What Defines Specialty Coffee?

Updated February 19, 2024

What Defines Specialty Coffee?

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What is the origin of the term specialty coffee?

After a global surge of sudden awareness surrounding specialty coffee around 2017, we would like to delve into a crucial topic: what exactly is specialty coffee?

According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s website, the term “specialty coffee” was initially coined by Erna Knutsen of Knutsen Coffee Ltd. during a speech at an international coffee conference in Montreuil, France. The concept she introduced was fairly straightforward: beans grown in specific geographic microclimates possess unique flavor profiles.

The fundamental definition of specialty coffee

The fundamental definition of specialty coffee was also rooted in the notion that specialty coffee beans would always be freshly roasted and meticulously brewed. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has devised a rating system to evaluate the flavor quality of each coffee type.

This evaluation is conducted through a process known as “cupping,” and each coffee is assigned a quality rating on a 100-point scale. By standardizing the cupping procedure, the SCAA aims to safeguard the integrity and significance of the specialty coffee label.

What is terroir in specialty coffee?

Specialty coffee retailers should strive to acknowledge the distinctiveness and specialty of each origin, as well as embrace the concept of terroir. Terroir, a term popularized by the wine industry, is defined by Tanzer, Stephen in his work “What is Terroir” as “the combination of all environmental factors that influence a crop’s phenotype, including unique environmental contexts, farming practices, and a crop’s specific growth habitat.”

Specialty coffee possesses its own terroir derived from the earth, which imparts distinctive characteristics to each microlot. Collectively, these factors exert a profound impact on the coffee and bestow upon it an authentic profile.

How far can the term Specialty Coffee stretch?

  1. Origin: Specialty coffee often originates from specific regions or microclimates known for producing high-quality beans. These regions may have unique soil conditions, elevation, and climate that contribute to the distinct flavors and characteristics of the coffee.

  2. Bean Quality: Specialty coffee is made from premium Arabica beans, which are known for their superior taste compared to Robusta beans. These beans undergo careful selection, ensuring that only the highest quality beans are used. Generally scoring over 83 points SCA.

  3. Flavor Complexity: Specialty coffee exhibits a diverse range of flavors, often showcasing notes of fruit, chocolate, floral undertones, or other distinctive taste characteristics. The coffee is carefully roasted to highlight these flavors without introducing undesirable bitterness or burnt flavors.

  4. Freshness: Specialty coffee is freshly roasted to order or in small batches to maintain optimal flavor and aroma. It is typically recommended to consume the coffee within a few weeks of the roast date to experience its full potential.

  5. Brewing Excellence: Specialty coffee places emphasis on the brewing process to extract the best flavors. Baristas and coffee enthusiasts employ various brewing methods such as pour-over, espresso, or French press to bring out the unique qualities of the coffee beans.

  6. Sustainable Practices: Specialty coffee often involves ethical and sustainable practices throughout the supply chain. This includes fair trade relationships with farmers, environmentally friendly cultivation methods, and efforts to support the well-being of coffee-growing communities.

These factors collectively contribute to the designation of coffee as specialty. The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and other organizations provide guidelines and standards to maintain the integrity of specialty coffee, ensuring that it continues to represent the pinnacle of coffee quality and craftsmanship.

Here at Those Coffee People we strive to offer our customers an extraordinary coffee buying experience through our grouping systems that differentiate the types of specialty Colombian coffee.

Premium Single Estate or Communities

Premium Washed coffee offers an exceptional terroir experience from our single estate and small community producers. Additionally, a specialty profile is beginning to emerge from the distinct processes and procedures implemented at these farms. In Colombia, all the coffee is hand-picked due to the rugged terrain, making it impossible for machines to operate. In Group 2, you can expect an even more elevated experience as the farms adhere to strict protocols, only selecting the ripest beans. This meticulous approach results in unique profiles and attributes in the cup.

Naturals, Honeys, and Extended Fermentation Specialty Coffee

Specially Processed Coffees represent high-scoring coffees with unique processing methods, such as extended fermentation, natural, and honey processes.

In Colombia, washed coffee comprises the majority of coffee production because the government guarantees the purchase of all coffee produced by every farmer, as long as it undergoes the traditional washed process. Consequently, using alternative processes in Colombia poses a higher risk for producers, as the government will not buy the coffee if a private buyer cannot be found. 

Those Coffee People have discovered and supply some of the country’s best-produced unique process coffee beans. This group showcases flavors like mango, pineapple, grape, tamarind, cognac, and more, resulting in a truly distinctive experience.

Exotic Varieties that Have Stood the Test of Time

Exotic Varieties constitute our highest-scoring group on average, featuring coffees from traditional or exotic varieties.

To protect harvests against drought and diseases, the Colombian government introduced and heavily promoted new, resistant varieties of coffee. Unfortunately, these beans lacked the vibrant flavors found in traditional varieties such as Typica, Bourbon, Caturra, and Tabi. With our exotic varieties, we exclusively include these traditional, full-flavored varieties, as well as exotics like Caturra ChirosoGeisha King Arthur, and Wush Wush Las Nubes.

In Conclusion

Specialty coffee is a term used to describe high-quality coffee beans with unique flavor profiles and exceptional characteristics. These beans are meticulously sourced from specific regions and microclimates, resulting in a premium coffee experience. Specialty coffee undergoes careful selection, ensuring only the finest Arabica beans are used. The beans are freshly roasted to order, preserving their optimal flavor and aroma. Brewing methods are meticulously employed to extract the full range of flavors. With a focus on sustainability and ethical practices, specialty coffee supports farmers and communities. Indulging in specialty coffee provides a distinctive and elevated coffee experience that coffee enthusiasts seek. Explore the world of specialty coffee for an unparalleled taste sensation.

Editor’s note: This post was originally posted on May 2019 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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