Parameters and characteristics to define a Specialty coffee

I maestri della tostatura media
Foto del sacco in juta da 60kg del caffè verde indiano selezionato da Caffè ernani: Kalledevarapura

In this article we will get straight to the point, defining Specialty coffees schematically!

Table of Contents

The birth of specialty coffees

First of all, we need to define what Specialty coffee means, otherwise we will never understand how it is possible to include the coffees we love in this category!

In very simple terms, Specialty coffee is really high quality coffee.

To be more precise, however, the definition was given by the SCAE(Specialty Coffee Association of Europe), an association born out of the need and goal of promoting the culture of fine coffee.

The SCAE then began by listing the characteristics that raw and roasted grains had to have to be defined as being of real and tangible quality.

The association thus came to life from the fact that too often we read the word “quality” on packages that do not actually contain quality grains or ground…

How then to help the consumer understand more?

Hence the creation of the “specialty coffee” certification, which is applied beyond the grower and the roaster to avoid counterproductive self-incentivizing and especially the misuse of the term “quality.”

A certification with precise and above all objective parameters to define the goodness of a coffee.
Our Specialty coffees:

Parameters for defining a Specialty coffee

So we have understood why Specialty coffee was born, now we need to list all the characteristics that raw and roasted beans must mandatorily have:

  • First of all, only Arabica coffees can be considered specialty;
  • Second aspect: taking a 350g sample, green coffee can have no primary defects, and a maximum of 5 secondary defects(see defect table in image 1 below)
  • Then we move on to roasted coffee: out of 100g of brown beans, no light-colored beans are allowed, as if they were left “raw,” so-called “quakers.”
  • Finally we move on to tasting, perhaps the most delicate and important stage. The preparation of the sample beverage that is going to be analyzed requires precise steps and standards involving the roasting process, degassing, dose, grinding, quality and quantity of coffee and water, and water temperature, then using a specific tasting sheet offered by the SCA. In other words, every single step must be executed in a punctilious and precise manner. At this LINK you can read the full protocol.
  • So once the tasting is done, if the coffee receives a score of at least 80 points out of 100 it can be called Specialty.
Tabella con l'elenco dei difetti possibili nel caffè verde e relativo punteggio associato.
Immagine 1 - Elenco e punteggi dei difetti del caffè verde.
I guess it is now well understood that it is not easy to receive Specialty coffee certification and especially that subjective taste has nothing to do with quality!

In some of the courses I have conducted, however, I am asked this question, “But when tasters taste coffee, isn’t the result subjective?

No, and now we see why!

There is no room for subjectivity!

First of all in tasting we do not say “this coffee is good” or “this coffee is not good,” but we look for any odor and taste defects that the beans may have.


  • Are there hints of rubber, tar, ash, grass, wood, mold, yuta, stinker, etc.? Then the coffee loses points as it has shown flaws;
  • The coffee analyzed does not show any flaws, but neither does it show a wide, well-defined aromatic range, coming out flat overall? It will be good coffee, but not Specialty;
  • Finally, the coffee tasted has no defects and furthermore expresses a wide, intriguing, defined and overall balanced aromatic range? Then it is a Specialty coffee!

Moreover, tasters are professionals who train years and years in recognizing the aromatic notes of a coffee, just as a wine sommelier does!

Ultimately then it is not just one group of tasters that tastes a sample, very often the coffees to be tested are sent to different tasting groups around the world, so as to have an accurate and thoughtful score.

Iter to apply for certification

I have already published an ad hoc article on this topic, so if you want more in-depth information click below.

Instead, below we touch on all the points schematically:
  1. First of all, the beans must belong to the Arabica species;
  2. Not only that, the coffee must also be of a very good variety. So the grower has an important job to do just in choosing the type of plant to grow;
  3. Therefore, one must consider all environmental variables, such as exposure to sun, wind, rain, environmental and wildlife biodiversity, altitude, soil composition, and so on. In short, all the terroir in which the plant of coffee is born and grows;
  4. Always the grower must also operate the right harvest, thus picking only the drupes that are ripe at the right point with manual selection, processing, avoiding excessive and incorrect rotting, mold or fermentation of the grains, selection, then sell only the grains without defects and with great potential, proper hulling, and finally evaluate the best system of storage and transportation;
  5. The grower, if he is aware that he has done his best work, sends samples to specialized laboratories scattered around the world, in which technical tasters, called Q-graders, roast, extract and taste the beverage following SCA protocol.
  6. If the coffee receives at least 80/100 points, then the coffee receives Specialty coffee certification;
  7. Then you have to roast the coffee properly, giving the beans a chance to express their immense potential and flavor profile, thus avoiding roasting defects or overcooking, which risks burning them and simply making them very bitter;
  8. Finally, the bartender or home operator must extract the drink properly, avoiding over- or under-extraction, which would indelibly compromise the result in the cup.

Again, I imagine it is very clear here how getting extreme quality coffee is not easy and that, again, subjectivity has little to do with it.

In addition, one can sense the length of the coffee supply chain: every single link in it must work at its best to be able to keep the high quality constant until the beverage we all love is made!

One mistake by anyone would permanently ruin the outcome!

Our Specialty coffees:


There is also to be said, however, that Specialty coffee is not just a simple coffee, it is not just a high quality product, and it does not just represent a different flavor profile.

Specialty coffee is love, passion, dedication and knowledge.
Specialty coffee indicates sustainability, care, respect and transparency.
Specialty coffee is a style of consumption that engages our senses and takes us through different tasting experiences.
That is why those who produce truly quality coffee are eager to tell you about it and let you discover every nuance of it.

Let yourself be passionate about this incredible world too!

And if you want to learn more, sign up for one of our Academy courses!

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    Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager
    Coffee Lover


    Martina Mazzoleni

    Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager Coffee Lover

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