This is a common term in the coffee industry and one that the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) was built around. Specialty coffee is not referring to a ‘special coffee drink’. Rather, this term is about the quality and the grading level that is tested and rated by the SCA standards.
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In order to be deemed as ‘Specialty Coffee’ the coffee must rank above 80 when scored (80/100). Specialty coffee starts at the source, in certain regions of the world which have the specific microclimates that produce quality coffee plants. Without the producers, farmers and co-ops focusing on growing their coffee in the best conditions, there is no way Specialty coffee can reach that 80+ mark when graded and tested. The passion and dedication that is necessary to nurture those plants and beans through the various stages of growth, picking, fermentation and sorting are key to achieving higher grade specialty coffee.
When coffee is washed, different grades of coffee are sorted, as lower quality beans tend to float. The higher quality beans are more dense, and sink to the bottom, qualifying as ‘Specialty Coffee’ beans. Level Ground only purchases specialty coffee grade beans.
In general coffee beans are graded by weight, colour, defect, roast and taste/profile. When coffee is being graded, it is rated by numerous people tasting the same coffee, at the same time and grading across various categories in a process called cupping.