What is considered specialty coffee?

Specialty coffee refers to high-quality coffee that is carefully produced, processed, and brewed to highlight the unique characteristics of the coffee beans. The specialty coffee industry emphasizes factors such as origin, growing conditions, processing methods, and the skill of those involved in the coffee supply chain. Here are some key characteristics that define specialty coffee:

  1. High-Quality Beans:

    • Specialty coffee is made from high-quality Arabica beans, which are known for their superior flavor profile compared to Robusta beans.
  2. Traceability and Origin:

    • Specialty coffee often provides detailed information about the coffee's origin, including the specific region, altitude, and farm where the beans were grown. Traceability allows consumers to connect with the story behind the coffee.
  3. Selective Harvesting:

    • Specialty coffee involves selective harvesting, where only ripe coffee cherries are picked. This ensures that the beans are at their peak flavor maturity.
  4. Attention to Growing Conditions:

    • Specialty coffee is cultivated under optimal growing conditions, including the right altitude, climate, and soil quality. These factors contribute to the unique flavor characteristics of the coffee.
  5. Processing Methods:

    • Specialty coffee may undergo specific processing methods, such as washed, natural, or honey processing. The choice of processing method can influence the flavor profile of the coffee.
  6. Roasting Expertise:

    • Roasters of specialty coffee often have a high level of expertise in the roasting process. They carefully roast the beans to bring out the best flavors while avoiding defects.
  7. Freshness:

    • Specialty coffee is typically roasted and consumed relatively soon after roasting to preserve its freshness and flavor. Coffee enthusiasts often prioritize freshly roasted beans for the best taste experience.
  8. Flavor Complexity:

    • Specialty coffee is known for its complex and nuanced flavor profile. Coffee tasting notes may describe a range of flavors, aromas, and acidity levels that contribute to a unique sensory experience.
  9. Direct Trade and Relationships:

    • Specialty coffee often involves direct relationships between coffee producers, roasters, and consumers. Direct trade practices prioritize fair compensation for farmers and create a more transparent and sustainable supply chain.
  10. Brewing Techniques:

    • Specialty coffee is often brewed using methods that highlight its unique flavors. This may include manual brewing methods such as pour-over, French press, or espresso.

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has established strict criteria and standards for what qualifies as specialty coffee. Coffees that score 80 points or above on a 100-point scale in a cupping evaluation are typically considered specialty-grade. The emphasis on quality, transparency, and sustainability distinguishes specialty coffee from more commercially produced and mass-market coffees.