What is Specialty Coffee?

specialty coffee

What is Specialty Coffee?

Specialty coffee, also known as gourmet or premium coffee, is made of high quality coffee beans, grown under ideal conditions, in climates perfectly suited to coffee plant growing. It features unique and distinctive tastes that usually reflect the qualities and characteristics of the soil and region that produces it.

Specialty coffees are also partially defined by their existence not as commercial coffees. Specialty coffee producers are committed to offering quality, taste selection, and freshness that is not seen in commercial coffee manufacture. The consumer’s ability to buy whole beans, coffees from varying single origins, or special blends is unique to specialty coffee.

Ultimately, specialty coffee is about offering the highest quality and freshness possible. A specialty coffee roaster buys only the best grades of coffee: high grown mild beans, carefully prepared, which display excellent cup quality. When you drink specialty coffee, you will undoubtedly taste the difference in quality that exists at every level of the coffee production process.


Perhaps the greatest advantage to buying whole bean coffee is its freshness. Most experts estimate that once roasted, whole beans retain their flavor and aroma perfectly for about one week. After two weeks, the coffee still tastes great, but the aroma begins to suffer. After a month the taste profile and aroma significantly decline. Coffee is best when drunk within two weeks of roasting.

Unfortunately, once ground, coffee begins to lose both flavor and aroma almost instantaneously. Ground coffee retains this flavor and smell only for a few hours. To enjoy the highest levels of flavor and aroma, it is imperative that coffee be sold as whole beans, ground within two weeks, and consumed immediately after grinding.


Specialty coffee offers a wide variety of flavor, origin, and roast options. Whether through single origin choices, unique blends, or varying roast profiles, specialty coffee roasters are committed to providing as many selections as possible. Looking for a winey coffee, with a crisp acidity? A specialty roaster might suggest a Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Interested in a chocolate-flavored, fruity coffee, with a berry aftertaste? The same roaster would steer you towards a Guatemala Antigua.

Specialty coffee roasters possess both the expertise and necessary green beans to produce distinctive, complex flavors that can satisfy any palate. When ordering specialty coffee, you can choose a flavor based on the time of day, your accompanying food, or even your mood. These are options unique to specialty coffee.


It is impossible to make a great product without extreme attention to detail at every level of production. Specialty coffees are always made up of entirely Coffea arabica, the most flavorful, complex, and aromatic strain of the coffee plant. They are generally cultivated in high altitudes, always at least 600 meters above sea level, and usually over 1,000 meters.

The coffee beans are picked selectively, as they ripen, ensuring only beans that are ready enter the production cycle. They are carefully processed, dried, packaged and shipped. The expertise of the roaster ensures they are roasted to a level perfectly suited to each origin’s individual characteristics. Finally, when blended, they are mixed with precision and knowledge, accentuating and balancing each bean’s qualities. This attention to detail is wholly unique to the specialty coffee industry.




“Specialty coffee” was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen in an issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Knutsen used this term to describe beans of the best flavor which are produced in special microclimates.

Specialty coffee is the term commonly used to refer to “gourmet” or “premium” coffee. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), coffee which scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale is graded “specialty”. Specialty coffees are grown in special and ideal climates, and are distinctive because of their full cup taste and little to none defects. The unique flavors and tastes are a result of the special characteristics and composition of the soils in which they are produced.



“Speciality coffee is defined as a crafted quality coffee-based beverage, which is judged by the consumer (in a limited marketplace at a given time) to have a unique quality, a distinct taste and personality different from, and superior to, the common coffee beverages offered. The beverage is based on beans that have been grown in an accurately defined area, and which meet the highest standards for green coffee and for its roasting, storage and brewing.”

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