This Hat Talks: Specialty Coffee at Good as Gold
On a bad day, coffee might’ve been the thing to cheer you up and make your day. The much-needed hand warmer on a chilly morning, the perfect size to cup in your palms. The hot, but not scalding, sting as you take your first sip. Whether you like your cuppa with milk, sugar (and indeed neither or both), hot or cold, coffee is one of the world’s most beloved simple pleasures in life. To a lot of us, coffee is almost a given and it’s not something we give a second thought to. We don’t think about how the cup of coffee lands in our hands after we’ve tapped our card at Pret, and how the coffee passes through the hands of many hardworking farmers and baristas who work with a great respect for the product. I interviewed Anthony Khouri, co-owner and barista at speciality coffee shop Good as Gold on how everyone could spare a second thought for their daily coffee.
Leah: What’s a simple definition of ‘speciality coffee’?
Anthony: Technically speaking, it’s coffee that has gone through a rigorous testing regime before it gets sent off to roasters, where they’re tested again. They’re normally scored out of a 100. It depends on who you ask, but there’s a specific number and above that is classed as speciality. Anything below that number is classed as commodity coffee. It’s around the mid-80s out of a 100. For example, a 90 grade coffee would be the top end of speciality and maybe 83 or 85 would be the lower end of speciality.
In real terms for everyday people who don’t know about the numbers - and of course they’re not expected to know - it’s about transparency. So, you want to know when the coffee was harvested and roasted, and what farm it’s come from. Instead of it being ‘Single Origin from Brazil’, it’s the specific farm in a specific region because Brazil is a massive place. If you see just “Brazil” on the bag, that probably indicates that it’s commodity coffee. With speciality coffee, transparency is the key.
Leah: Let’s say you were chatting to someone who drank coffee casually and didn’t have a very deep knowledge of the coffee industry. How would you make the case for speciality coffee to them?
Anthony: Sustainability - and not just for the environment, but also for the workers to sustainably support themselves. Speciality coffee costs more because it should cost more - you’re paying farmers what they should be getting paid. Once you’ve developed a relationship with a farmer, they’ll provide a better quality product because you’re investing into them. It’s a win-win situation. With commodity coffee in, let’s say, a Pret or a McDonalds’, coffee is being sold at such a low price that it devalues the product. And unfortunately, McDonalds is still the UK’s largest seller of coffee.
The person making a coffee for you at the shop, whether it’s McDonalds or Pret and so on, isn’t getting paid what they should be getting paid. Secondly, the farmer hasn’t been paid what they should be getting paid either. If you want to relate it to fashion, fast fashion is a big problem in the fashion industry for pretty much the same reason as commodity coffee is for the coffee industry. So, if you can spend a little bit more money on a quality product, then you know that everywhere down the chain, people are getting paid what they deserve.
Leah: What’s the easiest way to transition to speciality coffee?
Anthony: I would probably start by buying coffee for yourself and experimenting at home, because it comes down to a much cheaper level. You spend around £10 to £12 for the bag of coffee itself, but it lasts much longer and will probably bring the cost down to about 80p per cup.
If you’ve got a little bit more money, I would really recommend just visiting a speciality coffee shop. There are loads now, they’re everywhere, and I’m sure if you talk to any barista, they’d love to talk to you about coffee. Or, there’s other options as well. Maybe not in pandemic times, but once things are over, there’s events called cuppings. Every single roastery will do a cupping at some point, and quite a few coffee shops do cuppings as well. Normally they’re free of charge to attend, and it’s a good way of you experiencing how good coffee should taste. They will explain everything from the bean to the roasting, and you get to taste it as well - a very direct and tactile approach to tasting coffee. Simply put, go to a speciality coffee shop instead of a Pret or Starbucks! When buying bags of coffee, the easiest way to discern if it’s speciality is to look for the name of the farm!
As Anthony says, the choice you make on where to buy your coffee is crucial, since our role as a consumer is intimate to the people holding up the coffee industry. 80% of the world’s coffee is grown by 25 million smallholder farmers, many of whom live in poverty. When farms are hard-pressed to meet the demands of corporations, many labour issues arise. Child labour, extremely low wages, and poor living and housing conditions are among several issues plaguing the industry.
Current trends of climate change have also made farmers’ livelihoods much harder. The most popular species of coffee is the coffea arabica, a shrub that requires specific weather conditions and growing altitudes to thrive. Climate change has caused erratic rainfall and rapid global warming, meaning that farmers have lost significant amounts of suitable farming land, reducing their coffee harvests. It might cost you a little more to make speciality coffee your regular beverage. However, with the way coffee farms are declining in production capacity and forcing farmers to grow other crops, the global coffee supply is slated to drop - forcing prices higher in the long run.
Your cup of coffee is very important. Perhaps the next time you find yourself craving that heady, earthy cuppa, consider popping into your local speciality coffee shop instead of a chain. You get a cup of coffee that’s all-around better for you, the environment, and the people.
Follow co-owners Anthony and Tom on Instagram @goodasgoldldn for great food, great coffee, and even better company.