For a coffee connoisseur, the most sought-after experience is undoubtedly the exquisite flavor and aroma that a cup of coffee can deliver. Among the various coffee options available, the true coffee enthusiasts often inquire about the meaning of ‘specialty coffee’.

So, what is specialty coffee?

Specialty coffee is basically a label given to a coffee that meets the standards set by the SCA or SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association). This standardization is regulated from the planting process to serving coffee to consumers.

what is specialty coffee
Kasiya v60 Hario Coffee brewing with Bean Bros Specialty Coffee.

In the early stages of harvesting coffee beans, for example, specialty coffee requires pickers to select only the best coffee cherries that are perfectly ripe red in color. This is important to realize the perfect aroma and taste of coffee compared to other ordinary coffee.

Another stage that characterizes the quality of specialty coffee is also seen in the processing of green beans.

This process, which includes pulping, hulling, and drying, is crucial because at this stage, the coffee beans will be sorted to remove any defective beans that may still be present.

The quality of specialty coffee after this stage can be seen from the defect rate of coffee beans. For coffee labeled as specialty coffee, the primary defect level is usually no longer present and there may only be secondary defects that are also no more than 5.

In addition to the sorting stage of the coffee beans, specialty coffee is also characterized by the roasting level at the light-medium level. This level is very significant in specialty coffee because at this level, floral, fruity aromas as well as other biologically active ingredients in coffee such as phenolics and melanoidins will be more stable and not lost during roasting.

Measuring cupping scores on specialty coffee

Smelling for cupping score.

Based on the standards set by the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association), a coffee is called a specialty coffee if it meets 2 standard scoring components, namely the defect score and cupping score.

Defect score on coffee beans

From a sample of about 350 grams of green beans, new coffee beans can be said to be specialty coffee if they no longer have primary defects or have a maximum of 5 secondary defects. In addition, in the defect score, there should be no quakers or young beans in the roasting results.

From the defect score, for example, specialty coffee is known to be different from premium coffee and commercial coffee since specialty coffee has no primary defects or only 0 – 3 secondary defects.

Primary defect

There are several categories of primary defects such as full black, full sour, dried cherry, fungus damaged, foreign matter, and severe insect damage.

what is specialty coffee
Primary defects in short are coffee bean defects that have a negative influence on the flavor of coffee.

In this case, 1full black/ 1 full sour/ 1 dried cherry/ 1 fungus damaged/ 1 foreign matter is equivalent to 1 full defect. Meanwhile, 5 severe insect damage caused by pests is considered equivalent to 1 full defect.

Secondary defect

Some categories that can be included in secondary defects are partial black, partial sour, parchment, floater, immature/unripe, withered, shell, broken/chipped, hull/husk, and slight insect damage.

what is specialty coffee
Unlike primary defects, secondary defects are defects that do not negatively affect the flavor of the coffee beans.

1 full defect in this case is considered equivalent to 3 partial black/ 3 partial sour/ 5 parchment/ 5 floater/ 5 immature/ 5 unripe/ 5 withered/ 5 shell/ 5 broken/ 5 hull/husk/ 10 slight insect damage.

Cupping score

After being guaranteed to be free from primary defects, the coffee is also tested again at the cupping stage based on the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) standard.

what is specialty coffee
The SCA cupping sheet is an internationally recognized form of effective cupping used to assess coffee’s taste characteristics and quality.

This testing is not done by just anyone, but is checked directly by a certified Q grader . Starting from the way the coffee plants are cared for, the harvest process, to the distribution stages of the coffee will all be carefully observed by the Q grader.

Through the cupping test, the Q grader will also check several other aspects of the coffee such as the aroma of the coffee powder, the aroma of the coffee when it is brewed, the flavor that arises when drinking the coffee, and also the aftertaste given by the coffee after drinking.

Important elements of a Q grader

what is specialty coffee
Q Grader is the title of someone who has earned international certification from the Coffee Quality Institute based in California, USA.

The following is a breakdown of the important elements that Q graders consider when accumulating scores on a coffee:

  • Roast Color – the color of the coffee beans after the roasting process (ranging from light ro ast to dark roast).
  • Fragrance– the smell of coffee beans after grinding and when poured hot water
  • Acidity – the level of acidity of the coffee.
  • Body – the texture of the coffee’s viscosity that is felt when drinking.
  • Flavor – the combination of taste and aroma that coffee presents when drunk such as sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.
  • Sweetness – the sweetness in coffee which is different from the sugar flavor in other types of soft drinks.
  • Clean Cup – the level of defects (negative coffee aroma and flavor) present during and after drinking coffee.
  • Balance – the level of stability of flavor, aftertaste, acidity, and body presented in coffee.
  • Uniformity – the consistency of flavor and aroma presented in each cup.
  • Aftertaste – the quality and length of consistency of the positive flavor left in the mouth after drinking coffee.
  • Overall – the accumulated assessment of all aspects of the previous assessment.

Cupping scores on specialty coffee can further be divided into 3 levels, namely:

  • Specialty coffee level Outstanding with a score of 90 – 100.
  • Specialty coffee level Excellentwith a score of 85 – 89.99.
  • Specialty coffee level Very Good with a score of 80 – 84.99.

This means that from each specialty coffee there are more levels that show the quality of each element in the specialty coffee.

Read also: Let’s Find Out How the Quality Standard of Coffee Beans According to SNI

How is specialty coffee different from premium coffee and commercial coffee?

With the quality offered, specialty coffee is certainly different from other coffees such as premium coffee and commercial coffee.

From the previous discussion, we know that on the defect score, specialty coffee is clearly different from premium coffee and commercial coffee, in that specialty coffeehas no primary defects (there are only 0 – 3 secondary defects).

In cupping scores, specialty coffee also has its own advantages where the results of specialty coffee cupping scores are above the score of 80, while premium coffee is only in the score range of 70 – 79 and commercial coffee below the score of 70.

How much does specialty coffee cost?

There’s price, there’s quality. That’s the right phrase to describe the price tag on specialty coffee products. Coffee beans in specialty coffee products, for example, are usually pegged at a price range of IDR. 150,000 – 450,000/kg.

This price may seem expensive compared to other commercial coffees. However, with the quality maintained by farmers, green beans buyers, roasters, and baristas, enjoy specialty coffee. Specialty Coffee which is part of the best quality coffee will certainly not make you as a coffee lover regret it.

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