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What is Specialty Coffee?

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

The term "Specialty Coffee" was first introduced by Erna Knutsen in 1974 during an international coffee conference in France. In her speech, she referred to specialty coffee being from a specific region with its micro-climate which produces a unique flavor profile; similar to appellations in the wine industry. From this concept of quality and distinctiveness, Specialty Coffee evolved.

Even though it has been nearly 50 years since the term Specialty Coffee was introduced, Specialty Coffee is still evolving and very much dynamic. This leads to uncertain definitions of Specialty Coffee floating around.

Both the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) has clearly defined Specialty Coffee definition for evaluating green coffee. In order for green coffee to be defined as Specialty Coffee, it must score at least 80 points on a 100 point scale by a qualified SCA Certified Coffee Taster or a CQI Licensed Q-Grader. The definition of Specialty Coffee extends further down the coffee chain, as each person has the challenging task of maintaining the Specialty Coffee qualities from the green coffee to roasting to the final brewed cup of coffee.

Whether we are defining Specialty Coffee at the farm or in the cafe, it is clear that quality is essential in the definition of Specialty Coffee. In order to define quality, it is in turn essential to have standards. Without standards there is no way to measure quality. SCA has developed standards for the coffee industry established by knowledgeable subject-matter experts. "It is a quantifiable and qualifiable measure, based upon scientific testing, which set values and/or ranges of values for coffee."*. SCA's standards currently include water, green coffee, cupping coffee, and brewing.

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