If you are a coffee drinker, you’ve likely come across the term “specialty coffee.”
Maybe you’ve heard a cafe or coffee roastery referred to as “specialty” or, most likely, a bag of beans deemed “specialty coffee” - but what does that mean, exactly?
There are several definitions which we will explore and shed some light on what it means and why you should care about whats in your cup.
Specialty coffee is any coffee that has achieved a score of 80 or higher out of 100 on a standardized score sheet by a panel of expert coffee tasters known as Q Graders.
It is generally accepted that only around 10% of all coffee produced reaches specialty grade.
To ascertain a coffee’s score, it must undergo an expert tasting, known as 'cupping', but before it can even make it to that stage, the coffee must be assessed in its green, unroasted form. Graders will examine a green coffee, looking for a variety of defects, evaluating its color and odor before tasting.
For the cupping, a panel of Q graders assess flavor and aroma qualities of the coffee using a rigorous set of protocols to ensure all coffees are judged equally.
In assessing them, Q graders score them based on their fragrance/aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, sweetness, uniformity, and cleanness. All the scores are then totaled, and if the coffee achieves an 80 or above, it is considered specialty coffee. Anything below that is generally referred to as commodity coffee.
What it means to us...
Quality isnt an accident, it takes the skill and dedication, investment and hard work of the producer to produce truely excellent coffee.
While an 80 point coffee is technically specialty, its not what comes to mind when you think of a coffee thats special or delicious, and for most coffee companies ticking the 'specialty' box is more important than embracing the spirit of what specialty coffee should be.
Specialty coffee can consistently exist through the dedication of the people who have made it their life's work to continually make quality their highest priority. This is not the work of only one person in the lifecycle of a coffee bean; specialty can only occur when all of those involved in the coffee value chain work in harmony and maintain a keen focus on standards and excellence from start to finish