Jason Haeger is a coffee professional working to bring quality coffee to Lubbock, Texas. A transplant from AZ, he is in a unique position to draw a comparison between the similarities of the growing coffee scene between TX and AZ. He contributed this article: By now, most of us have had ample exposure to what is known as Specialty Coffee to understand that it is quite different than the standard generic store-bought variety one would find on the shelves of your local supermarket. Maybe it’s the atmosphere. Maybe it’s the cost. Maybe it’s the culture. Whatever the reason, America has been bitten by the Specialty Coffee bug, and we’re consuming it, literally, by the ton. If you’re a shop owner, you have probably established a fairly consistent stream of loyal customers who come in on a daily or maybe weekly basis to buy their favorite beverage that is prepared best by you and your staff, and things are pretty good. You’re happy, your customers are happy, and your future in coffee looks promising. If you’re a customer, you’ve probably picked out your favorite shop, and at that shop, probably even your favorite employee who makes your favorite drink good enough to be consumed in exchange for your hard-earned money. You’re happy and they’re happy. The planets are in alignment, and everything is as it should be. In the words of my grandmother quoting a common phrase in the south, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” ….wait… What’s wrong with this picture? What would like be like if Henry Ford had followed this wisdom when he started building cars? What would modern music sound like if Les Paul had decided that his sub-par (by modern standards) too-quiet acoustic guitar that was made by “who knows who?” was good enough? Specialty Coffee is, well, special… Right? There is a reason for going out for coffee rather than making coffee at home and it goes beyond having the equipment, or the fact that they can foam milk. There’s a distinct difference in quality. At least, there should be. Specialty Coffee isn’t a random term that was spread about by word-of-mouth. Specialty Coffee is actually a rating on a scale that exists in the green coffee market. I won’t go into what is required for specialty coffee to be considered specialty coffee, but it should be noted that it actually IS of higher quality than brands such as Folger’s or Maxwell House. This puts Specialty Coffee retailers among the ranks of gourmet culinary retailers. Does a chef serve prime cuts of meat ground up, fired up on a range, and on hamburger buns for a prime profit margin? Of course not. He respects his craft far too much to allow such a wonderful item of food to not be recognized as what it is: something special. Why, then, do so many Specialty Coffee retailers ignore the attention that should be given to present their product as something special? It takes more than the raw product to create a gourmet meal. It also takes more than high grade green coffee to create an exceptional café experience. It seems that all too often, I’ll walk into a cafe, order an espresso, and watch in horror as the (supposed) barista picks up the portafilter from the countertop, doses pre-ground coffee from the grinder’s doser, skips ensuring proper distribution of the grounds, barely (if at all) tamps the coffee, and then proceeds to lock the portafilter in the group head and pull a double in about 10-15 seconds. The resulting brew is sour, weak, and under-extracted. All-in-all, it does not taste like what the roaster intended his blend to taste like. The intended taste is generally very complex, sweet, and smooth with an aftertaste that lingers long after the cup is empty. If the source of the blend is a good roaster, he has spent hours, days, even weeks or months developing this blend of only the finest coffees at very precise roast levels to achieve a very specific combination of flavors that can only be experienced when the whole bean coffee is expertly handled. THIS is what brings Specialty Coffee retailers above the ranks of the average home consumer. A truly great cup of coffee should be inspirational. It should bring a sense of “wow!” to the taste buds. It should make someone who has never had Specialty Coffee before say, “Amazing! I never knew coffee could taste like THIS!” Fellow coffee lovers, it is not fitting to allow the top 2% (That’s right, two percent!) of the world’s production of coffee to be selected, roasted, and (possibly) blended with such great care and then treated almost as a commodity to be taken for granted, and then drowned in milk, coated with sugar, and topped with whipped cream to mask the bitter flavor. This is not to say that the Mocha has no place in the industry. This is to say that the milk and chocolate should ENHANCE the beautifully complex flavor of the espresso rather than cover it up. After all, we are serving the world’s finest coffees to those for whom we wish only the best: our customers. If you are a consumer in the industry, seek out great espresso and coffee. Support your local shops who are striving to increase the quality of their product in any way they can, even if they don’t have it right just yet. The bar has been raised, and it will continue to rise farther. Once you’ve had a great cup of coffee, it is very difficult to go back to what you had before. To those working in the industry, customers can tell when great care was put into the production of their drink. Even when they have had better, they can tell when the barista is giving their all and pouring their soul into the coffee, forever trying to improve. They pay a premium price for what we have to offer. We owe them a premium product in return. Jason Haeger is a coffee professional working to bring quality coffee to Lubbock, Texas. A transplant from AZ, he is in a unique position to draw a comparison between the similarities of the growing coffee scene between TX and AZ.