What is Specialty Coffee?

Coffee is the seed of a fruit that grow on a tree in very specific regions of the world. These regions all fall inside what we call the coffee belt. The coffee belt is about 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south of the equator. This is where the microclimate is perfect for growing specialty grade coffee. This raises a new question, what is specialty coffee? You see, coffee and specialty coffee are two completely different things.

Photo by Daniel Reche

Specialty Coffee is coffee that scores 80 or more on a test. The test has 100 possible points. and a coffee that scores more than 80 will be considered specialty, and the test is conducted by a Q-grader. In the coffee industry,  we call a coffee tasting a coffee cupping. Anyone can do a cupping and a Q grader is a certified coffee taster.

 We recognise Q Graders as coffee cuppers qualified to:

  • Objectively assess coffee quality
  • Identify, quantify and articulate coffee characteristics
  • Detect coffee defects
  • Communicate coffee characteristics using common industry terminology

 Q-graders will analyse the coffee’s physical aspects by checking for defects or insect damage. They will also analyse the coffee’s sensory aspects. Like flavour, body, acidity, mouthfeel, finish, uniformity. After this they will give the coffee a score our of a 100, determining whether it is speciality coffee or not.

Photo by Maria Gulyaeva

A common misconception is that the equipment makes speciality coffee. This is not true. Some equipment does perform better than others. But speciality coffee is the quality of the beans (how it was produced and roasted). Then the skill level of the barista. Then lastly the equipment. Imagine you have a commercial grade coffee, a very talented barista and a high end espresso machine. There is nothing the barista or the machine can do to make the coffee taste amazing.

 Now imagine that you have great coffee, an unskilled barista, and a great machine. Now you will see that the barista will make great coffee only a very small percentage of the time. This is due to a lack of skills.

 But if you have a terrible machine, a great barista, and great coffee? Now you will see your barista still being able to make good coffee more often than not. This is because a skilled barista will able to manipulate different beans and machines to get the best results.

Photo by Di Bella Coffee

I’m not saying don’t get good equipment, because good equipment makes life easier as a barista. I’m saying, focus on training and barista education. But most importantly, get yourself a great quality speciality coffee supplier.

We hope this was helpful and informative. We’re always happy to talk about coffee so if you have any questions feel free to contact us!