Specialty coffee

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Specialty coffee is a term for the highest grade of coffee available, typically relating to the entire supply chain, using single origin or single estate coffee[1][2]. The term was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen in an issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Knutsen used specialty coffee to describe beans of the best flavor which are produced in special micro-climates.[3]

Specialty coffee is related to what is known as the Third Wave of Coffee[4], especially throughout North America. This refers to a modern demand for exceptional quality coffee, both farmed and brewed to a significantly higher than average standard.


The widely accepted definition of specialty coffee is coffee scoring 80 points or above on the 100-point Coffee Review scale. Coffee scoring from 90-100 is graded Outstanding, coffee that scores 85-89.99 is graded Excellent, while coffee scoring 80-84.99 is graded Very Good.[3]

The Specialty Coffee Association has a series of more detailed specifications (SCA is the union of the Specialty Coffee Association of American (SCAA) and Europe (SCAE)[5]). The SCA sets standards for specialty coffee at every stage of the coffee production, including allowable defects in green beans, water standards, and brew strength. The SCA also sets clear standards on the coffee grading process.[6] A minimum requirement for a specialty coffee is the number of defects: to be considered specialty a coffee must have 0 to 5 defects every 350gr of milled beans.

Although there are different definitions of specialty coffee according to different international organisation, there's a general acceptance of a set of three minimum requirements: coffee should have been hand picked by selective picking of mature beans, scoring 80 or above, maximum 5 defects per 350gr.

Many organisations and activists are working to include strict environmental and social indicators in the definition and grading of specialty coffee. For example biologist Giorgio Piracci, president of the Peruvian NGO 7Elements Peru and producer of the first specialty coffee produced applying permaculture ethics and principles, argues that "there's a urgent need to redefine the concept of quality and to embed into it the environmental and socio-economic quality component both at production and distribution level"; according to his vision, "it makes no sense to talk about an "excellent" coffee if this is produced using harmful pesticides, fertilisers or environmentally impacting farming techniques; in the same way, "how can we talk about excellence if a cup of coffee is produced thanks to modern forms of slavery and human exploitation?"[7] [3].

Similar positions are often promoted by Fernando Morales-de La Cruz, journalist and founder of Coffee for Change, an organisation fighting against the use of child labour in the coffee industry; the journalist is very active also in showing up how the labelling system of "Fair trade" is often used although poor, unfair economic conditions for farmers. In a recent interview, at a European Parliament hearing on child labor in cocoa & coffee, Ange Aboa a Reuters correspondent for West & Central Africa said "certifications Fairtrade, UTZ & RainforestAlliance are the biggest scam of the century!"[8]. Morales-de La Cruz stated that " It's unacceptable and illegal that seventy years after signing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Europe's "Fairtrade" coffee, tea & cocoa is grown with slave & child labor. The European Union is the largest importer of coffee in the world. In 2019 Europe paid poor coffee growers 75% less than in 1983"[9].

Growing Locations[edit]

In general, coffee is grown in the ‘Bean Belt’, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, which produce the tropical climate required for trees to thrive[2]. Speciality coffee is typically grown in three continents: South and Central Americas, Asia, and Africa.

The world’s most expensive specialty coffee is Panama Geisha coffee, which has been sold for over US$800 per pound[10].

Specialty Coffee Consumption[edit]

In Australia and New Zealand, specialty coffee is considered mainstream[11][12] with major specialty wholesalers like Campos coffee supplying hundreds of Australian cafes[13][14]. This is perhaps partly due to a long history of espresso consumption, fuelled by large Italian and Greek migrations in the mid-twentieth century[15].

While specialty coffee in North America is rarely offered in major coffee chains, the Third Wave of Coffee[4] has resulted in a significant increase in specialty coffee consumption. Independent, ‘Australian-style’, or artisan cafes have opened in multiple cities[16][17][15]. An SCAA report estimated the US had 29,300 specialty coffee shops in 2013, up from 2,850 in 1993[18].

Europe is already a major coffee market accounting for 30% of global consumption, but is seeing a growth in demand for specialty coffee while overall demand remains stable[19]. In 2016, specialty coffee was Europe’s fastest growing major restaurant category, with an increase of 9.1% from 2014-2015. Western Europe saw a particularly large growth of 10.5% in the specialty cafe market, while the overall coffee industry reduced by 1.5%, perhaps due to a longer history of coffee consumption[19][20].

Asia is projected to soon represent the world’s largest consumer of specialty coffee, with over US$3.7 billion in new value growth projected from 2016-2020[20]. Despite Asia being traditionally dominated by tea consumption, it is now easy to find specialty coffee shops across many Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cities[21].

There have also been increases in the consumption of coffee from countries traditionally responsible for growing coffee. Brazil’s overall coffee consumption in 2014 was 21 million bags, close to that of the US at 23.4 million bags[18]. Guatemala is also experiencing a surge in popularity of specialty coffee[4][22].

