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Specialty Coffee

Specialty Coffee
2016-06-11 Rafael Linnankoski

Specialty Coffee

Specialty coffee is grown in special and ideal environments and they are distinguishable from other coffees due to their rich flavour. In specialty coffees there are no defects and bad beans have been taken out of the lot.

Specialty coffee means coffee that has been graded above 80 points on a scale of 0-100. The scale has been developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) with the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE).1

Professional coffee tasters can value a certain coffee to a certain grade with a +- 1 point difference. In practice the specialty coffee grading scale is the biggest factor affecting the price of high quality raw/green coffee. The most expensive and best coffees from micro roasteries are rarely graded over 90 points. On the other hand, so called bulk coffees don’t even get near the 80 point limit for specialty coffee.

Specialty Coffee Beans

Specialty coffee, as a term can be misleading

Term specialty coffee doesn’t officially have anything to do with how the coffee drink has been prepared or whether it contains milk foam or not. Nevertheless, it is often used to refer to different kinds of coffee drinks such as espresso, cappuccino and latte.

In Finland specialty coffees are roasted mainly by artisan roasters. They roast approximately only 1-2 % of all coffee in Finland. For comparison, in the US the consumption of specialty coffees is already dozens of percents, though it is not directly comparable with the Finnish numbers.2 

The grading of specialty coffee

The definition and grading has been created by SCAA and SCAE. In the grading the coffees are evaluated from many different perspectives in a standardised method. After grading, the coffees can be divided into four quality categories.3

  • 90-100 points: outstanding
  • 85-89.99 points: excellent
  • 80-84.99 points: very good
  • below 80 points: below specialty quality

How do specialty coffees differ from other coffees?

So far only coffees of the Arabica variety can achieve points of specialty coffee. The high bar for quality sets criteria also for how coffee is grown. High quality Arabica varieties need very demanding care so that the flavours of the coffee berry would develop to maximal deliciousness. Specialty coffees usually grow between 1500-2000 meters above sea level — sometimes even higher. It is also important that the coffee is grown in the shade of so called shading trees and not in constant direct sunlight.

In practice, due to the high growing altitude and shielding vegetation, it is virtually impossible to grow specialty coffees industrially. The coffees are always picked by hand. An interesting tidbit is also the fact that the biggest producer of coffee after Brazil is Vietnam. However, they produce virtually no specialty coffees.4

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