Do you know what Specialty Coffee is? 

You have probably heard these terms: Specialty coffee, gourmet coffee and traditional coffee. Do you know what the differences are between them?

Is Gourmet Coffee different from Specialty Coffee?

Yes, the term Gourmet Coffee is a classification category for roasted and ground coffee created in the Coffee Quality Program of ABIC – Brazilian Association of the Coffee Industry (PQC), launched at the end of 2004.

The PQC proposes three categories of products based on quality levels:
Traditional, Superior and Gourmet. The idea of the program was to educate the consumer and make him discover that there are differences between cafes. The category is defined by the final grade from 0 to 10, being: Traditional, grade equal to or greater than 4.5 and less than 6; Higher, grade equal to or greater than 6 and up to 7.2; and Gourmet, score equal to or higher than 7.3 and up to 10. The PQC Quality Symbol informs the consumer of the coffee flavor profile, divided into 7 categories: type (arabica and/or conilon), beverage, roasting (very light, light, moderately light, medium light, medium, moderately dark, dark and very dark), grind (coarse, medium coarse, medium, medium fine, fine), taste, body and aroma. High quality Gourmet coffee, with a smoother flavor and aroma due to the selection of beans and controlled roasting.

If the score is below 4.5, coffee is not recommended.

Grain quality makes all the difference

What is Specialty Coffee?

According to the Sensory Assessment Methodology of the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association), used all over the world, Specialty Coffee is any coffee that reaches at least 80 points on the methodology’s scoring scale (which goes up to 100), being evaluated the following attributes:

  • Fragrance/Aroma
  • Uniformity (each cup statistically represents 20% of the evaluated batch)
  • Absence of Defects
  • Sweetness
  • Flavor
  • Acidity
  • Body
  • Finalization
  • Harmony
  • Final Concept (general impression about the coffee, attributed by the
    classifier. Only part of the classifier’s subjectivity in the evaluation of
    the sample)

Specialty Coffee stands out in these attributes, having flavors and aromas that can be fruity, herbal, sweets such as caramel and chocolate, for example (see our post on the special coffee aroma wheel). We can make an analogy with wine, as coffee can also be appreciated for its sensory characteristics and not just for its caffeine. Depending on the growing region, post-harvest care and roasting, you have different and delicious coffees.

New coffee aroma wheel in Portuguese

And believe me, when you try a specialty coffee, you won’t want another coffee!

These Gourmet and Special classifications are for Arabica coffee only, as the drink made from this species is considered noble for its complexity of aroma and flavor (sweetness and acidity). See the difference between arabica and conilon coffee.


Special raw bean – 100% Arabica

But the grade is not the only difference between the beans. When we are talking about Specialty and Gourmet Coffee, we must pay attention to some extra care, such as roasting. We know that the type of coffee roast affects its flavor in the cup. The same coffee, in different roasts, will taste different. This happens because the longer the coffee is in the roaster, the more natural sugar from the bean is consumed. Therefore, the darker the coffee roast, the less sweetness it will have. 


When we want gourmet coffee, even the roasting and grinding process makes a

In addition to roasting, there are other important factors to extract the best
from this coffee in the cup, such as grinding, preparation method and the water
used. With this, you can extract the best coffee, feeling all the flavor,
acidity and body, a unique experience.

What about traditional coffee?

Traditional coffee is of inferior quality. It is made up of arabica coffee with
a high incidence of defects and is sold to national industries at lower prices. This quality is known by traders as “low” or “consumption”, referring to low quality Arabica and domestic coffee. Blends with this low arabica coffee are made with conilon coffee, until traditional coffee standards are obtained, which always remain the same.

Such coffees end up being characterized by a much finer grind and a very dark roast, to disguise the imperfections of the beans. It’s the black coffee we drink every day or when we go to the bakery. The result of this synthesis is just the bitterness of the grain, hence the need to sweeten it.

See the difference between a traditional coffee (left) and a special coffee
(right) in the filter:


Coffee grounds – Traditional x Special

Are there differences if I am a producer?

If you are a coffee producer and want to produce specialty coffees with greater added value, you should invest mainly in post-harvest, taking care to have batches without defects and with the sensory characteristics that classify them as special.

How about you? Have you tried special coffee? Could you feel the difference in the flavors? Place an order and receive your super fresh specialty coffee at home!