Caffeine Wisdom: What is "Specialty Coffee"?

Specialty coffee is a term for the highest grade of coffee available, typically relating to the entire supply chain, using single origin or single estate coffee. The term was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen in an issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Knutsen used specialty coffee to describe beans of the best flavor which are produced in special micro-climates.

The widely accepted definition of specialty coffee is coffee scoring 80 points or above on the 100-point Coffee Review scale. Coffee scoring from 90–100 is graded Outstanding, coffee that scores 85–89.99 is graded Excellent, while coffee scoring 80–84.99 is graded Very Good.

The Specialty Coffee Association has a series of more detailed specifications (SCA) is the union of the Specialty Coffee Association of American (SCAA) and Europe (SCAE). The SCA sets standards for specialty coffee at every stage of the coffee production, including allowable defects in green beans, water standards, and brew strength. The SCA also sets clear standards on the coffee grading process. A minimum requirement for a specialty coffee is the number of defects: to be considered specialty a coffee must have 0 to 5 defects every 350g (12 ounces) of milled beans.

Although there are different definitions of specialty coffee according to different international organisation, there's a general acceptance of a set of three minimum requirements: coffee should have been hand picked by selective picking of mature beans, scoring 80 or above, maximum 5 defects per 350g (12 ounces).