What is Speciality Coffee?

According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), speciality coffee is flawless and has a distinctive taste in the cup. It is therefore assumed to taste remarkably good. If almost every company in the coffee business claims to sell high-quality coffee, would they all be speciality coffee? As you can imagine, the answer is no.

Is a speciality coffee the same as a gourmet coffee, a single-origin coffee, or an organic coffee?

The truth is that it may or may not be:

  • In reality, gourmet coffee is nothing more than a coffee that, in commercial activity, a roaster wants to sell as a quality coffee, but nothing guarantees it.
  • An origin coffee is a single-origin coffee and not a blend, but a single-origin does not guarantee quality.
  • And ecological or organic coffee, although it is usually synonymous with quality coffee, in reality, the only thing the term says is that the coffee has been grown in the shade, without pesticides and industrial fertilisers, and picked by hand, which is not enough for us to think that it has many reasons to be a quality coffee.

Despite being a coffee lover, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the terminology used in the coffee world. And if you have read or are interested in coffee, it is more than likely that you too have heard of “speciality coffee” and wondered what is so special about it.

The harvesting process is paramount for this type of coffee, as selecting only those beans that meet the strict quality controls will be important.

These beans are picked by hand, and the coffee growers are responsible for selecting those cherries at the right ripeness point. By picking by hand, coffee cherries that are too green or too ripe, which can impart unpleasant flavours to the coffee, are avoided.

All this culminates once the coffee has been roasted, when the cupping takes place, certifying the coffee as a speciality coffee.

What is speciality coffee?

A speciality coffee is an Arabica coffee with a score of more than 80 out of a maximum of 100 points given to a coffee by a Q Grader or certified cupper.

The SCA (Specialty Coffee Association

Is it an SCA cupper who rates coffee as a speciality coffee?

Not exactly. And here’s the key, understand that a Q Grader cupper is a professional trained to evaluate and certify the quality of coffee

The Q Grader programme has been operating since 2004 and helps provide consistent and verifiable coffee evaluation processes used worldwide.

What is the SCA?

The SCA is a non-profit association involving different coffee professionals that came into being 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 regulates everything related to speciality coffee. But it does not carry out the cupping of this type of coffee, which is in the hands of a Q Grade.

Definition of speciality coffee, or perhaps it would be better to say SCA speciality coffee

The SCA score is based on the absence of defects in green coffee beans. The coffee must meet the following standards:

  • The coffee bean must not have any defects (Category 1): black bean, sour or vinegar bean, dried cherry, fungus, foreign matter and beans with severe brocading.
  • Maximum five defects are allowed (Category 2): split, immature, shrivelled, shrivelled, floating, shelled, parchment, husked or pulped, crystallised, discoloured or mottled, crushed, or spongy coffee beans.
  • The sample for obtaining these defects must be 350 grams.
  • When grading speciality coffee, the light level on the table should be broad spectrum and at least 4000 Kelvin (K)/1200 Lux (lx)/120-foot candles (FC).
  • Grading of speciality coffee must be done on a table of at least 0.6096 m² (2ft2) on a black grading mat of at least the same size.
  • The coffee beans must have a humidity of less than 0.70aw (0.70aw).

Who is or what is a Q Grader?

The title of Q Grader is the highest international recognition for a cupper and allows them to work in many areas of the coffee world. This degree of certification is obtained by passing a CQI (Coffee Quality Institute) course that uses the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) cupping protocol.

The CQI Q Grader programme is designed to give participants a perfect mastery of the specific cupping methodology. There are two types of certification, depending on the species of coffee the professional will master, Q Arabica Grader and Q Robusta Grader. Both licences must be renewed every three years.

The attributes to be considered in cupping are fragrance/aroma, flavour, residual flavour, acidity, body, balance, sweetness and cup uniformity, among others.

What role do the big boys play in the world of speciality coffee?

The Q Arabica Graders are responsible for differentiating speciality coffees, as these always come from the Coffee Arabica species.

To be considered a speciality coffee, a coffee must have a cup quality of more than 80 out of 100 points.

In addition to meeting other characteristics recently detailed in this article. These professionals are key to the speciality coffee industry.

Their assessments help to set the price of speciality coffee, select the appropriate roasting profiles for each bean, provide a fresh point of view in different areas of the coffee chain and improve the relationship of coffee communities with the market, ensuring their recognition and retribution.

Is only speciality coffee quality coffee?

There are many wonderful coffees, and you have nothing to envy about a speciality coffee. The fact is that a classification of coffee as a speciality coffee guarantees that it meets strict coffee quality criteria. It is more a guarantee than any other characteristic.

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