What is specialty coffee?

14/06/2019 in Education

The term ‘specialty’ is not uniformly defined. It refers to the quality of the coffee and the way it is produced. The SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) has developed a classification system for coffee in which the green (unroasted) coffee beans are visually evaluated. After that, we analyse the roasted coffee sensory wise (smell, flavour) during so-called cuppings. 

When is coffee called 'specialty'?

Specialty coffee is produced with care, which requires a lot of extra effort. For instance, picking by hand (several times per tree) and drying the cherries the right way (full-on sun and rain can be disastrous for coffee).


Specialty coffee is divided into three categories:

  1. 1. Very good (80 to 84.99 points)
  2. The coffee has specific flavour characteristics. It has nice aromas, is nicely balanced and doesn’t have serious defects.


2. Excellent (85 to 89,99 points)

The quality is even better. The taste is more elegant, more complex, sweet and livelier. Our Ethiopia, The Blend, Gusto and our specials fall mostly in this category. The coffees come from producers who know exactly how to handle the product.


3. Outstanding (90 to 100 points)

Less than 1% of all harvested coffee worldwide is qualified as outstanding. In our line-up, Panama Geisha (Christmas coffee) and the Dimtu Washed (our current Ethiopia) scored this high.


Not specialty coffee (commercial coffees below 80 points, so-called commodity  coffee)

The quality of the coffee is average. The coffee tastes less complex, less lively and is partly irregular because of defects. Also the freshness of the coffee can be a reason why a coffee scores lower than 80. The older the coffee, the lower the quality. We only work with coffee that scores higher than 80.

Cupping: the professional rating of coffee

During cupping, the quality and thus the flavour of the coffee is being evaluated. It is important that all the coffee is prepared with the same parameters. Only then you can properly compare them. During cuppings we use 11 grams of coffee with 185 ml of water at 94 degrees.


Just before adding the water, we smell the coffee. This gives a good first impression. After adding the water, we leave the bowl for 4 minutes. The bowl gets a so-called ‘coffee-crust’, that is ‘broken’ by a specific cupping spoon. The aroma is inhaled and evaluated: the more intense, pleasant and complex the coffee smells, the better the rating. Then, the coffee is ‘slurped’ with the spoon for the evaluation of flavour, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance and also personal opinion of the cupper. Cuppers mostly spit the coffee directly in a spit cup and don’t drink it.


Would you like to experience a cupping yourself? We also organise open cuppings, that are available for everyone. Stay in touch through social media or sign up below for our newsletter.