So what is specialty coffee?
Simpy put...specialty coffee is the best of the best when it comes to coffee.
The term "Specialty Coffee" was first coined by Erna Knutsen in a 1974 issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal.
Specialty coffee undergoes a stringent screening process when the beans are still green (unroasted) and then evaluated during a tasting process after they are roasted called "cupping". Cupping is the tasting process by which a highly skilled taster (much like a somelier) evaluates and assigns scores to each of the coffee’s attributes, such as acidity, body, flavor and aroma. Specialty coffee must possess at least one distinctive attribute in the body, flavor, aroma, or acidity; and must be free of faults and taints.
Don't confuse "specialty coffee" with "gourmet" or "premium" coffee.
Accoridng to the SCAA-Specialty Coffee Association of America, specialty coffee is used to refer to coffee that is graded 80 points or above on a 100 point scale by a certified coffee taster (SCAA) or by a licensed Q Grader (CQI).
Specialty Coffee undergoes a rigorous visual inspection of a 350 gram sample searching for primary and secondary defects. Specialty grade coffee must have zero primary defects. Premium coffee allows primary and secondary defects.