Specialty coffee – Where does it come from and what makes it so special?

Just the word “specialty” suggests that this product is different from ordinary coffee. This is also reflected in the price. In 2020, specialty coffee cost an average of $25.36 per pound, while regular coffee sold for $17.61 per pound.

What is specialty coffee?

Specialty coffee is synonymous with guaranteed quality at every stage of the coffee production process, unlike regular coffee where quality controls aren’t as strict and a handful of beans can ruin an entire sack of coffee. For this reason, coffee specialties are grown in small quantities.

Specialty coffee is also referred to as “gourmet” or “premium” coffee. These are words used to promote the product. In addition, it is often difficult to obtain since only 5% of the world’s coffee production is specialty coffee.

A frequent coffee drinker can distinguish a coffee specialty from a regular coffee by the taste. A normal coffee from an inferior batch usually tastes more bitter.

Production of specialty coffee

In addition to the taste, we can also understand the individual stages of the production process and check the quality standards applied at each stage to identify quality coffee.

The coffee farmer carefully chooses the place where he wants to grow his coffee. He has to pay attention to details like the altitude, the depth of the soil and even the PH value. This commitment must also be continued in the harvesting, processing, roasting and packaging of the beans.

Plantation for specialty coffee

The specialty coffee journey begins with selecting the right seed to produce a quality coffee plant. There are basically two main types of coffee plants. Robusta and Arabica.

In short, Robusta coffee is a bitter coffee that is high in caffeine, easy to grow and so named because it is rarely attacked by pests or unfavorable weather conditions.

On the other hand, Arabica coffee beans are considered more flavorful and usually contain less caffeine. In addition, their cultivation is more difficult and expensive, and they are vulnerable to climatic influences.

The ultimate specialty coffee, then, is an Arabica coffee that has achieved an SCA score of 80 or more out of 100, a score matched only by the top 3% of the world’s best coffees.

What is the SCA value?

The SCA is the Specialty Coffee Association. An association dedicated since 2017 to fostering a global coffee community by supporting the production of specialty coffee.

The SCA evaluates the quality of the coffee based on various criteria, including environmental friendliness, fair trade and the characteristics of the coffee itself.

The SCA sets a score from 0 to 100, and the specialty coffees can be divided into three groups:

  • 90 to 100 points: Exquisite
  • 85 to 89.9 points: Excellent
  • 80 to 84.9 points: Very good
Ideal environmental conditions for growing specialty coffee

Most of the world’s coffee is grown around the equator. This is because the environmental conditions that coffee trees require are primarily found in tropical climates. These conditions include, for example, freedom from frost and lots of sun.

Coffee seeds adapt very well to moist, fertile, and well-drained soil that gets a good dose of sun every day. The best soils for growing coffee plants are volcanic soils, clay soils and alluvial soils.

Also, coffee grows best at high altitudes above sea level. The higher up the coffee has grown, the better it tastes.

Harvest of specialty coffee cherries

After the coffee tree has been planted and tended, it’s time to pick the coffee cherries.

This process consists in selecting the ripest red cherries. Specialty coffee farmers pick only the highest quality cherries.

Careful selection of cherries also brings about a change in labor and wage dynamics for farm workers. Usually, pickers are paid per pound of cherries picked, but in specialty operations, pickers are paid by quality rather than quantity.

Processing of specialty coffee

After harvesting, the coffee cherries are cleaned and the coffee beans are separated from the fruit. Then the coffee beans are dried. The coffee beans then go through two stages of control to ensure the final quality.

In a first step, the beans are sorted and defective beans are sorted out. They are then checked again to ensure that the beans have no visible defects.

Roasting of coffee specialties

Specialty coffee roasting differs from regular coffee in that an initial sample is roasted and professionally cupped to determine if it is an ideal roast, and then the process is repeated for the remaining beans.

The cupper examines the color but also tastes the sample and makes suggestions to achieve the right roast and flavor profile.

Tips for preparing coffee specialties at home

Preparing your own coffee specialty at home is all about saving the high price that can be charged in a coffee shop.

For the preparation of specialty coffee at home, you can use the extraction method of your choice, but it is advisable to keep in mind some tips that we explain below.

Weigh the coffee

Use a scale to weigh the exact amount of coffee before brewing the coffee. With this precision you can determine the intensity of the coffee or the exact amount of grind.

After brewing an initial cup, you can vary the weight to suit your taste.

Use fresh coffee beans

It is recommended to buy whole, unground coffee beans. That’s because whole beans are said to have a better flavor than ground coffee. In addition, the beans stay fresh longer if stored properly. However, grinding the beans at home just before brewing also makes the coffee really fresh.

Use filtered water

Coffee is affected by the water used. Ideally, filtered water should be used. This is not to be confused with distilled water, as distilled water lacks the minerals that complement coffee’s properties very well.


Coffee specialties require increased attention and, above all, controls along the entire value chain up to the end consumer. In order for the excellent taste to finally reach the palate, however, the preparation must also be carried out professionally.