What is Speciality Coffee?

If you’re a little curious and a coffee-lover, you will have heard the term “speciality coffee” on more than one occasion. However, not everyone knows exactly what speciality coffee is, what this definition refers to and how it differs – if at all – from the coffee we normally drink at home or in coffee shops.

Speciality coffee is nothing more than a denomination or semantic distinction used to highlight a particular coffee over the rest. If you want to know everything about speciality coffee, even at the risk of never enjoying your daily coffees as much as you did before, be sure to read our article to the end.

What do we mean by speciality coffee? Basic definition

To know what speciality coffee is, we must first go to the basics, which many coffee fans and consumers are unaware of. All coffees have a score from 0 to 100 on an official SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) cupping scale, which is awarded by a professional, authorised cupper.

In other words: there is an official and certified process that determines unequivocally what a coffee’s score is. Didn’t you know that?

The definition of a speciality coffee is simply any Arabica bean coffee that scores more than 80 points on the official cupping scale. As you can imagine, this is a scale that tries to define excellence in the world of coffee.

It is a different matter what a coffee needs to be a speciality coffee and score more than those precious 80 points… and here many factors come into play, such as origin, type of plantation, roasting, humidity, storage, number of defective beans in the sample, etcetera.

Speciality coffee vs commercial coffee

Of course, at this point, you may be wondering if it is possible to find speciality coffee easily and how to find out where they sell it to enjoy it on your own.

As you can imagine, speciality coffee has very high-quality standards. Neither the coffee you drink in the bar nor the coffee you can find in your supermarket will be speciality coffee. It is different if you have any specialised coffee shops, roasters, importers, etc., in your area.

Commercial coffee is often referred to as, let’s say, normal coffee instead of speciality coffee. That is coffee that has scored less than 80 points. Of course, within the label of commercial coffee, you will find very good and very bad coffees, as in everything else. But always, in theory, one step below those speciality coffees that have achieved more than 80 points on the SCA scale.

The difference between speciality coffee and gourmet or premium coffee, another term that is not very well defined but quite fashionable nowadays, is also very blurred. Gourmet coffee could be defined as the highest or highest quality range of commercial coffees. But again, the borderline between all these terms is nowhere exactly defined.

Many good coffees are not speciality coffees; we must be clear about that. But the only way to ensure and certify the standard of excellent quality is to get those 80+ points and boast of being a speciality coffee.

How to make speciality coffee

Achieving the speciality coffee designation (or, translated, sufficient points on the SCA cupping scale) is the result of a very complex procedure, in which dozens of factors intervene and several agents are involved, from the producer and selector to the roaster, and logically including the barista, who is the one who finally prepares it and who has the responsibility of transmitting all the – supposedly – goodness of this excellent coffee to the cup.

Speciality coffee normally follows an artisan process very carefully and with greater care and closeness than commercial coffee, which is mass-produced more industrial.

It does not respond to canons or pre-established guidelines, nor is there a specific way of preparing it. However, it is usually prepared speciality coffee with an espresso machine on most occasions. However, manual methods, such as the classic Hario V60, are also highly appreciated by experts:

Types of speciality coffee

100% speciality coffee does not have properly defined classes: either it is a speciality coffee or not. But if you want to buy it to prepare it at home, you generally have two options:

  • Speciality coffee beans: this is the most common option because it is how the organoleptic qualities of the product are best preserved (which, moreover, in the case of speciality coffee, are presumed to be exceptional) and because expert coffee lovers who buy this type of coffee usually appreciate the fact that they have a coffee grinder at home.
  • Ground speciality coffee: It is much less common to find ground speciality coffee, but if you are dealing with local roasters or speciality coffee shops that produce their coffee, you can always ask them to grind it for you before you take it home.
Boconó Specialty Coffee Beans Brazil 1 Kg 100% Arabica Natural Process Red Bourbon Variety...
Boconó Specialty Coffee Beans Brazil 1 Kg 100% Arabica Natural Process Red Bourbon Variety...
Coffee beans from Brazil - Espiritu Santo Del Phinal; Arabica - Red Bourbon - 1300 m Altitude

How do you know if coffee is a speciality coffee?

Unfortunately or fortunately – depending on how you look at it – there is no other way to check if a speciality coffee is authentic than by checking its score on the cupping scale or by asking the expert or the shop assistant who is going to sell it to you.

Similarly, a speciality coffee shop is supposed to be one where you can find speciality coffee (apart from commercial coffee, depending on what you order), but this does not mean that all self-styled speciality coffee shops have excellent coffees or that their workers are equally trained. It’s assumed, of course, but you can’t know until you try it.

If you don’t have access to certification, you will have to take the trader’s word for it. However, you can always visually inspect the beans, check that the roasting doesn’t leave too dark a colour, check whether the roasts used for espresso and filter coffee are really different, and so on.

Can I buy speciality coffee?

Yes, if you are lucky enough to have a speciality coffee shop in your city, you can go there to taste their coffees, but it is very likely that they also sell it in vacuum packs prepared on the spot. It’s all a matter of going there to look for it or asking the workers of the establishments themselves. In many cases, they import selected coffees from different origins, roast them and prepare them themselves.

Nowadays, this is almost the only sure way to buy speciality coffee. Of course, forget about finding it in a normal shop or department store. You can find gourmet coffees and high-quality commercial coffees on these sites, but not real speciality coffees.

Finding speciality coffee on Amazon is not easy, as we have already told you. Sometimes there is stock, usually from a particular brand or manufacturer, but it’s not the most common. Here are some interesting options below, but we advise you to check for yourself by searching for “speciality coffee” on Amazon in your local shop.

Is there such a thing as speciality coffee in capsules?

No, and it is sensible to think that there never will be. The philosophy of 100% speciality coffee and the preservation of its purity is not compatible with the pre-packaging and long exposure that capsule coffee has from the time it is packaged in the pod until it finally reaches the cup.

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