What defines specialty coffee?

crop to cup specialty

According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), the term “specialty coffee” refers to the highest-quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavour potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed to established unique flavour profiles. Specialty coffee in the green bean state is coffee that has no defects and has a distinctive character in the cup, with a score of 80 or above when graded according to SCAA Quality standards.

Despite this specific definition, the term specialty has been used within the coffee industry for a long time and often too easily. Almost every cup of coffee is now sold as a ‘specialty’ coffee, however, do they have the right grounds to be using the term?

Masters produce consistent coffee

To live up to the SCAA definition, a specialty coffee roaster must purchase coffee that scores a grading of 80+. They must roast that coffee to the right profile in order to enhance the individual characteristics of the bean resulting in a specialty coffee product. To truly call it specialty, the roaster must then craft unique blends, combining beans in the exact proportions to ensure the individual characteristics of each origin to create a full flavour and perfect balance. The test of a true ‘master roaster’ is the ability to reproduce this unique flavour profile consistently, despite seasonal variations in green bean crops. 

It doesn’t stop there; roasters must also ensure that their café customers receive the coffee at the right time for optimum extraction. Fresh coffee is alive and baristas are a vital part of producing the flavour profile that was intended by the roaster, so they need to be specially trained and have the right equipment. Despite this, currently many operators in the marketplace are fixated on viewing specialty coffee as just the product, rather than it representing a whole system. Facilitating this system is what makes a true specialty coffee company.

A boutique roaster is not necessarily a specialty roaster

There is a myth that boutique roasteries = specialty roasteries. But does calling oneself boutique automatically mean they are a specialty coffee company? We understand why this would be accepted without critically evaluating the facts. As in most minds, the words boutique is usually associated with artisan. But, how can all boutique operations truly manage each stage of the specialty coffee system to consistently craft products that are immediately distinctive as seasonal variations occur? The prevalence of coffee companies offering single origins, rather than blends, means that cafes will be serving a coffee until the season changes and they then have no choice but to purchase a different single origin that will likely have a different flavour. The coffee drinking public wants a distinctive coffee flavour, but above all, they want consistency.

It's not just a bag of beans 

Aside from the product, can boutique roasters offer tailored services that will help the cafe grow their bottom line? Do they have the expertise and the resources to evolve and respond as the coffee industry changes? In other words, are they selling just a ‘bag of beans’? So, next time you hear a coffee company espousing they are specialty, simply check that they:

  • Source ONLY green beans scoring 80+
  • Source all of their coffee direct from the farmer, rather than buying what’s available from a broker.
  • Craft coffee blends with distinctive and unique profiles.
  • Freshly roast and deliver their coffee.
  • Conduct master classes, provide education and support on all things coffee, not just on how to make coffee but everything in between.
  • Provide specialized business, HR and legal advice.

Di Bella Coffee provides all this and more, which is what we call ‘crop to cup’. Big, small, boutique, specialty or whatever the ‘label’ that is being used, specialty coffee means controlling all elements of the system that is required to provide unique and distinctive products and services that can be tailored to the individual needs of the customer. Now that’s special!

DiBella Coffee
DiBella Coffee