The term “specialty coffee” was first used in 1974. Fabricated by Erna Knutsen, she shared the idea in her speech to delegates of an international coffee conference that- the quality of the coffee should be preserved, from crop to cup.

Specialty coffee refers to the whole process from farmer to cup using single-origin coffee. And it refers – to the way the coffee is roasted, and how it is- extracted.

According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), the “specialty coffee” is defined- as the highest-quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavour and potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed to well-established standards. Specialty coffee in the green bean state can be defined as a coffee that has no defects and has a distinctive character in the cup, with a score of 80 or above when graded according to SCA standards.

This sets specialty apart from “gourmet” coffee, which has no strict definition. Gourmet coffee could be high-quality coffee, or it could just be marketing.

Determining specialty coffee

To be classified as “specialty coffee”, the coffee must undergo different stages. Each step is crucial, and specialty remains just a concept until it is graded.

  1. Ground level: For coffee to receive its special certification, the seed must be planted at – right spot, the right soil, and the right altitude. If coffee is not grown under most ideal conditions, it cannot be classified as specialty coffee.
  2. Ripeness: After the plantation, the beans must be picked, at the perfect time. Most coffee growers agree that the most crucial aspect of achieving the best bean is to harvest at the optimal time.
  3. Delivery time: To ensure that, all the hard work and efforts done during the coffee’s growth do not go to waste, the delivery should be done- at the right time. The freshness and potential of the coffee can be preserved if, the delivery is done quickly. The coffee can be spoiled- if the delivery takes longer.
  4. Processing stage: The stage of processing is crucial for the coffee to be graded as a “specialty coffee”. To not lose its chance of being special the coffee must be dried sufficiently, evenly, and at the right speed, after the skin is, washed and removed.
  5. Transformation stage: The success of the final step depends on the roaster where the green beans are transformed into roasted coffee. The roaster must successfully be able to identify the potential of the coffee and roast it to maximize the flavour. To make the coffee special- the roaster should not make any mistakes in packaging, transporting, and roasting the bean.

To qualify as a specialty coffee, the beans have to be graded by certified coffee tasters – Q graders.

Specialty coffee – the Q grade score sheet 



Specialty Yes/No








Very Good


Below 80

No grading