The term ‘Specialty coffee’ or ‘Speciality coffee’ is used to refer to coffee that is graded 80 points or above on a 100 point scale by a certified coffee taster (SCAA) or by a licensed Q Grader(CQI).
Specialty coffees are a class above your ‘regular’ coffee, undergoing extreme quality checks throughout all stages of the coffee production process from seed to cup.
What Makes a Coffee, ‘Specialty’?
For a coffee to be deemed ‘specialty’, it must reflect quality at every step of the coffee production process. Coffee grown at the perfect temperature, at the perfect altitude, at the correct time of year, in the best soil and then picked at the optimum time. Speciality coffee will also be reflected in how the coffee is sourced, processed, roasted and extracted.
According to SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) definitions, specialty coffee “refers to the highest quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavour potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed to well-established SCAA developed standards.”
The beans are graded on a 100-point scale and must score more than 80 to achieve certification as a specialty coffee.
Below is an example of how coffee is graded on the speciality scale:
• A score between 90 and 100 is deemed an ‘outstanding’ specialty coffee grade.
• A score between 85 and 89.99 is deemed an ‘excellent’ specialty coffee grade.
• A score between 80 and 84.99 is deemed a ‘very good’ specialty coffee grade.
• Any score below 80 isn’t recognised as ‘speciality’ and therefore doesn’t receive grading
The Specialty Coffee Process
The Coffee Farmer
Specialty coffee begins its journey with the producers/farmers themselves, who have oftentimes been mastering their harvest for generations. Over the years, each respective farmer will have refined their craft, allowing them to cultivate and harvest the highest quality coffee possible.
Specialty coffees will be grown in select locations around the world, where the correct altitude, climate and soil requirements are met. These variables shape the taste, aroma and experience of a coffee, imprinting a unique geographical signature.
Specialist coffee growers will devote their lives to producing the very best coffee bean, focusing on quality over quantity.
Green Coffee Buying
The coffee is then distributed to a ‘green coffee buyer’, who will oftentimes be licensed to grade specialty coffee. They will inspect the coffee for it’s quality and taste and score it according to SCA specifications.
The green coffee buyer’s role doesn’t stop at the tasting and scoring of coffee, however. The green coffee buyer will often contribute tasting notes to be shared on coffee packaging, as well as provide detailed information to both roasters and coffee selling establishments about their chosen coffee.
Specialty coffees are next transferred to the coffee roaster, who also may hold a certification granted by the SCA for experience in skillfully roasting specialty coffee beans.
Coffee roasters are extremely skilled in their art. They carefully apply their knowledge of heat-transfer and thermodynamics to create a unique roast profile, extracting the highest standard of flavour from the coffee bean.
After the three initial stages are completed and the coffee beans have passed all levels of quality control, the coffee is then sent to be served by a Barista. The barista, who may also be certified by the SCA, will be the last ‘guarantor’ for the quality of the coffee, ensuring the consumer experiences the coffee as intended.
It is this reason that makes the role of the barista so vital in the specialty coffee lifecycle. The final product quality is reliant on the Barista’s ability to adequately brew the coffee and extract the beans full flavour.
You as the consumer are the final stage in the specialty coffee process. By taking the time to discover independent coffee establishments that pride themselves on their specialty coffee offering, you're actively contributing towards the demand that drives the industry, improving the lives of coffee farmers around the world and demonstrating a commitment to high-quality, ethically sourced coffee.