In this block every week I am answering 3 of the most popular questions about specialty coffee.
What is specialty coffee?
Specialty Coffee – strictly speaking is a traceable coffee that during the special procedure of taste and quality evaluation (cupping) done in a certain way (SCA protocol, Q protocol), by a trained taster (Q grader) is assigned a score between 80 and 100 points.
Calling coffee “specialty” means that you know where it comes from, and how it was treated, it has no more than a certain amount of defects (no more than 5 full defects in 300 grams green coffee) and the quality of this coffee is evaluated at 80 points and higher.
I like to use the definition of Specialty Coffee done by Ben Kaminsky. “Extracted coffee of any concentration, where by virtue of it’s flavor alone, one could derive some sense of that coffee’s high quality of picking, country of origin, variety, terroir, and/or processing”.
Specialty Coffee is different from Quality Coffee, Gourmet Coffee, which have hardly any rules of grading. So when gourmet coffee is a marketing trick, specialty coffee is a very specific category inside the category of high quality coffee.
What makes specialty coffee special?
The short answer is: everything. Specialty coffee is special and different from the commercial coffee because it is showcasing the unique impact of all the steps involved in making a tasty cup of coffee. Starting from the variety of the coffee (inside the arabica category there are countless coffee cultivars, like pacamara, catuai, caturra, bourbon, all having different taste characteristics), followed by the country of origin, terroir and climat conditions unique for that zone when it was produced. Then comes the way coffee cherries were treated, or processing type, which also adds up to the flavour and modulates it (including cherry fermentation).
In other words, specialty coffee is special because it is always unique. You’ll never drink exactly the same cup of coffee.
Is Starbucks a specialty coffee?
No it is not. Starbucks is not working with specialty coffee. It is commercial coffee.