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What is Specialty Coffee?

What is Specialty Coffee?

Artisan, craft, speciality….. What the heck does it all mean? Are they all the same thing and is it any different from the cuppa Joe I get from your average forecourt filter pot? I guess these are important questions considering the name of the blog.

Speciality Coffee Farm - Coffee Cherries

Let’s start with Speciality Coffee….

Speciality is probably is the most well defined of these terms. The Coffee Association of America (SCAA) says that speciality coffee has the following attributes:
• Uses the highest quality Green Beans (grown in ideal conditions, handled with care, no defects)
• Expertly Roasted (generally in small batches) to bring out the individual notes of the coffee
• A Great taste when brewed. – Cupping scores upwards of 80 (coffees with balanced acidity, distinct pleasant flavour and appropriate body.

Coffee tasting - Cupping coffeeThere are also lots of other things that aren’t specifically mentioned that we can probably add to this:
• We expect speciality coffee to be more ethically sourced
• A more direct relationship between farmer and roaster
• Coffee that has been brewed by someone with expertise
• Produced by farms that have excellent farming practises (milling, sorting and drying etc…)
This list could go on but I think these are the basics.

Of course definitions are kind of a weird thing anyway. The SCAA define themselves as the “Worlds Coffee Authority” and there is an argument that not all speciality coffee falls within this narrow bracket. Can someone really argue that an 18th century Italian Espresso bar that has been passing down its craft from generation to generation is not speciality coffee?

So what about craft and artisan?

Words like artisan and craft are bandied around a lot these days, not just in coffee but almost every food and drink industry in the world. But what do they mean? Well, In the UK there are no accreditation, guidelines or fact checking around the use of the words artisan, artisanal or craft. So basically they mean nothing! I could brand a highly automated, unnatural and large scale process and still use these terms if I so wished.

Ireland are a bit ahead of the pack when it comes to this. In 2016 the FSAI issued guidelines around the use of these words (McDonalnds have already got in trouble for it). You can download the guidelines here.

These guidelines suggest that food should only be labeled with craft or artisan when they meet criteria like; It’s made in limited quantities, made by skilled craftspeople, The processing method is not fully mechanise and the food is made in a micro-enterprise.

If you see these words being used in coffee know that they could mean something or they could mean nothing, it most likely just marketing jargon so be careful.


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