Specialty Grade Coffee

What is specialty grade coffee?

 

Specialty grade coffee refers to beans that have been rigorously evaluated and scored based on their exceptional quality, flavor and characteristics. These beans typically score 80 points or above on the Specialty Coffee Association's (SCA) grading scale, which assesses various aspects such as aroma, flavor, acidity, body and aftertaste. Specialty grade coffee represents the highest echelon of coffee quality, distinguished by its superior taste, unique flavor profiles, and meticulous production process.

 

 

Grading Process

Specialty coffee is scored using a standardized grading system established by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), which evaluates various attributes to assess the overall quality of the coffee beans. The SCA's point system is based on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating superior quality. Here's an overview of how specialty coffee is scored and the key criteria considered:

1. Fragrance/Aroma (0-10 points): Evaluates the fragrance and aroma of the dry coffee grounds, assessing qualities such as intensity, complexity and pleasantness.


2. Flavor (0-10 points): Considers the flavor profile of the brewed coffee, including characteristics such as acidity, sweetness, bitterness and various flavor notes like fruit, floral, chocolate and spices.

3. Aftertaste (0-10 points): Assesses the lingering taste sensations after swallowing the coffee, including the duration and quality of the aftertaste, as well as any undesirable or off-flavors.

4. Acidity (0-10 points): Refers to the perceived brightness or liveliness of the coffee, which can range from mild to pronounced and may exhibit qualities like citrusy, fruity or wine-like acidity.

5. Body (0-10 points): Evaluates the mouthfeel and texture of the coffee, including its viscosity, thickness and overall sensation on the palate, ranging from light and delicate to full-bodied and robust.

 

 

6. Balance (0-10 points): Considers the harmonious interplay of flavors, acidity and body in the coffee, with balanced coffees exhibiting a pleasing equilibrium and no single attribute overpowering the others.

7. Uniformity (0-10 points): Assesses the consistency of flavor, aroma and other sensory attributes across multiple samples or cups of the same coffee, ensuring uniform quality and flavor profile.

8. Clean Cup (0-10 points): Refers to the absence of defects or taints in the coffee, such as off-flavors, contaminants or processing flaws, resulting in a clean and pure sensory experience.

9. Sweetness (0-10 points): Evaluates the perceived sweetness of the coffee, which can derive from natural sugars in the beans and contribute to a pleasing overall flavor profile.

10. Overall Impression (0-10 points): Reflects the sensory experience as a whole, considering the coffee's complexity, balance and overall enjoyment factor.

 

 

Harvesting Process

The harvesting process for specialty coffee involves careful selection and meticulous attention to detail to ensure the highest quality beans. Here's an overview of the specialty coffee harvesting process:

 

Selective Picking
Unlike mechanized harvesting methods used for commercial-grade coffee, specialty coffee is typically harvested by hand. Skilled workers carefully select only the ripest cherries, ensuring that each coffee cherry is at its peak of ripeness. This selective picking process is labor-intensive but crucial for maintaining the quality and flavor integrity of the coffee beans.


Ripeness Assessment
Experienced pickers undergo rigorous training to identify ripe coffee cherries accurately. Ripe cherries are characterized by their vibrant color, firm texture and sweet aroma. Unripe or overripe cherries are left on the tree to mature further or discarded to prevent them from compromising the quality of the harvest.

Multiple Passes
Specialty coffee farms often employ a "multiple pass" harvesting approach, where pickers make several passes through the coffee trees over the course of the harvest season. This allows for selective picking of only the ripest cherries, ensuring that each batch of coffee beans meets the highest quality standards.

 


Hand Sorting
After harvesting, the freshly picked cherries undergo further inspection and hand sorting to remove any remaining unripe, damaged or defective cherries. This meticulous sorting process helps eliminate defects and ensures that only the finest-quality cherries make it to the processing stage.

Processing Methods
Specialty coffee producers employ various processing methods to remove the cherry pulp and extract the coffee beans. Common processing methods include the washed process, natural process and honey process, each of which imparts unique flavors and characteristics to the beans.

