What Is Specialty Coffee: From Bean to Cup

One of the best aspects of coffee is just how many varieties of it you can find. Naturally, this wide selection has influenced coffee lovers to compare each cup they take. While there’s nothing wrong with any particular type of coffee, there is bound to be one that stands out from the rest. This is where “specialty coffee” (or “speciality coffee” in some areas outside of the U.S.) comes in.

In the coffee world, specialty coffee reigns as king. The term refers to the highest quality of coffee available.

If you’re in the dark about this variant, we can help. Let’s look at what specialty coffee is and how it is made.

Specialty Coffee - The Highest Grade

The term, “specialty coffee,” was first coined by Erna Knutsen of Knutsen Coffee Ltd. In an international coffee conference –– in Montreuil, France, in 1978 –– Erna used the term to describe green coffee beans with unique flavor profiles. Usually, these types of coffee originate from special geographic microclimates. 

Erna’s account served as the foundation for how to assess specialty coffee. In addition, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) plays a big role in how this coffee is viewed. According to the SCA, specialty coffee must have a single origin or single estate coffee beans. Not to mention, specialty coffee strictly uses Arabica beans. 

What is specialty coffee? From bean to cup

How Is Specialty Coffee Created?

Great coffee cannot be made by just one person. The process for making specialty coffee consists of 4 key players. 

The Coffee Farmer

In order to get quality coffee beans, an expert must perform a cultivar. A cultivar is when the coffee farmer cultivates a plant variety by selectively breeding it. Plants are largely affected by multiple factors, including soil, weather, microorganisms, temperature, and humidity. To get the best beans, coffee plants are grown in specific microclimates.

The Green Coffee Buyer

Next, Certified Coffee Tasters (also known as Certified Q Graders) identify the quality of a coffee by using a systemic coffee tasting method called cupping. 

In coffee cupping, hot water is poured onto freshly roasted coffee beans in a cup. The beans steep in the water for a brief time, then the infusion is mixed. 

After letting the coffee cool down a bit, the Certified Coffee Taster takes some coffee with a spoon. 

Then, the coffee is poured into another spoon and the taster sips it. 

Once the taster acquires an understanding of the coffee, they spit it out. Now the coffee quality grading system comes into play. Specialty coffees are graded on a 100 point specialty grade. To qualify as a specialty, a coffee needs 80 points or more. The grading system is as follows:

Specialty Grade

  • 100-90 = Outstanding
  • 89.99-85 = Excellent
  • 84.99-80 = Very Good

Non-Specialty Grade

  • Below 80

The Roaster

Coffee roasting is not just a process. It’s a form of art! Therefore, a skilled and knowledgeable coffee roaster is required. 

During this process, the roaster closely observes the coffee’s potential. Then, they try to find a way to bring out the coffee’s flavors. Finally, the roaster properly packages the roasted beans for the barista. 

The Barista

The barista is responsible for preparing and serving coffee. Thanks to hours of coursework and hands-on training, the barista knows about brewing equipment, the origin of several coffees, and how to effectively bring out flavor profiles during brewing.

Specialty Coffee Myths

Similar to Robusta coffee, there are rumors surrounding specialty coffee. While there will always be misinformation spread on the internet, these stigmas should be addressed as they can confuse drinkers, who are new to specialty coffee. 

Gourmet/Premium Coffee & Specialty Coffee Are The Same

One notion that pops up a lot is that gourmet coffee brands and premium coffee beans are the same as specialty coffee. This idea could not be further from the truth. 

“Gourmet” and “premium” are buzzwords, which are placed on coffee products. They are simply used to attract customers. However, “specialty” means a coffee is actually held to high standards - whereas “premium” can be used without any requirements.

Specialty Coffee Is Always Great

While specialty coffee is high quality, does that mean it will taste great to you? Generally, everyone has their own idea of what tastes great. So, a coffee that is widely loved in one place can be less popular in another area. 

On top of this, coffee makers have different ways to process, roast, and brew their beans. 

All in all, keep in mind: not every specialty coffee will appeal to you and that’s okay.

Specialty Coffee Is Unsustainable

Though specialty coffee requires much more attention and care, they are not dangerous for the environment. Climate change and difficulty with economic sustainability are the main factors responsible, as they make it harder for coffee farmers to produce specialty coffee. 

All hope is not lost, though. Organizations, like the SCA, advocate for the sustainable growth of the coffee industry by focusing on collaborative partnerships, education, research, and advocacy. 

Not to mention, there is Project Waterfall. Our goal has always been to bring freshly roasted coffee to every American. Yet, we noticed coffee farmers face struggles, especially when it comes to finding clean water. 

To give back to those that cultivate our favorite drink, we partnered with Project Waterfall to help bring sustainable, clean water to isolated coffee communities. 

To learn more about our efforts with Project Waterfall, feel free to read Amora’s Share Love: Project Waterfall.

Enjoy Specialty Coffee With Amora

Specialty coffee has allowed people to truly understand a cup of coffee’s greatness. Not only does the specialty coffee process give an accurate estimate of its quality, but coffee makers can help coffee lovers by giving them an incredible drink. 

Considering that specialty coffee shops are becoming apparent, we think it’s safe to assume this drink will not fade in popularity any time soon. 

To help drinkers that prefer specialty coffees, we’re offering multiple specialty blends. But why stop there? With an Amora subscription, you can get fresh and delicious coffees straight to your door. Your support also helps us in our efforts with Project Waterfall.

If you have any questions regarding our products and subscription, please contact us because we’re always happy to help!

Don’t forget to visit our Bean Blog for more info on all things coffee.


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