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What is specialty coffee?

What is specialty coffee?

Even if you have heard the term specialty coffee before, you may even today still wonder what exactly this specialty coffee is, or at least what it means.

Well if that is the case, this post is made for you. We are going to try to explain what specialty coffee is and why it is so different from commercial coffee.

When you talk about specialty coffee versus commercial coffee, they are two extremely different things. Yet surprisingly, the number of people who actually understand the difference is remarkably small. The term “specialty coffee” was first used by Erna Knutsen in 1974, one of the pioneers of the highest quality coffees. Specialty coffees are considered the best in the world today. Simply put, specialty coffee is coffee of the highest quality. On the other hand, the basic or commercial products that are normally sold under big brands are selled at a general price, regardless of the quality that it entails and almost regardless of their origin.

Let’s look at some of the main factors that distinguish specialty coffee.

Variety: There are many species of coffee plant, but among them 2 are currently used: Arabica and Robusta, and within each of these two species there are hundreds of different varieties. Specialty coffee exclusively uses the Arabica variety.

Altitude: One of the hallmarks of specialty coffee is the way it is grown. Unlike commercial coffee, it is grown at an altitude of more than 600 meters above sea level, which together with the weather and terrain, have a lot of impact on the final cup.

Harvest / maturity: The coffee cherry is harvested by hand only when it is in the desired stage of maturity and leads to the washing and drying process, both being traditional processes and typical of this type of coffee. (You can find out about them in our post raw coffee processing).

SCAA Certification: For every 100g roasted sample, the Specialty Coffee Association of America provides points, which must be at least 80 out of 100 to be qualified as specialty coffee. Scores are interpreted as follows:

  • Less than 80 points: It is not considered specialty coffee.
  • Between 80 and 84.99: very good
  • Between 85 and 89.99: excellent
  • Between 90 and 100: exceptional

This qualification does not stop at the result of the flavor, but it takes into account the method of cultivation, harvest, process, etc. Each stage the coffee goes through is taken into account and audited according to a quality standard.

Roasting: Normally, it is roasted less to maintain the notes and flavors that the green bean provides. Commercial coffee is roasted for a longer time to mask any defect that it has with a roasted or even burnt aroma, even in some cases sugar is added. This practice is unthinkable in specialty coffee.

It is easy to compare two specialty and commercial roasts, since only the color is very different.

Known Origin: The growing area, the country of origin and the attitude in which it is grown are all mentioned on the package. On the other hand, commercial coffee hardly says anything about this.

This review offers us a clear vision that it is not just any coffee. Each part of the process is taken into account and every detail is taken care of, however the preparation of coffee at home or in a coffee shop will have a high impact on the final flavor. We encourage you to take a look at our coffees, practice and enjoy!

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