What is Speciality Coffee?

Speciality coffee gives you a unique and rich flavour, but what does speciality coffee even mean? We’ve laid it all out for you – take a look!

You’ve probably seen the phrase thrown around in the coffee-lovers community, but what is speciality coffee? Chances are you might have already tried it without even knowing! If you’re unsure and want to learn, we’ve got you covered with our guide. Take a peek!

What is speciality coffee?

Speciality coffee is coffee that scores above 80 points on a scale and is graded  by licenced Q Graders (CQI) or by a certified coffee taster (SCAA). Each part of the flavour profile is assessed to provide a final note as it is also done in wine or spirits. Typically, speciality coffee is generally about the high density beans which are growing slower at high altitude or in specific climatic conditions ensuring a slow growth of the bean which is leading to a highest sensory grade. The love and care that goes into the process make it taste even better.

How is speciality coffee graded?

The graders/coffee tasters visually inspect a 350g cup of coffee beans to search for any defects. These defects are primary (black beans or sour beans) or secondary (broken beans). To be speciality coffee, there must be no primary defects and less than five secondary defects. For coffee lovers like us, this is one of the top jobs in the world…

Once the coffee has passed the visual defects test, it can be roasted under specific condition and brewed for a "cupping" session. When the Q-graders are assessing the coffees, they will score each part of the flavour profile, ranking them first of course on the absence of any off flavours but most importantly, based on characters defining the typicity, complexity and consistency of the product.

To be defined as such, a specialty coffee, will in the end, have passed successfully both the visual defects test and scored high enough (>80) on the scale.

Speciality coffee score card

Let’s give you guys a handy visual, so you can see what speciality coffee is and what it isn’t. This is important to remember when you’re buying coffee beans. So if you want to know your stuff to get the best possible coffee, we’ve got you covered! Take a look:

Where does speciality coffee come from?

Speciality coffee can come from a variety of places; Kenya, Ethiopia and Colombia in particular are known for delicious specialty coffee. But don’t dismiss the lesser-known coffee growing countries! Places like Panama have highly educated farmers and a variety of microclimates due to geographical landscape and the two different surrounding oceans, making their specialty coffee unique and delicious. Guess you have no choice but to try them all!

Types of speciality coffee you need to try

So now that you know what speciality coffee is, which types do you need to try ASAP? (Seems dramatic but we take our coffee seriously).

1.      Single origin

Coffee from only one area is called single origin coffee. This means it’s deliciously unique in flavour, with a range of different notes.

2.      Espresso

Espresso is ground coffee and water – simple! It's particularity is the extraction under high pressure. Any bean can be used for espresso but often the bean must be roasted for a little longer

3.      Ristretto

A ristretto is a more concentrated form of espresso. You can use the same amount of coffee as in an espresso shot, but only use half the amount of water

4.      Lungo

This is, again, like an espresso but has more water instead. More coffee for you to enjoy!

5.      Freshly ground

That’s right, you can grind your own coffee beans and make your own speciality coffee! Luckily, we have a guide on how to grind coffee beans to get you started.

6.      Subscription coffee

We recommend Waaqa, of course! Not to blow our own trumpets, but we make it easy for you to get on your way with your speciality coffee journey by providing you with a range of different coffee beans monthly, and to your doorstep!

Cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, americanos, macchiatos and more are all ways to enjoy your specialty coffees! The specialty coffee is the beans, and you use them to prepare cups/recipes of specialty coffee. You might not expect it, as they’re in every coffee shop we go to, but they are actually specialities. You have a variety of speciality coffees to choose from – just what us coffee lovers need.

Specialty coffee vs normal coffee

Specialty coffee is only using beans that correspond to strict quality standards and that have a specific sensory score. As it is generally smaller productions or microlots, it is more common to find them in smaller artisanal roasteries. Specialty coffees are also only a small percentage (the best) of what is available on the world coffee market.

Normal (or mainstream) coffees do not have to comply with such high standard and any beans can be used. This is why you will find more of such coffees in many very large roasteries.

Some might say that caffeine is caffeine, but nothing compares to the seduction of a new-found flavours.

Speciality coffee vs gourmet coffee

So, what’s the difference between speciality coffee and gourmet coffee? Some of us in the coffee world would say that ‘gourmet coffee’ is a marketing term for when some brands aren’t legally allowed to say ‘speciality’. In this case, the beans might be lower-grade. Make sure to keep an eye out for this when you’re buying your beans, especially now that you know what’s classed as speciality coffee!

We hope you’ve learnt all about speciality coffee – you’re on your way to being an expert! Next, take a look at coffee roast levels so you can enjoy the most fabulous drinks… we know you’ll want to check this out.