut in Europe thanks to some adventurous travelers who brought it back from the Arabian Peninsula. And believe it or not, the first coffee filter made its debut in the 17th century and was a humble sock – because who needs fancy equipment when you have socks, right? This practice continues to be popular n several places around the world, including Columbia and Thailand, to name a few.
The French Press coffee maker has been around for quite a while too. Two French inventors (Mayer and Delforge) patented in 1852 a forerunner of the French press. The modern French Press we know and love today was patented by a Swiss-Italian man named Faliero Bondanini.
By the 19th century,
Another coffee brewing invention was on the rise – the coffee percolator. Hanson Goodrich, an Illinois man, is credited with the modern U.S. percolator, which he patented in 1889. Before this, coffee pots utilized the decoction process of mixing grinds with boiling water to produce coffee, a method that remained popular for many years and is still in use today.
If we are to apply the word artisan to coffee, which artisanal technique are we referring to?
When it comes to artisanal coffee, should we go old-school and grind our beans using ancient pestles and mortars or embrace modern techniques? Let’s consider how specialty coffee fits into the debate and see if that can shed any light.
What’s The Difference Between Artisan Coffee and Speciality Coffee? Is There One?
There are two different types of coffee in the world: “commodity coffee” and “specialty coffee”.
While these coffees appear to produce the same end product, they are vastly different in taste and in how they are sourced and harvested.
-One thing that distinguishes specialty coffee is its high cupping score.
This score grades the coffee on 10 attributes, including aroma, flavor, body, balance, and acidity. Specialty coffee has a cupping score of 80 or more.
–Specialty coffee production begins further back in the supply chain than regular coffee like Maxwell House, and most artisan roasters follow their beans from the very beginning.
The foundation of specialty coffee lies in finding the best coffee beans, which means seeking only the highest quality specialty coffee.
–These beans are like the luxury sports cars of the coffee world, meticulously cultivated with utmost care and attention to bring out their unique flavors.
-Typically handpicked from the coffee plant, only the ripest coffee cherries are chosen at precisely the right time, resulting in an overall higher quality coffee.
-Once picked, the fresh beans are processed and dried to uncover the coveted coffee bean inside.
With specialty coffee, every step of the process is critical, from the type of beans used to the harvesting practices and drying methods.
–Roasting techniques and the choice of grind also play a crucial role in the final product. For these reasons, artisan coffee producers create small-scale, high-quality coffee. These high standards mean they often sell small batches at a higher price than commodity coffees.
The best time to enjoy freshly roasted coffee beans is — you guessed it — straight out of the roaster! That's another factor that separates specialty coffee from a regular dark roast coffee blend on the supermarket shelf.
–Another critical aspect of specialty coffee is the altitude at which the coffee grows.
This is essential in how the overall coffee beans, and their individual flavor profiles, develop. It is usually considered that the higher the altitude where the coffee is grown, the more developed the taste and the more distinct the flavor. There is really a lot that goes into the making of the best coffees.
For further reading on this topic, or if you too have a dream of one day opening your own coffee shop, then I recommend this book! It’s written by a friend of a friend who lives in my hometown, Dublin, and this is probably one of the most inspiring and entertaining books you’ll ever read on coffee! I bought it when he first released it, shipping it from Dublin, and I’m delighted that you can now get it on Amazon! Well done, Colin!
Specialty coffee differs enormously from artisanal coffee.. that’s if we look at it from the traditional sense of the word...
Is it possible to find a middle ground in using the term “artisanal coffee”?
Yes, there can be a middle ground regarding the use of the term “artisanal coffee.”
It may be time to expand the definition of artisanal to include the specialized and creative techniques used in modern coffee brewing. After all, coffee-making is an art form, and the barista is the artist!
However, the term can sometimes be used loosely or for marketing purposes, and there may be variations in the level of skill and care taken in producing the coffee. Additionally, some coffee enthusiasts may have different criteria for what constitutes “artisanal” coffee.
Therefore, it’s important as a consumer to look beyond the label and consider the specific practices and processes involved in the production of the coffee when evaluating its quality and authenticity.
This may involve researching the company, its roasting process, how they source its beans, and other factors that can impact the flavor and quality of the final product. Not to mention, ensure that they do in fact, use sustainable farm practices or are working for fair trade.
Though we don’t want to be ignorant of coffee’s rich history and culture and ignore the other coffee art forms that have been developed and refined over the years in countries such as Ethiopia, Japan, Colombia, Thailand, and Vietnam, each of these unique brewing methods offers a different experience and taste. Each deserves to be appreciated and celebrated in its own right.
But as coffee culture continues to evolve and new techniques emerge, the definition of artisanal coffee may also need to shift to include a marriage of science and ancient traditions.
Regardless of the ongoing debate about what constitutes artisanal coffee brewing, what truly makes a difference is the enthusiasm and commitment of the barista, regardless of the brewing method used. The art of coffee brewing lies in the expertise and care that goes into each cup, whether made with a traditional ibrik or a modern drip machine. At the end of the day, what really counts is a dedication to the craft of coffee-making, ethical sourcing, and the delivery of high-quality products.
This is a true story about an encounter that I had while I sat writing this post!
Hi, I’m Holly!
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