What Exactly Is “Specialty” Coffee?

How beans earn this distinguished title

It’s an increasingly familiar term, often linked to carefully poured cappuccinos and more-expensive-than-usual bags of coffee, but the actual meaning can feel a little opaque. Used for the first time in 1974, the phrase referred to exceptionally grown beans with flavor profiles unique to their geographical origin. The idea mirrored a growing trend in the industry: exposure to the potential in coffee led to a bloom of new ways to unlock it. As appreciation for coffee grew, so did the market, and as the market grew, so did the need for clearly defined grades of excellence.

It is important to note here that there is no global standard — rather, different countries (or continents) developed unique sets of guidelines. Since we are a Georgia-based company, our coffee is valued according to standards set by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).

Coffee is graded based on a series of professional aroma- and taste-tests called “cuppings.” At least fifteen samples of a coffee is ground, smelled, covered in water, smelled, and then tasted again during multiple stages as it brews. Trained tasters are equipped with industry-specific terms to pin down everything from the mouthfeel and acidity, to body and flavor notes, and based on these assessments, given a number between 1 and 100. According to the SCAA, specialty coffee comes in at an 80 or higher, with a “maximum 5 [category 2] defects in a standard sample with all cups free of all taints and showing distinctive positive characteristics.”

Our coffee being cupped by a certified SCAA taster in Rwanda.

Our coffee consistently ranks in the high-eighties to low-nineties, and has once won the Rwandan Cup of Excellence. It’s good stuff y’all, and the numbers back that up! Find out for yourself.

Check out the brand new flavor wheel, recently released by the SCAA!

The specialty coffee sector of the market is still rapidly expanding. The number of specialty coffee shops has doubled in the last ten years, and this trend is projected to continue. Coffee is being unlocked by brilliant minds all over the world, and the possibilities — and enjoyment — is endless for those who take the time to explore it! From one coffee lover to another: Happy Sipping!