We’ll begin by defining specialty coffees — and what differentiates them from lower-quality beans. Although many coffees claim to be “gourmet” or “export grade,” a true specialty coffee must meet two basic conditions for us to label it as such: high quality in each cup (objectively determined by its cupping score, which must exceed 84 points), and complete traceability back to the origin of the lot.
For a coffee to earn a high cupping score, it must meet two conditions:
1. Supreme cleanliness, with balanced sweetness and acidity
2. High aromatic complexity..
The traceability of each batch is not only important to understanding the story behind each coffee and the factors that determine its quality, but also to ensuring that producers are fairly compensated for their efforts.
Next, we will explore key factors determining quality. It is important to keep in mind that the whole of these factors, and not any one in isolation, determine if a coffee ends up reaching the highest levels of quality.