What Characterizes Specialty Coffee?

What Characterizes Specialty Coffee?

What Characterizes Specialty Coffee?

Consider the following scenario: It is a Saturday morning, and you have made the decision to go to a new speciality coffee shop that has just opened in your neighborhood and provides specialized coffee.



 As soon as you enter through the door, the scent of freshly roasted coffee beans envelopes your senses. A few customers are sitting around the café on comfortable couches, working attentively on their computers or maybe just having a pleasant talk with their friends. The business is tiny but welcoming.

What Characterizes Specialty Coffee?


You can see the brilliant, multicolored Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel on the wall, which is among the many imaginative works of artwork that grace the walls of the cafe. You are greeted by a cheerful barista, and you take a look at the attractively painted blackboard menu that shows the coffees available today. 



In addition to one coffee mix, they are selling two single-origin coffees. The roast degree, provenance, and flavor notes of each coffee are described in length in the menu descriptions. You’ve also seen that there are a variety of various brewing techniques from which to pick.



Modern coffee shops are excellent examples of the third-wave coffee experience, and specialized coffee is required for a third-wave coffee experience to be really memorable.

But, precisely, what do the terms speciality coffee and third-wave coffee mean?

Whether a cup of coffee is labeled as gourmet or premium does not necessarily imply that it is a speciality cup of coffee; it might just be marketing jargon. The Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) defines specialty coffee as Arabica coffee with a total quality (Q) score of at least 80 out of 100, according to their technical definition.


 However, in order to assist you better comprehend this concept, I will share some more background information.



Arabica vs. Robusta: Which is better?

There are two primary species of coffee: Coffea arabica (Arabica) and Coffea canephora (Canephora), both of which are grown in the United States (Robusta).

Arabica coffee bushes are more sensitive than other coffee varieties, making them more vulnerable to illness and adverse weather. 


Because Arabica coffee bushes have fewer branches and cherries competing for resources than Robusta coffee shrubs, individual cherries may absorb more nutrients, resulting in richer, more nuanced taste profiles than those produced by Robusta coffee shrubs.



Robusta shrubs, as the name suggests, are more robust and resistant to unfavorable environmental circumstances. Because the bushes are thicker than the Arabica plants, the cherries do not get as many nutrients, and they also create more bitter-tasting substances to fight against pests than the Arabica plants. Both of these characteristics contribute to taste profiles that are more bitter and less complex.

Arabica coffee accounts for around 60% of total coffee production worldwide.

A description of the grading system for coffee

When coffee is assessed, it is given a quality (Q) score out of 100 by qualified Q graders, who are individuals who have been trained and certified by the Coffee Quality Institute to evaluate coffees in accordance with the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) standards. 



The Q grading program is a six-day SCA training course that provides cuppers with the chance to taste coffees from a variety of various origins and learn how to grade them using the same terminology and features that are used to describe other types of coffee. 


The Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) created the Q grading scheme in 2004 in order to define the concept of specialty coffee.

Previously, I said that an Arabica coffee that earns a Q score of at least 80 is called a speciality coffee bean. In order to be termed speciality coffee, the coffee must also have a low level of flaws. This means that the green coffee beans must have no main faults and no more than five secondary defects, as determined by the SCA Grading Green Coffee standard.



It is calculated by adding up the ratings of 10 distinct components:

 fragrance/aroma, flavor and aftertaste; acidity; body; uniformity; balance; clean cup; wweetness; and overall. Each of these components is given a score out of ten points, which are then put together to provide a total Q score out of one hundred points. The number of points deducted from the overall score if there are flaws. 



A Q score of at least 60 is considered commercial-grade coffee, while a Q score of at least 80 is considered speciality coffee, according to the International Coffee Organization. Many elements, including temperature and weather, other agricultural circumstances, production procedures, style of processing, and so on, may influence the taste of coffee and, as a result, the Q score before it is roasted and brewed.



What exactly is the difference between speciality coffee and third-wave coffee, and how do they differ?

Because speciality coffee is a product, as opposed to third wave, it is important to understand the distinction between the two. The third-wave experience is inextricably linked to the consumption of speciality coffee; yet, specialty coffee may be consumed without the third-wave experience as well.



For the most part, the initial wave of coffee was made up of pre-ground ultra dark roast coffee that was extremely bitter and frequently stale, which could be obtained in the coffee section of the store. In the initial wave of coffee innovation, brands such as Folgers, Maxwell House, and Green Mountain arose, labels that did not place a major emphasis on quality or provenance.



The development of firms such as Starbucks signaled the beginning of the second wave of coffee, which introduced coffee drinkers to a broader range of coffee experiences, such as creatively flavored lattes and frappes, among other things.


 Despite the fact that there was a minor increase in awareness of the coffee origin compared to the first wave, the focus of the second wave is more on these unique drink experiences and the environment of the coffee shop than on the quality of the actual coffee beans. Coffee was still roasted to a dark brown color in order to provide a consistent and uniform experience.


While a small number of roasters and cafés experimented with lighter roast levels and bringing out new and fascinating tastes in high-quality coffee, the 1980s were a pivotal decade for specialty coffee. 


As a result, in 1982, the Specialty Coffee Association was established. After being created in 1999, the term “third wave of coffee” soon gained popularity.

Is it possible to reheat cold brew coffee?

A considerable focus is placed on the quality of the coffee in the third wave of coffee. For a third-wave experience, specialty-grade coffee is necessary. With this trend came new roasting and brewing processes, transparency of origin, transparency of roasting dates, and the ability to connect customers to the narrative behind their cup of coffee. 

Within the booming speciality coffee business, firms with a strong focus on quality, such as Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia, have arisen.



It was becoming more clear to consumers that a cup of coffee did not have to be bitter and burned; rather, it might have sweeter and more varied flavor profiles. In order to differentiate their products, coffee roasters and dealers started listing particular taste notes. 


Lighter roasts, as well as a variety of brew techniques, like as the French press and pour over, are being used to emphasize the unique, desired qualities of the beans, as opposed to masking unwanted flavors, as was the case in the first and second waves of the coffee revolution. 


It is the third wave that is primarily concerned with quality and customer participation in the coffee industry.

Specialty coffee preparation and sourcing

On most supermarkets, specialty coffee is not readily available in the coffee aisle. Specialty coffees may be purchased from a variety of sources, including cafés and coffee shops, roasters, and the internet.

Always check the “roasted on” date on the bag of coffee you purchase, regardless of where you get it. For freshness and quality assurance, this date is more significant than the “best by” or “freshest by” date. 


The taste of the coffee will most certainly have diminished if it has been more than two or three weeks after it was roasted. Use good-quality, filtered water while brewing since unfiltered or mineral-rich water can impact the taste, and remember to follow these guidelines to keep bitterness to a minimum.



Now that you’ve learned more about speciality coffee, I dare you to pay attention to the origin, roast degree, and taste the next time you visit your local coffee shop or roaster. If so, does it compare well with your previous experiences with instant coffee? What flavors do you see a difference between?



The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel was created by Dr. Molly Spencer in collaboration with the Specialty Coffee Association as part of her Ph.D. studies in Food Science at the University of California in Davis.