speciality or chiefly  ( US and Canadian ) specialty
— n , pl -ties
1.a special interest or skill
2.a. a service or product specialized in, as at a restaurant: roastbeef was a speciality of the house
b. ( as modifier ): a speciality dish
3.a special or distinguishing feature or characteristic

When I want to describe the niche sliver, the subset of the coffee industry with which I am interested the term I use is most often “speciality coffee”. This is the term used by several associations who purport to represent this culture. The term is of course used rather broadly, and seems to apply as much to Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kopi Luwak, and frou-frou-coffee drinks as it does in-season, impeccably processed, single varietal, lightly roasted coffees (for example).
Another, less subjective definition of specialty (or speciality depending on your fondness for the letter “i”) is a coffee that scores a minimum of 80 points on the  100 point scale. The lower end of this scale would allow for some pretty average tasting coffees. It also defines speciality at green, taking little account of its subsequent treatment. Two roasters may buy a 90 point coffee, one might make a shit of it. Both can justifiably self-identify as speciality.
Taken as a whole, the term speciality, in its literal meaning and in its usage, for me fails to define this subset of the coffee industry. Another term perhaps better describes it.

pro·gres·sive [pruh-gres-iv]
1.favoring or advocating progress,  change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters: a progressive mayor.
2.making progress  toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.
3.characterized by such progress,  or by continuous improvement.

Progressive coffee for me, as a concept, acknowledges that coffee is only a partially solved puzzle. While coffee is currently better, and we are more enlightened to the production of quality than in times gone by, in the future we, or others will no doubt look back at the present as lacking in many ways. Quality isn’t static or absolute. Satisfaction with the present should only be relative. There are few aspects, if any in the production of a cup of coffee which cannot be improved. Taken as a whole, this multifactorial array of improvement, which will be made, envisage a future coffee perhaps recognisable from what we now regard as the pinnacle.

Until then, progress.


5 thoughts on “speciality

  1. Defining “specialty” (or speciality) is easy. You or I could do it over beers. The problem is when you’re the trade association.

    For both the SCAE and SCAA, you have a wide diversity of members. Even if you and I came up with a fairly generous definition, you’d still effectively disqualify a large number of SCAA & SCAE members, and perhaps many if not most of the larger companies at that.

    The 80-plus-zero-defects type definition that SCAA has is a green coffee standard. It’s relatively easy for an association like the SCAA to develop a green coffee standard when the economic power lies on the consuming-world side, with the green coffee producers being much less enfranchised. It would be much more difficult to develop a roasted coffee or beverage quality standard because of the politics involved.

    The SCAE took the problem and solved it a different way: by developing a beverage standard, but making it so subjective that it effectively removes every meaning of the word “standard.”

    Neither case here is a criticism. More, an acknowledgement of the realities the associations face.

    “Progressive,” in my opinion, is just as bad. “Partially solved puzzle” is merely another cop-out, avoiding the hard-line dogma that establishing a real and substantive standard would require. I believe that there is true high-quality coffee, and low-quality coffee product(s). One day, someone will have the balls (or bollocks) to develop and publicly push an industry standard for high-quality roasted and brewed product. Until then, we’ll continue to avoid the real issue.

  2. Very well put Nick Cho, I couldn’t have said it or agree with you more.

    To David, I think that the confusion in your article lies in the fact that you’re using both terms, definition & description, sort of interchangeably … so I also thought you were saying we need a better “definition” for our niche of the coffee industry.

    Great discussion though and I’m glad my buddy dailydemitasse shared the article with me 🙂

  3. Pingback: Daniel of Arabica - The problem with “Specialty” coffee

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