What is Specialty Coffee?

What is specialty coffee

Specialty Coffee is very high quality coffee, which is produced, judged, roasted and consumed with great care. This can be compared with fine wines or whiskeys. Of course you have fine wines in the supermarket, but for a really good bottle you have to go to the specialist. And of course you pay a little more for that. This is also the case with Specialty Coffee. In this blog we address the frequently asked question; what exactly is Specialty Coffee and what are the benefits of drinking Specialty Coffee.

An introduction to the world of Specialty Coffee

In this post we tell you as much as possible about specialty coffee. What exactly does specialty coffee mean? Are farmers who produce specialty coffee better paid? Is specialty coffee better for the environment? And who actually decides which coffee can be called specialty coffee and which cannot?

What is specialty coffee?

The term Specialty Coffee was first used in 1974 by the legend of the American coffee industry, Erna Knutsen. In 2022 you hear the term more and more and the specialty coffee bars and roasters are shooting up like mushrooms. But what exactly is specialty coffee?

“Specialty Coffee is premium quality coffee that meets the highest standards at every stage of the supply chain.”

It is therefore not only the quality of the unroasted coffee beans, but it is also about every link in the chain to make Specialty Coffee really specialty coffee.

  • The coffee farmer and how he harvests and processes the coffee beans.
  • The roaster and how it roasts the coffee beans to bring out its unique properties.
  • The barista who gets the ultimate out of the coffee beans during brewing.

Why is specialty coffee so popular?

The popularity of specialty coffee has increased enormously in recent years. Consumers are becoming more and more demanding, also when it comes to coffee.

  • The consumer wants to know where the coffee comes from (transparency)
  • The consumer likes to drink coffee that is tasty, sweet and full and not a bitter 'cup of coffee'
  • Consumers are increasingly aware of the exploitation of coffee farmers worldwide and obviously do not want to participate in this. Read more about: Fairtrade vs. Direct Trade coffee.
  • Specialty Coffee bars can now be found on every street corner.

Specialty Coffee and a transparent supply chain

For specialty coffee, every link in the coffee chain is equally important. Think of the blockchain technology . By means of transparency, it is possible to view at any time 'anytime' how, for example, the coffee has been grown, whether no pesticides have been used and sometimes even what price the coffee farmer has been paid for his valuable product. Through the following phases (production, assessment, roasting & consumption) we try to provide a little more insight into how specialty coffee ultimately reaches you, the consumer.

Production of Specialty Coffee

Only the very best coffee beans can pass for Specialty Coffee. Good care during cultivation is therefore an important basis. When the time for harvesting comes, only the ripest berries are picked and taken into the production process. This is a careful and intensive process, which is therefore always done by hand.

The coffee beans are then stripped of their husks and dried. Or the beans are dried with fruit and all, so that more sweetness of the berry is absorbed into the kernel (coffee bean). The coffee beans then go through a number of sorting processes and are tested for their quality.

Reading tip: Processing methods of coffee beans

Only the best coffee beans without defects and with the desired flavor profile can pass for Specialty Coffee. This high quality can be guaranteed through close cooperation with these coffee farmers. Thanks to good, fair payment, this coffee farmer can ensure that quality is further optimized year after year. So the knife really cuts both ways here.

Reading tip: Fairtrade vs. Direct Trade Coffee

At this point, the coffee is still green and unroasted and therefore unsuitable for consumption.

specialty coffee indonesia
Photo: This Side Up. Drying beds of coffee in Indonesia.

What does Specialty Coffee look like

You cannot immediately tell from the coffee beans alone whether they are specialty coffee beans or not. There are a number of tips that you can pay attention to when buying specialty coffee. First of all (almost) all the coffee you buy in the supermarket is NOT specialty coffee. Also read our blog about the differences between supermarket coffee and specialty coffee

The color of the roasted coffee beans

Specialty Coffee is of such high quality that coffee roasters do not roast it too dark. The unique flavors come to the fore with a light or medium roast. However, if you have super dark coffee beans (dark roast), this often indicates that this is not specialty coffee. The established coffee industry often roasts the coffee so dark to disguise the poor quality.

Read also: Coffee roasting, what is it and how do you do it?

Specialty coffee roaster
Photo: Lightly roasted coffee beans in the Zwarte Roes micro-roasting plant

Specialty coffee packaging

Coffee roasters that burn specialty coffee always put the roasting date on the packaging and (usually) not the best before date. This roasting date is super important because you can best drink freshly roasted coffee beans within 6-8 weeks after roasting.

Reading tip: The shelf life of coffee beans

Review Specialty Coffee

Who and how determine which coffee can be called specialty coffee?

Before the coffee is transported (for example to the Netherlands), 'samples' are sent and assessed by so-called Q graders (think, for example, of a specialist wine taster for comparison). It is very important for Zwarte Roes to work well with these inspectors in order to select the right coffee beans for our micro coffee roasting facility. He/she gives a score and can attach a flavor profile to this. Coffees with a score of 80 and above qualify as Specialty Coffee. See table below for coffee ratings.

What is specialty coffee

Specialty Coffee score sheet.

The specialty coffee roaster

Once the coffee has been assessed, the coffee is tested again by the roaster to see if it fits within the current range. This is also called 'cupping' and is about a special test technique. After that, the coffee can be purchased. Once taken into production, a suitable roasting profile is chosen for the optimal taste experience, and it eventually reaches the consumer.

specialty coffee cupping
Photo: Coffee cupping


Of course you as a consumer are the closing link of the coffee chain. In the end, every link has done its utmost to get the highest possible quality in your cup. Through a transparent chain, the consumer knows where the coffee comes from (country, region and sometimes even farm), how it has been assessed and what flavor profile can be expected. Now it's up to you to make this coffee in the most delicious way ever!

Did you feel like a cup of delicious specialty coffee? Then also view which specialty coffees we roast in our micro-roasting house.


Also Read: Specialty Coffee vs Commercial Coffee: The Differences


Specialty Coffee is coffee of the highest quality, produced, judged, roasted and consumed with great care. It is not only about the quality of the unroasted coffee beans, but also about every link in the chain to make Specialty Coffee really specialty coffee.

The popularity of specialty coffee has exploded in recent years as consumers become increasingly demanding and aware of the exploitation of coffee farmers worldwide.

Specialty Coffee bars can now be found on every street corner. The process of producing Specialty Coffee requires close collaboration between coffee farmers, roasters and baristas to ensure the highest quality.