The global specialty coffee market grew by 11.8% in 2020 despite drastic contractions in the restaurant and hospitality sector1. The market is set to expand with a compound annual growth rate of 13% between 2021 and 2024. Specialty coffee is an artisan industry with unique scoring methods and flavor profiling designed to test the quality of each cup. This article will provide insights into the industry-standard coffee testing process and the rules and regulations regarding specialty coffee.
Coffee Testing: The Official Process
The Speciality Coffee Association2 has set specific guidelines for coffee sampling to ensure uniformity in testing standards. Beans are roasted, sampled, and then assigned a grade (out of 100) based on numerous characteristics and criteria.
Samples are roasted for between eight and 12 minutes and allowed to rest for at least eight hours2. The beans must be consumed within 24 hours of roasting. The Speciality Coffee Association makes recommendations for the size of the cup, the pouring method, and the measurements used when testing beans. At least five cups of coffee are prepared from the samples to evaluate the beans’ flavor profile and unique qualities.
Sample Testing Criteria
Scoring is based on 10 defined categories2. The fragrance of the beans when pouring, roasting, and tasting is the first noted quality. The sweetness, body, balance, acidity, and the beans’ flavor profile contribute to the majority of the total score.
Homogeneity of the coffee cups, a lack of defects, and the brightness of the coffee are the remaining categories. The overall perception of samples is what grants additional points. The points in each category are assigned as follows: six points for satisfactory, seven for very good, eight for excellent, nine for outstanding, and 10, being the top score, for perfect.
|80-84.99||Very good — specialty|
|85-89.99||Excellent — specialty|
|>90||Outstanding — specialty|
To be classified as specialty coffee, coffee beans must score 80 or higher 2. Beans with a score of 80 – 84.99 are considered very good; between 85 – 89.99 are considered excellent. The top 1% of all specialty coffee beans hold outstanding scores of 90 or above.
Coffee Testing: Flavor Profile
Coffee sampling and tasting notes are subjective, but the coffee tasters’ flavor wheel denotes the standard categories of flavors commonly experienced by coffee drinkers.
The coffee tasters flavor wheel was designed by World Coffee Research in 1995.
Simplified Coffee Tasters’ Flavor Wheel
The wheel outlines nine flavor categories with numerous sub-categories. Desired flavor profiles include fruity, sweet, nutty, and cocoa, and various spices. Unwanted flavors such as chemical or sour notes will lead to lower testing scores. Coffee flavors are uniquely perceived, and individuals with different tasting pallets may pick up specific notes over others. Generally, specialty coffee is roasted in a manner to highlight the natural flavor profile of the beans.
For the accurate comparison of beans, the testing of specialty coffee is a standardized and repeatable system.The quality of specialty-grade coffee beans is verified to ensure consumer confidence. The rise of specialty coffee will continue as global coffee drinkers gain access to new varieties, regions, and flavor profiles.