What is Specialty Coffee?

In short, specialty coffee is graded coffee of the highest calibre. It often involves single-origin or ‘single estate’ coffee beans. For more information on single-origin coffee, take a look at our article on the difference between single-origin and blends coffee!

When looking at the history of coffee, the term ‘specialty coffee’ has emerged more recently and first appeared in an article of the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal by Erna Knutsen in 1974.

Specialty coffee refers to the entire process of how the coffee is created and takes into account farming, buying, roasting, creation and consumption.

In this blog, we will explore both the grading and creation process of specialty coffee.

Coffee beans being roasted

How is Specialty Coffee Graded?

Coffee is awarded the title of ‘specialty coffee’ when tested and approved by certified coffee tasters

The whole process of the coffee’s creation is reviewed, and its grade is based on all aspects of the coffee’s development from growing to brewing. The coffee will receive a grade before and after it has been roasted. These two stages of the coffee are referred to as ‘green coffee’ and ‘cupped coffee’.

Who is Responsible for Grading?

Specialist organisations of coffee graders complete the testing process, such as the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI).

What is the Scale for Grading?

The beans are graded on a 100-point scale and must score more than 80 to adopt the certification as a specialist coffee.

Below is an example of how coffee is graded on the speciality scale:

• A score between 90 and 100 is an ‘outstanding’ specialty coffee grade.
• A score between 85 and 89.99 is an ‘excellent’ specialty coffee grade.
• A score between 80 and 84.99 is a ‘very good’ specialty coffee grade.
• A score below 80 is not awarded a grade and therefore, cannot be titled as specialty coffee.

Below offers an in-depth look at the process which contributes to the grade of specialty coffee.

A coffee plant


Farming is, of course, the start of the entire process; a specialist coffee is produced in specific climates and altitudes to enhance the quality of the coffee bean. The quantity of coffee is far from the most important aim in specialty coffee farming. Nursing the coffee to its most beautiful form is the primary goal of a specialist coffee bean farmer.

Green Coffee Buying

The coffee is then selected by the green coffee buyer who may also be licensed to grade specialist coffee. They will then taste the coffee through cupping and attribute scores in relation to its status as a specialist coffee.

The green coffee buyers will go on to ensure extra parts of the coffee buying process are completed, such as sourcing worthy packaging and sharing all information about the coffee to roasters and café operators.


The next stage is for the coffee to be passed onto the coffee roaster. Again, these roasters will be expertly skilled in the field of specialty coffee and will be trained to perfectly roast coffee beans to their full potential.

Roasting the coffee beans is a diligently-observed and monitored procedure to provide the best quality of flavour when the bean is roasted.


After the three initial stages are completed and the coffee beans have passed all levels of quality assessment, the coffee is then sent to the Barista. Ideally, they are also certified by the SCA or equivalent organisation or sufficiently trained.

The Barista plays an incredibly vital role in the whole process as, if insufficiently brewed, the hard work and wonderful flavours could be lost at the last hurdle.

A busy café


Yes, those who purchase and drink the specialty coffee are also included! Those who seek out specialty coffee retailers and cafes are integral to the whole process, and it’s up to you to gain as much well-informed knowledge as possible. If you want to embrace coffee beans of the highest quality, it is your input that is necessary.

For those who want to be more conscious of the entire coffee-making process, including its effect on the environment, our eco-friendly coffee maker might be the perfect addition to your home, leaving you feeling guilt-free with every cup of coffee!

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What are Common Traits of Specialty Coffee?

A clear characteristic of specialty coffee is that the coffee beans tend to be whole. Therefore, it needs to be ground before it is created into a cup of coffee.

You will also often find that specialty coffee is roasted by small businesses or factories through more traditional methods and then sold from the same premises.

Is There a Difference Between Gourmet and Specialty Coffee?

Yes, there is a big difference because gourmet coffee is not awarded or graded like specialty coffee. Therefore, it has not been through the same thorough examination to get its title.

What are your thoughts on specialist coffee? Let us know on our social media channels!

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