If you’re a coffee drinker, you’ve most like come across the term „specialty coffee”.
Maybe coffee shop near you is reffered to as „specialty” – but what the heck does it mean?
The term specialty coffee was coined by industry pioneer Erna Knutsen in 1974. Damn, there was even The Specialty Coffee Association of America, established in 1982 with forty-two members, many of who sold what was then often colloquially called „gourmet” coffes direct to customers.
1. What makes coffee “special” ?
In more concrete terms, specialty coffee is any coffee that has achieved a score of 80 or higher out of 100 on a standardized score sheet by a panel of expert coffee tasters known as Q Graders.
And here’s what’s interesting – only around 10% of all coffee produced reaches specialty grade!
And now, after you know all that, you may ask yourself – “ok, but how exactly is coffee scored?”
2. Specialty Grading
To determine a coffee’s score, it must undergo an expert tasting know as cupping. But even before it can make it to that stage, the coffee must be assesed in its green, unroasted form.
It may sound weird, but that’s the truth – graders will first examine a green coffee, looking for a variety of defects, evaluating its color and odor before ultimately deeming it Specialty Grade or Below Specialty Grade.
Here comes another question – which coffees can be Specialty?
3. Arabica is still the Queen
Any coffee, regardless of species, can be a specialty coffee so long as it achieves the 80 point threshold. In practice, coffees from the Arabica species comprise the vast, vast majority of specialty coffees.
Arabica makes up about 70% of total coffee production globally and is generally considered to have a sweeter, cleaner flavor than its Robusta counterpart, though Arabica is more difficult and labor-intensive to grow.
Included within the species are varieties like Typica, Bourbon, Gesha, and about 100 others. In recent years there has been a more concerted effort to create high-quality Robusta—the second-most popular coffee species, one usually prized for its resilience and high production—and the creation of specialty Robusta is becoming more and more common, though still relatively rare.