specialty coffee

What is specialty coffee?...

specialty coffee

What does specialty coffee mean?
Is a specialty coffee the same as a gourmet coffee? Is specialty coffee a single origin coffee?
In spite of being a coffee lover, for a long time I did not know the meaning of these terms, be it specialty coffee in English or café de especialidad in Spanish.
Surely you are also wondering what is specialty coffee?
Here we tell you what specialty coffee is and how it differs from commercial or industrial coffee.

The SCA is an association that emerged in 2017. It is the product of the merger of two associations: the SCAE (Specialty Coffee Association of Europe) and the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America). This association is the one that regulates and standards everything related to specialty coffee.

The SCA score is based on the absence of defects in green coffee beans. This is what will make a coffee score over 80 base points.

What is specialty coffee according to the SCA? Primarily the coffee must meet the following standards:

The coffee bean must not have any category 1 defects: black bean, sour or vinegar bean, dried cherry, fungus, foreign matter, and beans with severe brocading.
A maximum of 5 category 2 defects are allowed: split coffee beans, immature, wrinkled, floating, with shells, with parchment, with shell or pulp, crystallized, discolored or mottled, crushed, or spongy.
The sample for obtaining these defects should be 350 grams.
When grading specialty coffee, the light level on the table should be broad spectrum and at least 4000 Kelvin (K)/1200 Lux (lx)/120-foot candles (FC). (Guaooooooo)
Specialty coffee grading must be done on a table of at least 0.6096 m2 (2ft2), on a black grading mat of at least the same size.
Coffee beans must have a humidity of less than 0.70 aw.

Generally, in all specialty coffees, you should be able to observe the following information either on the package or on the label:

Origin: country and region
Producer, farm, cooperative, or farmer.
Bean variety (this variety should be a sub-variety of Arabica coffee).
Milling process
Roast Notes
Roast date


We already know that specialty coffee is any coffee that scores more than 80 on the SCA scale, but... How do farms achieve specialty coffee?
For a coffee to be classified as specialty coffee by a copper or Q-grader requires a lot of work and knowledge on the part of the farmer.

The care of the coffee starts from the moment the seed is chosen. It is important to have traceability to know which substrates to use, and even the size of the bag to avoid deficient development of the plant or root problems.
Additionally, the coffee grower should recreate the most adequate conditions of sun and shade. For this reason, some coffee plants are planted under the shade of other plants or require more irrigation. Likewise, the number of coffee trees that can be planted in an area will depend on the climate, soil conditions, and the variety of coffee trees.

Coffee growers should monitor the nutrition of the soil. This implies the eradication of weeds and being very attentive to preventing and detect diseases and fungi in the plants. They should also take care to rejuvenate their coffee plants every 5 or 6 years since after 7 years of age the coffee plant reduces its production notably.

Additionally, specialty coffee is harvested by hand by picking only the ripe cherries and after drying the beans are re-selected.

Subsequently, it is important to ensure that the humidity percentages are adequate and that the beans are stored correctly. This is to prevent the coffee from fermenting or becoming contaminated with mold or undesirable odors.

As we can see, the care of specialty coffee goes from the farm to the processing and storage.

If the coffee grower can have his coffee cataloged as specialty coffee this will mean a better price for his harvest. The higher the score, the higher the price the farmer can obtain for his coffee harvest.

In addition to this, the farm makes a name for itself and the coffees from that farm or producers become more in demand.

Generally, small farmers sell their beans to Coffee Growers' Cooperatives. However, depending on the score some crops are sold through private auctions. The best known is the ACE Cup of Excellence auction, in which coffees with scores of 87 or higher are auctioned. These coffees have sold for up to US$1,029 per pound in 2022.

P.S we wrote a separate guide about The Best Ways to Brew Coffee at Home

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