What is specialty coffee?

The term specialty coffee describes a high quality and transparent coffee as opposed to conventional coffee. Conventional coffee accounts for the vast majority of production, particularly in Switzerland, and its price depends on fluctuations in world prices.

The specialty coffees themselves are rated following a points system. To qualify as specialty coffee, a coffee must:

  • exceed 80 points / 100 according to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA);
  • have few minor defects, be free from major defects;
  • have traceability that is guaranteed to the producer and
  • ensure high quality throughout the coffee chain (growing, drying, importing, roasting, extraction and service).

What are the benefits of drinking specialty coffee?

Advantage for the producer

While the value of the global coffee industry has more than doubled in the last decade, as the coffee prices for consumers continue to rise, the world price of conventional green coffee is currently at its lowest level in a decade of years. These extremely low prices are the result of stock market speculation.

For coffee farmers, it's a disaster. For example, Colombia has lost 40,000 hectares of coffee in the last 18 months. The low prices of the commodity market no longer cover the cost of production of coffee. Beyond an economic crisis, many are now talking about a humanitarian crisis in coffee producing areas, which is often accompanied by migration.

Although the stories of producers are often used in the marketing of coffee brands, consumers are often unaware of the plight of farmers. The higher price they pay for their morning coffee must logically also be passed on to the producer. Which is not the case.

Specialized coffee players - especially traders, roasters and baristas - want to help make coffee less dependent on stock prices, by linking the price of grain to its quality. Producers - key players in the coffee chain - must receive a fair return for their grain. Currently, the price of conventional coffee only allows the most efficient producers to cover their production costs.

Effectiveness often not go together with respect for the land, the environment (deforestation, monoculture, use of pesticides) and people. According to the Transparent Trade Coffee, the median purchase price of specialty green coffee is more than 3 times higher than that of conventional coffee, allowing the producer to receive a much more attractive price.

Benefit for the consumer

To mask their flaws, conventional coffees rely on a very dark roasting even burned, which will ultimately give a standardized taste, often bitter, with the aim of satisfying the consumer by bringing him a shot of caffeine. But coffee is basically a fruit, with sugar, which can also be extremely complex, rich and aromatic (more than 800 aromatic compounds were found in coffee, a figure higher than wine). The specialty coffee aims precisely to make the most of the characteristics of the coffee beans, by not trying to hide their specificities but to sublimate them.

Like wine, or craft beer, the tasting of a specialty coffee should therefore represent a real moment of pleasure, pleasant, with taste characteristics of the most pleasant. Drinking a good specialty coffee is often a kind of revelation; after which it becomes difficult to consider conventional coffee, bland, tasteless, even burnt and astringent.

In general, a specialty coffee is distinguished from conventional coffee by a much greater traceability, and identifies elements such as the precise origin of the grain, the roaster, altitude, varieties, grain processing method  as well as the date of roasting and sometimes the date of harvest.

Advantage for the environment

Specialty coffee aims to achieve the highest quality of grain while conventional coffee first seeks to maximize its yield. Therefore, to obtain a maximum amount of coffee on a given surface and to simplify the crop as much as possible, conventional coffee generally relies on monoculture and mechanization, sometimes to the detriment of the surrounding trees and forests.

In intensive farming areas, coffee trees are grown in direct sunlight without the natural protection provided by the surrounding trees. In addition, these coffee trees do not benefit from the humus necessary for their growth; their soil dries and becomes poor quickly, which requires a significant use of fertilizers and chemicals. In the event of intense rainfall, as can be the case in the tropics, the soil does not have the same erosion protection as if it were protected by the deep roots of surrounding trees.

On the contrary, specialty coffee seeks to develop grain quality in the long run. For this, coffee trees must grow in optimal conditions where profitability is not the only factor taken into account. A coffee plant that will be planted among other species, including trees, will use more space but will benefit from protection from sunlight and heavy rains. The trees and other food crops surrounding coffee (bananas, tomatoes, legumes) - and therefore promoting the food security of coffee-growing families - also contribute to making fertile and rich the land on which the coffee trees feed, bringing the contributions and nutrients needed for coffee growing without the use of chemicals.

Coffee plantations in harmony with their environment are thus an integral part of the global ecosystem. Such ecosystems, far from monoculture, can fix nitrogen and carbon, mitigate climate change, and help maintain animal and plant biodiversity.


Financial times: https://amp.ft.com/content/5009be96-7569-11e9-be7d-6d846537acab?fbclid=IwAR3pnDdwlKbeSWqTKYQb6hcfV4YrA6K3XUIszvtE7VOTIpYHIYgTXu-SEtk

The Express: https://www.lexpress.fr/styles/saveurs/au-bresil-le-cafe-de-specialite-grain-en-or-des-petits-producteurs_1966001.html

Specialty Coffee Association: https://sca.coffee/

Transparent Trade Coffee: http://transparenttradecoffee.org

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): http://www.fao.org/3/i1861e/i1861f08.pdf

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