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What is Specialty Coffee?

Have you heard about specialty coffee? What is specialty coffee? You might be surprised to learn that your daily sweet, syrupy Starbucks morning mocha, while special to you, likely wouldn’t pass the “specialty coffee” test. Even if you’re a coffee lover, the term specialty coffee might be new to you. But chances are you’ve noticed some of the important signifiers of specialty coffee, like packaging that includes coffee roasting dates and country of origin. Read on to learn more about the standards that define specialty coffee.

Although Knutsen Coffee Ltd.’s Erna Knutsen first coined the term in the 1970s, specialty coffee is typically considered a product of The Third Wave of Coffee. The scale used to identify these specialty beans is similar to those used to rate wine. But unlike wine, where a single individual or company often oversees the entire production process, coffee passes through a number of hands that ultimately play a role in creating a specialty product.

Steps in the process of creating a specialty coffee

According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCCA), the cultivation and picking of beans is merely the first step in creating a specialty coffee. To truly achieve specialty status, specific standards are set at every stage of production.


The first and arguably most important step is cultivating and harvesting the beans. Specialty coffee’s journey from the coffee farm to your coffee cup begins with the farmer. Certain micro-climates provide the best soil for high-quality, beans, but it’s the farmer who cares for and cultivates those beans.

Then, they watch closely as the coffee cherry develops, only picking the ripest cherries for the next stage of production. Instead of relying on machines, specialty coffee farmers select and hand-pick only the best of these mature beans. This makes plant husbandry a vital part of the process when creating a specialty product.


Next, a quick delivery from the tree to the mill will help ensure the bean’s potential to be preserved. At the mill, the coffee cherry is processed. This begins with the removal of skin and pulp, and then the coffee is dried. Humidity, temperature, and storage all play a critical role at this stage of production.

Unlike mass-produced coffee, this involves a rigorous process of quality control including checking and comparing the weight and size of each coffee bean. Those that don’t meet specialty coffee standards don’t get processed. Only the best of the best green coffee beans are then prepared for shipping to the roaster.


Here is where the third key concept comes into play, what the SCAA revers to as revelation. Roasting is a crucial step in the specialty coffee process. It only takes as little as 15 minutes of over-roasting to completely ruin the years of the production process. In this stage, the roaster must also accurately identify the coffee’s potential through the cupping process and develop its unique flavors. Only beans with a cupping score of 80 points or higher out of 100 will pass the specialty coffee test.

Now it’s time to properly package the roasted product. For Nomi, that means no more than a week between roasting and shipping our coffee to you. After all, the ideal amount of time between roasting and drinking your specialty coffee is within 4-6 weeks after the roast date. And don’t worry, Nomi includes the roast date on every bag so you can know exactly how long you have to enjoy the best cup of coffee at home.


After roasting and before brewing, there’s the grinding of the beans. To ensure that speciality coffee flavor, you should also grind the beans as close to brewing time as possible. And be careful not to over-grind those beans! The size and coarseness of the coffee grounds will also affect the taste. You’ll want to adjust the level of grinding based on which brewing method you plan to use. French press and cold brew typically require a coarse or chunky grind while a Moka Pot does best with a finely ground bean, with a similar consistency as table salt.


Last but not least, the final stage in the process from farmer to consumer takes place. It’s time to brew that delicious cup of joe. As with grinding levels, the time and temperature you use for brewing will depend on your preferred brewing method. If you’re using a french press or pour-over method, we’d recommend brewing for 4 minutes at 200 degrees.

Ultimately, specialty coffee is about more than taste and quality. It’s about creating a product where everyone on the supply chain is respected and valued for their individual roles in the process. At Nomi, we aren’t just aiming to bring you a great cup of coffee. Behind every bean is a story. A story that begins with the farmer, and ends with you.

Our goal is to deliver a product you can feel good about because you know where it came from. And one you can enjoy from home without any guilt over wasteful, post-brew pods. That’s a win-win for everyone involved.

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