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An introduction to speciality coffee

  • 3 min read

Here at Dear Green, we only roast 'speciality grade' coffee. But what does that actually mean? Read on for an insight into the world of speciality coffee.

How is coffee graded? 

Speciality coffee is the top 2-5% of coffee available worldwide. The classification of quality is determined by 'Q graders'.  Tasters are calibrated and authorised by the Coffee Quality Institute to objectively taste, assess and score coffee beans on the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) scoring system. This gives the coffee a score out of 100.

Each coffee is scored for the presence and intensity of acidity, mouth-feel, flavour, after-taste, balance, ‘clean cup’ and sweetness. The score of the coffee then dictates the price of the coffee on the speciality coffee stock market.

Coffee which scores below 80 is regarded as commodity coffee. Speciality coffee is coffee which achieves a score of 80 or higher. 

The cup scores can be further broken down: 

90-100 Outstanding
85-89.5 Excellent
80-84.5 Very good


What are the main types of coffee beans?

Speciality coffee will predominantly be from the the Arabica plant as it offers more qualitative flavour notes – the other kind of coffee bean is Robusta (or Canephora). Arabica is a high quality bean and yields a smaller crop with higher potential for appealling flavour compounds resulting in some delicate floral and fruit notes which can be developed with enhanced sweetness and body during the roasting process.

Robusta is robust (hence the name!) and the plants will yields more coffee at lower altitude, it has a higher caffeine content and can exhibit bitter or burnt notes like tyres or rubber.

Traceable coffee?

Speciality coffee will often have a traceable supply chain to the farmer, producer or co-operative. Coffee producing countries will have different systems of traceability and high-quality coffee may also be available on the C market with little traceability at all. With a fully traceable supply chain comes a level of respect and understanding of the origin of speciality coffee such as knowing people’s working conditions, wages, and ensuring that a fair price is paid for the coffee beans.

Dear Green are committed to regular visits to coffee origin countries to maintain and establish relationships with producers, exporters and importers. This allows us to gain a fuller understanding of our supply chain and the challenges along the way. We ensure that we are well informed on agronomy, regional variations, microclimatic differences and social issues as well as the quality of the cup profile.We have a full understanding of the value chain and our role within it in order to bring the best coffee to our customers with a sound ethical solution.

This year, Lisa (founder of Dear Green) has visited Burundi, Rwanda and Brazil to visit the farms, cooperatives and washing stations where we source raw green beans to meet the farmers and employees, and to source new coffees.  

Commodity coffee can be blends of coffees from different farms, sometimes across multiple regions or countries. The coffee is processed on a large scale and is often roasted darker than speciality to disguise defects in the coffee.

That’s our introduction to speciality coffee – is there anything else you’d like to know? 

Want to get started with some speciality coffee? Browse our range of coffee beans!