If you are a coffee lover you have surely heard the term specialty coffee thrown around, but what does it mean? In this blog we will examine the technical industry definition and the commonly understood factors that make a coffee Specialty grade.
Specialty coffee as defined by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) is a coffee that scores 80 or above on a scale of 0 to 100.
So what does that mean? When coffees are roasted, they are cupped and scored using the approved metrics by tasters. These metrics include fragrance or aroma, flavor, aftertaste, acidity, sweetness, body, and balance. After cupping or tasting the coffee if it scores over 80 it is considered specialty grade.
In addition to the SCAA classification there are several other factors necessary for a coffee to be considered specialty grade. They are…
Specialty coffee is composed of 100% Arabica beans. Arabica is widely seen as superior in taste to the cheaper and bitter Robusta beans. It is grown at higher elevations and is known to be more flavorful and appealing.
Specialty coffees are almost always hand picked. This method ensures that cherries at the peak of ripeness are selected. Machine harvested large commercial farms run machines through fields stripping the shrubs of both ripe and unripe cherries and lump them all together.
Minimal Defects and Size
When coffee is picked and processed it gets graded at origin based on defects and the consistency in size. Specialty grade coffees are allowed no more than 5 defects per 100 beans sampled. These defects can include diseased beans, unripened beans, broken beans, discolored beans and insect infested beans. The beans are then run through different size screens that separate them by size. Every single origin coffee has an ideal size as determined by the graders. Only the perfect size beans are graded as specialty coffee.
Specialty Coffees must have some unique feature. From elevation, soil conditions, annual weather patterns, to a host of other factors, something must differentiate the coffee from the run of the mill grocery coffees.
This simple outline will hopefully give you a better understanding as to what the term specialty coffee means and why it is so revered and sought after. These rigorous criteria also explain why less than 5% of the total coffee grown in the world every year is considered specialty grade.