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How to Distinguish Specialty Coffee from the Rest

We will help you recognize specialty coffee when you see one so that you make the right coffee choice. And so that you enjoy your cup of brown bliss!

A lot of coffee companies claim that they offer specialty coffee but is that really so? And many roasters also claim the same thing… However, how can an ordinary coffee fan be sure that the coffee in front of them is really a specialty coffee?

Let us give you all the necessary information in our manual!

The specialty coffee segment is growing around the world. In the US, daily consumption of specialty coffee has grown from 9% to 34% in the past 10 years. The UK specialty coffee market will probably grow by 13% every year.

You may find it really convenient, that everything in the chain of a specialty coffee life, from its cultivation by the farmer to its arrival in your cup, can easily be traced. Transparency is one of the characteristics of specialty coffee. Specialty coffees boast such qualities that neither the producers, nor the buyers, nor the roasters (the last two in most cases are the same persons), nor the baristas who brew them, have anything to hide from the client. You can find out the exact place of cultivation of your coffee, who are the farmers that have cultivated it, the processing method, how many bags of it there is, what is the roasting level, the roast date.

If you have missed our articles on what is specialty coffee, how is it roasted and what are the benefits from it, you can catch up now!

And now, let’s find out how to distinguish specialty coffee from the rest.

Getting ready for a professional coffee cupping – the coffee in all 5 cups is one and the same.

You can distinguish specialty coffee from the rest when you know that it has been selected for specialty coffee competitions

Of course, it is safe to say that a coffee is specialty coffee if it has already been to a specialty coffee competition. There are already many of them worldwide, and if you are a DABOV coffee fan, you have certainly heard of Cup of Excellence, Best of Panama, Oro de Santa Barbara in Honduras, Gems of Araku in India. That is why, it is no coincidence that we closely monitor these competitions so that we can bring to your cup exceptional findings from the participants.

And to our advantage, our coffee hunter Jordan Dabov has been among the international judges in them since 2014.

He has already chosen the best specialty coffees during Cup of Excellence in Brazil – 4 times, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua.

And when he was invited to participate in the jury at Best of Panama in 2018, several years have passed since another European judge participated there. At the competition for the most expensive coffee in the world, the Geishas, Jordan was also a judge in 2019. This is a testimony of his qualities as a specialty coffee judge.

How specialty coffees are graded

On these competitions, judges grade all coffee beans out of 100. It is the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) that has developed the system. Specialty coffee is Arabica coffee with a cup score of 80+ points. All coffees that have 86.99 points up are finalists. And all coffees, with score between 85 and 86.99 points, are semifinalists and are called National Winners. Consequently, they are also sold at auction.

Judges in specialty coffee competitions often have their own specialty coffee roasteries or work for such roasteries. So, if you enter in a roastery of some of those judges somewhere in the world, you can be sure that you will apreciate flawless beans in the cup in front of you or in the package you choose to buy.

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A professional coffee cupper is evaluating the defects of the coffee beans in Brazil.

You can distinguish specialty coffee from the rest, when you know that it was graded by a certified specialty coffee cupper

Certified or experienced coffee tasters evaluate specialty coffee qualities. You can get a certificate from the organization Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), which issues diplomas for the so-called Q graders or by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).

Not all coffee tasters are certified by these two organizations. Cup Of Excellence judges do not receive certificates for tasters, but in order to become part of the jury they go through practical and theoretical training every time. That is why the Cup Of Excellence is the most important coffee competition in the world.

In the coffee industry, everybody respects certified and experienced coffee tasters. They have an extensive knowledge about the speciffics of different coffee origins and how to select coffees from them, how to choose the perfect roasting profile and even give advice for the best cultivation and processing practices.

Specialty coffee grades and scores from the certified graders’ list.

ScoreGradeSpecialty Coffee
90-100OutstandingYes
85-89.99ExcellentYes
80-84.99Very GoodYes
Below 80Not aplicableNo
Jordan Dabov is checking the quality of dried coffee beans in our partners’ farm Finca El Puente in Honduras.

You can distinguish specialty coffee from the rest when you know that it comes from a farm that produces specialty coffee

Farms that produce specialty coffee are often family farms with a long tradition of growing coffee. The farm and its owners have a long way to go until they receive certificate for their coffees that deems them specialty coffees. There are no coincidences in the specialty category.

This is a sought-after vocation that farmers have been preparing themselves for years. Their decision and motivation to walk the way of specialty coffee is at the beginning. From there, they start searching for new varieties, they dedicate a lot of time in research, they experiment with processing, they improve hygiene in the farm, and they increase their workers’ wages. Each of these processes affects the final product which transforms into coffee beans of extremely high quality. Sometimes it takes years of hard work from the first step to recognition.

Do all specialty coffee farms participate in Cup of Excellence?

Every farm that has embarked on the path of specialty coffee aims to participate in the Cup Of Excellence competition. Sometimes the samples sent for selection by the farmers reach more than 3000. Initially, the coffees are evaluated by a local jury. This jury selects about 100-150 coffees, of which about 30 reach the competition finals.

If their coffee is highly evaluated during Cup Of Excellence, this is a greta recognition for farmers. This is what measures their work’s efforts. Based on this assessment, they also understand where they are on the road of specialty coffee and how much they have left until the final destination, perfection.

Once they reach the finish line and are recognized, many farmers leave the way for other farmers to participate and focus on good practices on their farms. Even though the recognition of the Cup Of Excellence is accompanied by a high financial payback. Coffee sold at Cup Of Excellence online auctions receives many times higher price than they would receive if sold directly.

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Jordan Dabov (to the left) is leaning towards one of the selected coffees during Cup of Excellence Brazil 2018.

You can take some courses and learn to distinguish specialty coffee from the rest

Step One: choose a training from our own DABOV Specialty Coffee Academy. We have something for coffee lovers and for coffee professionals. We have Coffee Cupping, Brewing Training, Espressology, Latte Art and Barista Maestro. The latter is the course, which extremely avid fans of specialty coffee and professional baristas attend in general.

Our coffeehunter Jordan Dabov is the only Specialty Coffee Association certified barista trainer for Bulgaria and Macedonia and has the right to issue diplomas valid all over the world to the graduates of the course.

Step Two: check out the Specialty Coffee Association website. SCA has set standards for tasters, roasters and baristas, including for coffee brewing with filtration methods or espresso. They also offer the relevant certification courses.

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