Specialty Coffee Defined

Specialty coffee represents the very best of the world’s coffee yield or 3% of global production. There are many standards and designations that form the starting point in finding the best coffees.

Among the trade, coffee is divided into three categories: “high-grown mild,” “Brazilian,” and “Robusta.” High-grown mild coffees demand the highest price and are of superior quality. They grow at an altitude of over 2,000 feet and mostly between 4,000 and 6,000 feet. High-grown milds are picked by hand only when ripe and processed with care and attention to detail. It is only from these premium coffees that we select our beans for you.

“Brazilian,” as a trade term, refers to lower-grade coffees, and not necessarily to all coffees produced in Brazil. There are many wonderful quality coffees originating in Brazil, but as a trade term, “Brazilian,” represents lower quality coffees grown at lower altitudes on vast plantations and mass harvested.

The third category, “Robusta,” is not a specialty coffee but represents Coffea Canephora used by most institutional roasters.

Complementing the trade categories, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has created a common standard of quality for Coffea Arabica. Specialty Coffee is defined as Class 1, Specialty Grade by the SCAA and shows zero primary defects, up to 5 secondary defects, and zero quakers (unripened coffee beans) in a 350 gram sample. It should also register 80 points or above in cup evaluation in a 100 gram roasted sample.

SCAA Classification Full Defects Allowed Primary Defects Allowed
Specialty Grade 0-5 No
Premium Grade 0-8 Yes
Exchange Grade 9-23 Yes
Below Standard Grade 24-86 Yes
Off Grade Over 86 Yes

In addition, growing regions typically have their own systems to indicate quality or grades. For example, in Costa Rica coffee grown above 3,900 feet is designated “strictly hard bean” reflecting the higher density of the bean and the unique and prized qualities of coffee grown at higher altitudes.

While ultimate quality should be based on the drinker’s goals and tastes, Longbottom seeks out only the finest coffees available. These are always “high-grown milds” of specialty grade and the best that a growing region has to offer such as strictly hard bean. We then cup every contract to find and roast the very best for you.