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In part 1, the series explored the holistic process behind growing, processing, roasting, and brewing specialty coffee. From the farm straight to your mug, specialty coffee relies on this supply chain to consistently produce a high-level coffee product. However, specialty coffee has grown tremendously in past years, and with this growth has come precise methods by which to measure and classify coffee. The term “specialty coffee” was first used in a 1974 edition of the Tea & Coffee Trade Journal to describe high quality coffee beans grown in special microclimates to increase flavor and preserve freshness. Today, specialty coffee specifically refers to coffee that has scored an 80 or above on a 100 point scale as determined by the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America). This scoring process is carried out by Q-graders, or professionally trained coffee tasters. Coffee that scores between 80 and 84.99 is “very good,” 85-89.99 is “excellent” and 90-100 is “outstanding.”

Scoring Specifics:

How does this scoring work? First, the Q-graders evaluate 350 grams of green coffee, or unroasted coffee beans by visual inspection and look for primary and secondary defects. Primary defects include fully black beans or fully sour beans, while secondary defects include broken beans or beans with moderate water and insect damage. Black beans are often shriveled and cracked, usually caused by fermentation, over-ripe cherries, or not enough water during cherry development. Sour beans are often light or dark brown and are usually caused by delays between picking and depulping, or too much moisture during storage. Coffee is considered “specialty” if it has fewer than 5 secondary defects and no primary defects.

After visual inspection, the green coffee is roasted and tasted through cupping, or simply adding water to the freshly ground beans instead of brewing. Q-graders then assess the coffee for its acidity, body, flavour and aroma among other attributes. As specialty coffee grows in popularity across the US, these discrete standards by which professionals can assess coffee help to ensure the consistency and quality across specialty coffees.

Coffee Lab prides itself in serving only Specialty Coffee. That's why we have our own roasting specialist who meticulously cares for our green bean imports and does the roasting himself. After he roasts, he delivers the fresh batches twice a week to our coffee shop for absolute freshness.

About the Author

Leo Sainati

Student at Northwestern University

Specialty Coffee Barista at Coffee Lab Evanston

Assistant Curriculum Developer at the CL Academy

Writing Intern at Ignitus Digital Evanston

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