Specialty coffee: What is it exactly?

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We hear more and more about specialty coffee, but what exactly does it mean?

Specialty coffee is a broad and yet very vague term that has many different definitions and meanings.
You ask the same question to 5 different roasters, you will get 5 different responses.
And still all 5 will probably be right, as specialty coffee has more than just one meaning.
For us, at Gust, we believe 'specialty coffee' is the best of what coffee can and should be. It's thus a combination of quality, sustainability and people, and how these all work together for a better future in coffee.

If we look at the official description of specialty coffee, we read the following.
Specialty coffees are grown at higher elevations, are traceable at origin or estate level, and processed carefully once harvested.
The whole coffee supply chain is impacted and at every stage of the production the goal is to achieve a significantly higher than average standard, with no defects at all on the final coffee beans.

The main difference with industrial coffee is for sure the taste and therefore the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has defined this taste experience in a coffee scoring process.
On a rating scale from 50 to 100, approved by all of the professionals within the sector, only coffees with a rating of at least 80 are specialty coffees. The higher the score, the higher the premium for the coffee farmer, and the motivation to improve the quality at farm level.


Specialty Coffee: Q Grade Score Sheet



Speciality Yes/No




85- 89.99



80- 84.99

Very Good


Below 80

No Grading


Specialty coffee can thus be compared with a Grand cru in the wine industry, where the quality refers to a perfect soil, altitude and expertise, harvested with care at the right time of the year.

If you want to make sure your coffee is specialty coffee it's important to ask questions about the traceability of the coffee, where it comes from, what's the name of the region, coffee farmer or cooperative? What varietal, what altitude and process was used? If you cannot get an answer on these questions, it might just be a blend of different coffee qualities and origins. 

Once the origin of the specialty coffee is known, it's also important to see how the coffee roaster developed the green beans and took out all the flavours and aroma's that are naturally present in the coffee beans. Roasting to lower temperatures, or the Scandinavian way, brings out an explosive palette of flavours and tasting notes. 

Also the freshness is key for great coffee! By using small batch roasters every batch has a unique profile and taste, which makes it even more exciting, but by having small roasting quantities, the roaster makes sure he always sends out very fresh coffee. Therefore always check if the roast date is mentioned on the packaging, which is not the same as a best before date... A coffee that has been roasted is ideally consumed within the next 3 to 6 months.

Now you're an specialty coffee expert! Enjoy and happy discovering!