WHAT IS

SPECIALTY COFFEE

The term ‘Specialty coffee’ or ‘Speciality coffee’ is used to refer to coffee that is graded 80 points or above on a 100 point scale by a certified coffee taster (SCAA) or by a licensed Q Grader(CQI).

Specialty coffees are coffees at their peak and are different to other coffee because specialty coffee has been grown at the perfect altitude, at the correct time of year, in the best soil, and then picked at just the right time. All this translates into some of the most exciting and tasty coffee in the world.

See our specialty coffee grading sheet below

Specialty Coffee - Q Grade Score Sheet

 ScoreGrade Specialty Yes/No
90-100OutstandingSpecialty Coffee
85-89.99ExcellentSpecialty Coffee
80-84.99Very GoodSpecialty Coffee
>80.0Below Specialty QualityNot Specialty Coffee

SUMMARY

Speciality coffee is defined as any coffee that scores above 80 points on a 100 point scale.

Typically, speciality coffee is grown at high altitudes, with much care and attention from the farmer. From there, it is sold at a premium to coffee traders, or direct to roasters.

The roasters then create custom profiles for each coffee, enhancing and highlighting their natural flavours.

Baristas then use the carefully grown and roasted coffee to produce quality beverages, often with high precision and specialised equipment.

HISTORY

Speciality coffee has existed for a long time, in one form or another. We tend to think of speciality coffee as being a new trend, yet even as far back as the early 1900s, discerning customers like the Hotel du Crillon in Paris specified that their coffee was to be bought from select micro-lots on specific farms in certain regions of Guatemala. The term “specialty coffee” was first used in the 1970s in the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, just a few years after the opening of the first Starbucks store. Thanks to stores like Starbucks and Peet’s, coffee went from a modern convenience to a drinking experience. Since then, improvements in agricultural, roasting and brewing technology, and an increased demand for high-quality coffee have put speciality coffee in the hands of coffee lovers across the globe.

COFFEE GRADING

Green coffee is graded via visual inspection and cupping. Visual inspection involves taking a 350g sample of green coffee beans and counting defective beans. Defects can be Primary (e.g. black beans, sour beans) or Secondary (e.g. broken beans). For a coffee to qualify as “speciality”, it must have zero Primary defects and less than five Secondary defects.
Cupping involves roasting the coffee and brewing simply with hot water, and relies on the skill of the taster to assign scores to each of the coffee’s attributes, such the acidity, body, flavour and aroma.

GROWING REGIONS

Most commercial coffee growing countries also produce a small amount of speciality coffee, with some exceptions. Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Colombia are synonymous with speciality coffee; however, many lesser known countries are pushing to produce some of the best coffee in the world. For example, in recent years Panama has made a name for itself through highly educated farmers, a focus on increased biodiversity and a series of diverse microclimates, thanks to its small size and the effects of two surrounding oceans.

GROWTH OF SPECIALTY COFFEE

In the USA, speciality coffee is spreading nationwide, as speciality companies like Stumptown and Blue Bottle become as well-known as their more commercial counterparts. Daily consumption of speciality coffee in America has risen from 9% in 1999 to 34% in 2014.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a recent report by Allegra predicts that the speciality coffee market is set for a 13% year on year growth, higher than the 10% predicted for the coffee market as a whole. The result of speciality coffees increasing popularity is mirrored in high street chains, as Starbucks and Costa continue to introduce limited edition single origin coffees in stark contrast to their super-dark roasts or high robusta-content blends. Allegra’s report also predicted a doubling of the current 1,400 speciality coffee shops by 2020, and a year on year growth rate of 17% for the UK roasted speciality coffee market.