Of Pride & Partnership: Specialty Coffee

My name is Anne Valdez, and I am the VP of Coffee and Master Roaster for Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen. I started my career in coffee 28 years ago with Barnie’s as a sales clerk. Flash forward many years, and still, every day only increases my passion for coffee!

When I first started, Barnie’s was a young coffee company. The coffee shop was a new emerging industry in the US. Coffee shops, espressos and cappuccinos were beginning to change the way Americans would enjoy their coffee. Since those early days, Barnie’s has led the evolution toward appreciation of specialty coffee.

In the early days, specialty coffee was considered to be Arabica. An espresso was a 2oz beverage brewed with no consideration of the time it took to pull the shot, and the coffee for the espresso was always a blend dark roasted to almost being charred and pre-ground into a dispenser. Milk, steamed for cappuccino, was steamed to a scalding point. The cappuccino had a thick cap of white foam. Lattes did not yet exist. Specialty coffee buyers rarely visited coffee farms. Coffee cupping was done to make sure there were no faults in the coffee and it was mostly the brokers that cupped the coffee, not the roasters. Therefore, the level of quality we see today was not yet a reality.   It is amazing to see how coffee has improved since those early days.

Today, specialty buyers, like myself, visit farms and cup the coffees with the producers. There is a sense of pride and partnership with the farms of origin. Farmers are more concerned and educated about the quality of the coffee. Specialty coffee is defined as earning a cupping score of 80 or above; it is not just about Arabica coffee and the growing region.

Specialty coffee is about a partnership of intense science and calculation with the coffee farms. We focus on many factors:

  • Farm
  • Location of the farm
  • Plant varietal
  • Growing and harvesting practices
  • After-harvesting processes
  • Shipping practices
  • Environmental, social and community aspects of the farm

Once the roaster pinpoints the ideal coffee, then the art of roasting comes to life.

Roasting is no longer just about achieving a roast color. It is about roasting to a profile that best brings out the characteristics of the coffee. Organizations such as the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) research every aspect of coffee-from seedling to final cup-to improve and understand what goes into getting the ultimate best cup of coffee.

And then there is an art to actually making the cup of coffee.

Espresso today can be made from blends or single origin coffees, roasted at different levels with the amount of coffee extracted calculated based on the amount of ground coffee used. Coffee is ground directly into the portafilter (like the drip coffee machine’s “brew basket” - which is where the ground coffee is placed) at the time of preparing the espresso. The timing is a critical element of the extraction process. Milk is micro-foamed to maximize the sweetness of the milk. The micro-foam milk allows the barista to design beautiful artwork on the cappuccino or latte.

So now, the barista position is an earned position that requires sophistication, training and skill. So much so, that a competitive, almost sports-like, championship has been created. Top baristas from around the world compete for the title of World Barista Championship, which is taking place right now in Rimini, Italy. I’ll be watching to see who wins!

If the barista is an artist, the result is a perfectly balanced, naturally sweet beverage that does not require the addition of any sweeteners or flavor enhancements.

With all these improvements in the coffee industry it is no wonder why my passion for coffee keeps growing.   I always enjoy finding a new coffee and seeing improvements in the resulting cup.

I look forward to sharing some of my coffee experiences and advice on coffee through this blog. My next post will be about my recent trip to Guatemala as a judge for the Cup of Excellence, the world's preeminent coffee competition. 

Anne Valdez Barista Coffee Cup of Excellence Cupping

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  • Hi Anne Great insight and passion! Can’t wait to see what’s next for you and Barnie’s.

    Kathryn Petty on
  • What an amazing perspective. I love the title of your post and it is amazing to see that coffee has come so far — from Folger’s crystals to a very specialized and expertly developed products. I grew up with Folder’s but I like your coffee much better! I love your micro-roasts. I had bought some recently from Brazil and from El Salvadore that I really enjoy. Thanks for bringing your perspective to Barnie’s. Looking forward to stories from your Guatemala trip.

    Keith Loughlin on

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