According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), “The term ‘specialty coffee’ refers to the highest quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavor potential.”

They are the highest grade of coffee beans available across the world, as they grow in the perfect location, time, altitude, and soil.

Specialty coffee beans are mostly single-origin arabica and are available in small batches. Hence, they vary from region to region, country to country, and even year after year.

We tend to think that Specialty coffee is quite a new term that trending in the current market. But it was the first cast in the 1970s, in the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, by Erna Knutsen. She had the vision to preserve the quality of coffee from the farm to the cup.

A cup of speciality coffee involves a team of skilled professionals (farmer, harvester, roaster, and barista). They work in harmony and focus on standards to get a coffee labelled as “specialty coffee” by SCA.

What is Specialty coffee?

On the world coffee stock exchange, specialty coffee comprises only 3% of the global yield. These coffees grow at high altitudes. Hence, they are unique, distinct, and less defective in nature.

Term specialty coffee refers to the entire process of bringing coffee from farm to cup. The process involves growing, washing, de-pulping, fermentation, drying, supplying, roasting, and finally brewing.

According to SCA, specialty coffee grades 80 or above on a scale of 100 on a Q grade score sheet.

It is further categorized into three grades. A score between 80 – 84.99 counts as very good, 85 – 89.99 is excellent and a coffee bean scoring over 95 to 100 is outstanding.

Specialty Coffee Grading

Specialty coffee is the high grade of coffee available across the world. The grading system is set by the SCA at every stage of the coffee production process. The grading parameters are:

Green Bean Grading

The grading of green beans is done by visual inspection. According to SCA protocol, a sample of 350gm of coffee beans is looked for imperfect or defective beans.

The defects are of two types: Primary or Secondary. The primary defects are black or sour beans and the presence of large/medium stones or sticks. While, secondary defects are insect damage, unhulled, broken or chipped beans, small stone or sticks, water damage, etc.

To qualify as a specialty coffee, a 350gm sample of beans should have zero primary defects and no more than five secondary defects.


Before going through the process of cupping, the high-quality graded green beans are first transferred to a coffee roaster. A roster is a scientist as well as an artist. He uses his knowledge, techniques, and experience to bring out the specialty-level roast profiles in roasted beans

Also, the ideal roasting process helps to bring out the consistency of flavours in the high-quality beans.


At its simplest, cupping is a technique of brewing roasted coffee with hot water. It is a way to taste and assess the various flavours present in the roasted beans. Cupping tends to bring out the quality, diverse flavours, and hidden potential in a coffee bean.

According to SCA, the quality of a specialty coffee is evaluated on the basis of various attributes like fragrance, flavour, acidity, body, consistency, mouthfeel, aftertaste, and clean cup.

During the assessment, a taster marks all the underlying flavours present in the coffee. They assign scores to each of the coffee attributes. Later these attributes define the “tasting notes” of coffee beans.

Coffee cupping
Formal coffee cupping process as per SCA standards

Specialty Coffee Around the World

With the new wave of coffee culture, the demand for speciality coffee has boomed in the 20th century. Consumers are using the latest brewing methods and high-quality coffee beans to appreciate speciality coffee.

Also, coffee house chains like costa coffee, Starbucks, etc. have created a market for speciality coffees.

Specialty Coffee in India

In India, the market of coffee was first introduced by Cafe Coffee Day (CCD).

Later, the coffee roasters like Blue Tokai, Third-wave coffee, Subko, etc, are now serving artisanal coffee.

Over the years, with the uptick in coffee demand, the production of coffee has also increased in India.

In Chikmanglur or Coorg region, small farmers are focusing on growing single-estate specialty coffee. They plan to sell their high-quality coffee at high prices on the coffee stock market.

Also Check out this YouTube video to know more about SPECIALTY COFFEE,

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