Associations in consuming countries[edit]

Associations in producing and consuming countries[edit]

  • ANACAFE's Guatemalan Cup of Excellence [31]
  • Specialty Coffee Association of Bolivia
  • Brazil Specialty Coffee Association[32]
  • Colombian Coffee Federation[33]
  • Specialty Coffee Association of Costa Rica[34]
  • East African Fine Coffees Association[35]
  • Itzalco Fine Coffee Association of El Salvador[36]
  • Specialty Coffee Association of India[37]
  • Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia[38]
  • Asociación de Cafés Especiales de Nicaragua
  • Association of Special Coffees of Panama[39]
  • Specialty Coffee Association of Southern Africa[40]
  • Asociación Mexicana de Cafés y Cafeterías de Especialidad A.C.[41]
  • SCA Italy [42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What is Specialty Coffee?". Specialty Coffee Association. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  2. ^ a b Gibson, Mike (2018-08-13). "Everything you need to know about speciality coffee". Foodism. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  3. ^ a b "Celebrating Erna Knutsen's Specialty Coffee". 25 Magazine: Issue 6. SCA News. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  4. ^ a b c Malkin, Elisabeth (2017-07-25). "The Hot New Thing in Guatemala, Land of Coffee? It's Coffee". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  5. ^ "How are your benefits changing under the unified organization?". Specialty Coffee Association. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  6. ^ "Coffee Standards". Specialty Coffee Association. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  7. ^ "Coffee & TV - Puntata N° 5 - Giulia Berdardelli e Giorgio Piracci". Spreaker. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  8. ^ "Fernando Morales-de la Cruz". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  9. ^ "Fernando Morales-de la Cruz". www.facebook.com. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  10. ^ "Elida Estate Geisha Natural breaks Best of Panama auction record at US$803 per pound | Global Coffee Report". gcrmag.com. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  11. ^ Davies, Shaun (2016-06-01). "'Hipster coffee' gets Australia hot and frothing". Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  12. ^ Nast, Condé. "How Australian Coffee Took Over—And Why New Zealand Coffee Could Be Next". Vogue. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  13. ^ Puvanenthiran, Bhakthi (2016-11-17). "Campos coffee makes the leap to snowfields of US market". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  14. ^ podcasters, Omny Studio is the complete audio management solution for; Stations, Radio. "Will Young Founder & CEO Campos Coffee - Qantas - Omny.fm". omny.fm. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  15. ^ a b Milkman, Arielle (2016-02-19). "Australian Coffee Culture Is Inspiring a New Wave of American Cafes". Eater. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  16. ^ Rodbard, Matt (2017-04-06). "Well-Made Coffee Migrates to Midtown Manhattan". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  17. ^ "Second Cup launches new look | The Star". thestar.com. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  18. ^ a b "Specialty Coffee Association of America". www.scaa.org. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  19. ^ a b "What is the demand for coffee in Europe? | CBI - Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries". www.cbi.eu. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  20. ^ a b "Coffee Shops Around the World: Three Key Insights for 2016". Market Research Blog. 2016-04-10. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  21. ^ Desk3 (2018-07-02). "Growth and development of the coffee culture in the Asian market". Comunicaffe International. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  22. ^ Editorial (2016-12-08). "A Specialty Coffee Shop Tour of Guatemala". Perfect Daily Grind. Retrieved 2019-08-26.
  23. ^ "Specialty Coffee Association of America". Scaa.org. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  24. ^ "Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE)". Scae.com. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  25. ^ "Specialty Coffee Association of Japan". Scaj.org. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  26. ^ "New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association". Nzcra.org.nz. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  27. ^ Singapore Coffee Association (SCA). "Singapore Coffee Association (SCA)". Singaporecoffee.org. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  28. ^ "Australian Specialty Coffee Association". Aasca.com. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  29. ^ "Specialty Coffee Association of Korea". scacoffee.kr. Retrieved 1 February 2019.
  30. ^ Fraser, Kyle. "SCASA - Specialty Coffee Association of Southern Africa". scasa.co.za. Retrieved 2018-04-18.
  31. ^ "http://www.anacafe.org/glifos/index.php?title=Categor%C3%ADa:Subasta-coe-2017". www.anacafe.org. Retrieved 2017-06-02. External link in |title= (help)
  32. ^ "BSCA - Brazil Specialty Coffee Association". Bsca.com.br. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  33. ^ "Juan Valdez". Juanvaldez.com. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  34. ^ [1] Archived May 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ "EAFCA". Eafca.org. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  36. ^ "What Is Specialty Coffee?". Coffeebeliever.com. Retrieved 21 January 2017.
  37. ^ [2] Archived October 5, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ "SCA-INDO". Sca-indo.org. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  39. ^ "Panamaspecialtycoffee.com". Panamaspecialtycoffee.com. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  40. ^ Kyle Fraser. "SCASA - Specialty Coffee Association of Southern Africa". Scasa.co.za. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  41. ^ http://www.amcce.org.mx/
  42. ^ http://www.scaitaly.coffee/