What does Specialty Coffee mean?

What does Specialty Coffee mean

For those in the industry, Specialty Coffee is a familiar term, but for those outside the industry it may be a new and unclear definition.

From a technical point of view, Specialty Coffee means an Arabica variety of coffee that’s clean, fresh and without primary defects. However, as is often the case, behind a detail, there is a story to be told.

What is the origin of the term Specialty coffee

The first person to use this term was Erna Knutsen, then known in the industry as the patron of Specialty Coffee. She began in the 1970s working as a secretary in a company that traded coffee, developed a passion for the product and became an expert, although she remained excluded from the cupping rooms, because she was a woman.

In 1985, she managed to start her own company and, well before the Internet era, she designed a newsletter, which she sent by mail and fax, defining the techniques and procedures for professional coffee tasting. She herself first used the term Specialty Coffee during an interview, referring to “beans with unique organoleptic characteristics from particular microclimates.”

How to make a Specialty coffee

First and foremost, a Specialty Coffee is identified. In fact, the main characteristics that make this type of coffee more valuable than others are embedded in the plant, the soil where it grows and the fruit. Given the rarity of the products, it is then natural to treat them with special care both during the harvesting and processing, according to very precise techniques.

An 80-point coffee

The main institution one refers to when it comes to Specialty Coffee is the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), which defines the international standards for coffee evaluation with a focus on the appearance of the beans and the properties of the coffee when tasting by cupping.

During this professional tasting, scores are assigned and coffee that meets these characteristics is considered Specialty:

  • scored at least 80 out of 100
  • has zero primary defects
  • has a maximum of 5 secondary defects

You can taste the difference

If you don’t work in the coffee industry it may all sound very technical, but anyone, if well guided, can appreciate the facets of good, carefully selected and processed coffee.

In particular, the world of Specialty Coffees is enriching the coffee tradition with new possibilities, expanding the range of tastes, choices, and experiences one can have. Thanks to these products, a new generation of baristas is increasingly interested in the first part of the supply chain: studying where the beans come from, roasting techniques, and testing new processes to offer customers not only good coffee, but also a complete narrative and experience.