Quality Control
Throughout the harvesting process, quality control measures are implemented to monitor and maintain the quality of the coffee beans. Samples of the harvested cherries are regularly evaluated for ripeness, flavor and visual defects to ensure consistency and excellence in the final product.

Traceability and Documentation
Specialty coffee farms prioritize traceability and documentation to track the origin of the coffee beans and maintain transparency throughout the supply chain. Detailed records are kept regarding the harvesting dates, location, varieties and processing methods used for each batch of coffee, providing valuable information for buyers and consumers.

Overall, the harvesting process for specialty coffee involves a combination of skill, precision and dedication to producing the highest quality beans. From selective picking to meticulous sorting and processing, every step is carefully executed to preserve the unique flavors and characteristics that define specialty grade coffee.

 

 

Growing Regions

Each of these specialty coffee growing regions contributes unique flavors and characteristics to the global coffee landscape. Let's explore each region in more detail:

 

Click on the growing region to take you to the product page.


Colombia
Colombia is renowned for its smooth, well-balanced arabica coffee, often characterized by medium acidity, medium body, and notes of caramel, chocolate, and citrus. Key regions include Huila, Antioquia, and Narino, each known for producing distinctive coffees with unique terroir influences.

 

Bali
Bali's coffee industry has gained recognition for its unique processing methods and flavor profiles. Balinese coffees often exhibit earthy, spicy, and herbal notes, with a medium body and low acidity.


Ethiopia
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and offers unparalleled diversity in flavor profiles, ranging from fruity and floral to spicy and wine-like. Notable regions include Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Harrar, each known for producing some of the world's most sought-after specialty coffees.


Brazil
Brazil is the world's largest coffee producer, known for its vast coffee estates and consistent quality. Brazilian coffees are often processed using the natural method, resulting in sweet, nutty and chocolatey flavor profiles with low to medium acidity.


Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a pioneer in specialty coffee production, emphasizing quality and sustainability. Costa Rican coffees grown at high altitudes exhibit vibrant acidity, crisp sweetness and delicate floral and fruity notes.

 


Guatemala
Guatemala's diverse microclimates yield a wide range of flavor profiles, with coffees typically characterized by their sweetness, balance and complexity. Key regions include Antigua, Huehuetenango, and Atitlan, each offering unique flavor profiles influenced by altitude and volcanic soil.


Honduras
Honduras has emerged as a significant player in the specialty coffee industry, producing high-quality arabica beans with a focus on sustainability and traceability. Honduran coffees often feature bright acidity, medium body and flavors ranging from citrus and stone fruit to cocoa and caramel.


Mexico
Mexican coffee is known for its versatility and wide range of flavor profiles, influenced by factors such as altitude, soil and processing methods. Mexican coffees may exhibit notes of chocolate, nuts, citrus, and spices, with a medium body and moderate acidity.


Nicaragua
Nicaragua's coffee industry has gained recognition for its specialty arabica beans, prized for their sweetness, brightness and distinct flavor profiles. Nicaraguan coffees often feature notes of chocolate, caramel and tropical fruits, with a medium to full body and balanced acidity.

 


Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea produces unique arabica coffees known for their bold, earthy flavors, often with hints of spice, tobacco and tropical fruits. Coffees from Papua New Guinea are typically grown in remote highland regions and processed using traditional methods.


Peru
Peru is known for its organic and Fair Trade certified coffees, grown by smallholder farmers in the Andean highlands. Peruvian coffees offer a diverse range of flavor profiles, including fruity, floral and chocolatey notes, with a medium body and balanced acidity.


Tanzania
Tanzania produces specialty arabica coffees known for their bright acidity, complex flavor profiles, and wine-like characteristics. Coffees from regions like Kilimanjaro and Mbeya may exhibit notes of blackcurrant, citrus, chocolate and spices, with a medium to full body.


Each of these specialty coffee growing regions contributes to the global coffee industry by producing unique and exceptional coffees sought after by coffee enthusiasts and connoisseurs worldwide.