Unraveling the Specialty Coffee Mystique: Your Guide to Coffee’s Crème de la Crème

Hey there, fellow coffee lovers! If you’re a regular on this blog, you know that I’m all about diving deep into the world of coffee. Today, we’re taking a journey into the realm of “specialty” coffees. What makes a coffee “specialty”? How does it differ from your regular brew? Let’s demystify it together.

What is ‘Specialty’ Coffee?

The term “specialty coffee” was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen, one of the pioneers of high-quality coffee. It refers to the highest quality coffee beans that have been carefully grown, harvested, processed, and brewed.

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has established certain guidelines that a coffee must meet in order to be classified as “specialty”. These guidelines cover the entire journey of a coffee – from the farm to your cup.

The Journey of Specialty Coffee

1. Farming and Harvesting

Specialty coffee begins at the farm. It’s typically grown in the world’s “coffee belt” – regions around the equator with ideal growing conditions. The beans are carefully cultivated using sustainable and ethical farming practices.

Harvesting is often done by hand to ensure that only ripe cherries are picked. This meticulous process contributes to the superior quality of the beans.

2. Processing

Once harvested, the coffee cherries are processed to remove the bean inside. This can be done through the wet (washed), dry (natural) or honey process. Each method imparts different characteristics to the beans. The processing method must be carefully chosen and executed to prevent any defects that could affect the quality of the beans.

3. Grading and Evaluation

To be classified as “specialty”, coffee beans must be officially graded and scored by a certified coffee taster or licensed quality grader. They use a rigorous scoring system developed by the SCA.

Beans are scored based on various parameters such as taste, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance and more. To qualify as specialty coffee, beans must score 80 or higher on a 100-point scale.

4. Roasting

Specialty coffees should be roasted in a way that brings out their unique flavors and characteristics. This requires a deep understanding of the roasting process and how it can be adjusted based on the origin, variety and processing method of the beans.

5. Brewing

Finally, brewing specialty coffee requires skill and precision. Everything from grind size, water temperature, brew time, and brewing method can affect the final cup.

Why Choose Specialty Coffee?

In a world of coffee options, specialty coffee stands out as a remarkable choice for discerning coffee lovers. With its meticulous cultivation, precise roasting techniques, and unparalleled flavors, specialty coffee offers an elevated coffee experience that goes beyond the ordinary. Here are compelling reasons why choosing specialty coffee is a choice worth making.

Unforgettable flavors:

Specialty coffee tantalizes the palate with a wide range of flavors and aromas. Grown in specific regions with optimal conditions, specialty coffee beans undergo rigorous quality control to ensure exceptional flavor profiles. From fruity and floral to chocolatey and nutty, each cup of specialty coffee offers a unique and memorable taste journey.

Traceability and transparency:

One of the defining characteristics of specialty coffee is its emphasis on traceability and transparency. Specialty coffee producers prioritize ethical sourcing practices, ensuring that the entire supply chain is accountable and sustainable. From farm to cup, every step is meticulously documented, allowing consumers to trace the origin of their coffee and support a more transparent and fair industry.

Direct relationship with farmers:

Specialty coffee fosters a direct relationship between coffee farmers and consumers. By sourcing directly from farmers or through reputable specialty coffee roasters, consumers have the opportunity to support small producers and understand the impact of their purchase. This direct connection promotes sustainability, fair trade and empowerment within coffee-growing communities.

Craftsmanship and attention to detail:

Specialty coffee is a product of true craftsmanship. From the careful selection of beans to the precise roasting techniques, specialty coffee roasters take pride in their artistry. Each batch is meticulously monitored to ensure optimal flavor development and consistency. This dedication to quality and attention to detail elevates specialty coffee to a level of excellence that surpasses mass-produced alternatives.

Exploration and education:

Choosing specialty coffee opens the door to a world of exploration and education. With an abundance of single-origin beans, unique processing methods and brewing techniques, specialty coffee offers a wealth of knowledge and discovery. It encourages coffee lovers to expand their palates, appreciate the nuances of different coffee beans, and embark on a never-ending journey of learning and appreciation.

Embrace the Specialty Coffee Experience

Stepping into the world of specialty coffee can seem intimidating, but it’s an exploration worth embarking on. It’s not just about tasting coffee; it’s about appreciating the journey of the beans, understanding their origins, and recognizing the hard work that goes into each cup.

So the next time you’re shopping for coffee, look for those magic words – “specialty coffee. It just might change your coffee experience.

Until next time, stay caffeinated, coffee lovers!


What are the guidelines for ‘specialty’ coffees?

“Specialty coffees are held to strict standards to ensure their exceptional quality and distinctive characteristics. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has established guidelines that govern the classification of coffees as specialty. These guidelines cover various aspects of coffee production, including growing, processing and cupping evaluation. Here are two important guidelines for specialty coffees:

  • Quality Grading: Specialty coffees are rated based on their cupping scores, which evaluate attributes such as aroma, flavor, acidity, body and aftertaste. Coffees that score 80 points or higher on a 100-point scale are considered specialty grade. This rigorous grading system ensures that specialty coffees have outstanding flavor profiles and meet stringent quality standards.
  • Traceability and Transparency: Specialty coffees prioritize traceability and transparency throughout the supply chain. This means that the origin, processing methods and farming practices of the coffee are documented and made available to consumers. Traceability promotes accountability, allowing coffee lovers to make informed choices and support sustainable and ethical practices in the coffee industry.

What qualifies as specialty coffee?

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).

What are SCA standards?

Strong Customer Authentication (SCA) is a new European regulatory requirement to reduce fraud and make online and contactless offline payments more secure. To accept payments and meet SCA requirements, you need to build additional authentication into your checkout flow.

What is the difference between commercial and specialty coffee?

Commercial coffee is usually roasted and packed in large plants, under nationally advertised brand names. Specialty coffee is usually roasted in small stores or factories, using traditional methods and technology, and is often sold where it has been roasted.

What makes specialty coffee special?

The SCAA defines specialty coffee in its green stage as coffee that is free of primary defects, has no quakers, is properly sized and dried, presents in the cup free of faults and taints and has distinctive attributes. In practical terms this means that the coffee must be able to pass aspect grading and cupping tests.

Is Starbucks considered specialty coffee?

Since 1971, Starbucks Coffee Company has been committed to ethically sourcing and roasting the highest quality arabica coffee in the world. Today, with nearly 16,000 stores and more than 170,000 partners (employees) in 44 countries, Starbucks is the premiere roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world.

What percentage of coffee is specialty grade?


Specialty coffees represent 37% of US coffee cups and are considered the highest quality in the world. The retail value of the U.S. coffee market is estimated at $30-32 billion dollars, with specialty comprising approximately a 37% volume share but nearly 50% value share.

What is the gold standard for coffee?

According to the SCA, to achieve Golden Cup Standard: Coffee shall exhibit a brew strength, measured in Total Dissolved Solids, of 11.5 to 13.5 grams per liter, corresponding to 1.15 to 1.35 “percent” on the SCA Brewing Control Chart, resulting from a solubles extraction yield of 18 to 22 percent.”

How is quality of coffee measured?

In this method, which is used at all stages of production, the taster or “cupper” first evaluates the overall visual quality of the beans (grading the beans for defects, size, moisture, aroma, and color), then roasts a sample in a laboratory roaster, grinds the roasted beans, and evaluates the roasted coffee fragrance.