What is speciality coffee?

We know it tastes far better than mass-produce commodity coffee, but what actually is speciality coffee?

We know it tastes far better than mass-produced commodity coffee, but what is speciality coffee?

Finding a definition for the good stuff is a much-chewed-over topic among coffee geeks and industry specialists. Here’s how Indy Coffee Box defines it …

Simply put, speciality coffee has been graded as a higher quality product than commodity coffee, which is what you’ll drink in the chains – and almost everywhere else. Speciality coffee is tracked from plant to cup, and sourced from farms which are paid fairly for their crop. Once purchased, the green beans are lightly roasted in small batches to optimise their unique flavour potential. This is a key difference to commodity coffee, which is usually roasted dark and as a result lacks the rainbow of flavours found in speciality.

In order to maintain these carefully developed notes, the beans are freshly ground to order before being expertly prepared by skilled baristas – either as espresso-based drinks (such as flat whites and cappuccino) or via a range of filter brewing methods.

If you’re the kind of person who cares about where their food comes from, buys local, supports ethical farming, and is prepared to pay more for a high-quality product, you probably drink speciality coffee.

African-coffee importer Phil Schluter gave us his take on the issue for the second edition of the Scottish Independent Coffee Guide. Here’s what he said:

In 2003, I sat with a group of like-minded coffee professionals at the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) in London to found the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). At the time, we had many discussions as to what defined speciality coffee. From the Italians who loved their espresso and were happy to include some good robustas, to the Norwegians who would not dream of buying robusta and preferred other brew methods, we united around a common goal to build a network of people enthusiastic about speciality. With the recent merger of the SCAA in America with the SCAE, I have been reflecting again on what it is that defines us. I don’t presume to have the answer, but I think we could start the conversation around the following.

We …

  • Value quality and passion over price and convenience
  • Take interest in, and seek to understand, the journey our beans make from seed to sip
  • Create a working environment to be enjoyed, not endured
  • Inherently build sustainability through generating a significant and tangible added value
  • Are a potent force for change: the passion we invest creates huge value which can be fairly shared
  • Make decisions with all our senses
  • Actively seek out the unique and remarkable – and enjoy sharing it with others

Now that you can define speciality coffee, it’s time to sharpen your brewing skills. Get our pro brewing guides here.