December 31, 2020

What is Specialty Coffee?

by Charlie

Specialty coffee.  A term that appears more and more often, is much abused and yet is not uniformly defined. Below what we understand by it and how we live it.

What is Specialty Coffee?
Specialty Coffee is coffee of the highest quality. An international calculation system defines how the evaluation of raw coffee or green coffee takes place.

What most people can agree on is that the raw product, raw coffee or green coffee is evaluated by trained Q-Arabica graders. Q-Arabica graders undergo a sensory-practical examination which is approved by the Coffee Quality Institute. The SCA offers similar training. In Switzerland, there are currently only two certified companies that administer the exams and offer the courses. The coffees are rated on a scale of 0-100. Everything above 80 points corresponds to the quality of Specialty Coffee. But only if three Q-Arabica graders have an average score above 80 points.

Here, coffees of 90-100 are considered exceptional, 85-89.99 excellent and 80-84.99 very good. It is evaluated by tasting or so called cupping or degustation.

But specialty coffee goes far beyond a score. Behind the coffee are people who play a large part in the entire coffee value chain to create an outstanding product.

Coffee Value Chain

Coffee Farmer

All goodness starts with a seed! A coffee tree needs about 4 years until it is productive. In our opinion, the coffee farmer contributes the most to the quality. Climate, altitude, bean variety, tree care, fermentation method and much more… The highest quality is crucial.

Green Coffee Buyer

Green Coffee Buyer must be either SCA Certified Coffee Tasters or licensed Q Arabica Graders. During the training they develop the necessary skills to evaluate green coffee. In these tastings or cuppings, they define the score of the coffee.

Roaster

Coffee roasting is not an art, but a craft that requires a lot of experience and with the appropriate training gives a roaster the necessary skills to roast green coffee perfectly.

Barista

The barista is at the end of the Coffee Value Chain, so not quite, but helps to ensure that the coffee is perfectly extracted. With the various brewing methods available to the baristi, they can get the best out of the bean. And provide feedback on quality accordingly.

Consumer

You are the last step in the Coffee Value Chain. When you move to a specialty coffee shop to drink your coffee or buy coffee for home, you make specialty coffee possible in the first place. Without you, there would be no specialty coffee. In return, you are rewarded with flavor bombs and no two coffees are the same. Because diversity is the spice of life!

Finally, specialty coffee is not a protected term and there are different definitions floating around. Many suppliers call themselves Specialty Coffee, but in reality, they have little to do with it. We live this culture and are part of it. We also contribute to the Coffee Value Chain in several places. Read David’s post on our first Direct Trade Coffee.

Here you can find the official definition of the Specialty Coffee Association.

An English proverb explains the whole issue very well:
“There is more to Specialty Coffee than meets the Eye.”