What Is Specialty Coffee

You hear me talk about specialty coffee a lot, but what does it really mean?  There are two answers to that question; there is a technical and a philosophical answer.

The technical answer as quoted from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) is:

“To be considered specialty grade, green coffee shall have zero category one (1) defects and five or less category two (2) defects.”

Their green coffee standards are well documented.

The philosophical answer is that specialty coffee is the responsibility of everyone involved in the chain of custody of a coffee and that includes the consumer. Specialty coffee is about quality and sustainability, which include traceability to its origin, the cultivar or varietal that produced the coffee, how the coffee farm is maintained, the means of processing the coffee fruit, ensuring the producers/farmers get a fair shake, and so-on.  Specialty coffee includes roasters who work diligently to ensure their coffee purchases support quality and sustainability efforts at origin and it includes cafes that work in harmony with the roaster’s efforts.

See also: Coffee Prices: The Big Fix

It also involves a conscientious, informed consumer who chooses specialty coffee to support the entire chain and its goals of quality and sustainability and to preserve the concept that quality should be sought and encouraged, as that’s the only way to improve sustainability throughout the chain of custody and especially at the source.

My goal here is to help inform and educate the consumer on what it means to be a part of that chain of custody.  It would be easy to simply sell specialty coffee at a premium but my passion for coffee is fueled by the opportunity to share with others what I learn so that they too can enjoy it as much as I do and can help improve the entire chain of custody.

Michael C. Wright

Michael is a licensed Q Grader, licensed Q Processor Pro, an Authorized SCA Trainer (AST), and most recently, a graduate with a degree in horticulture and a concentration in horticultural business management. He has over ten years experience in the coffee industry operating on both the supply and demand sides of the value chain.