Specialty Coffee Examples - A Detailed Guide

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Specialty Coffee Examples - A Detailed Guide

This in-depth guide covers numerous examples of specialty coffees from around the world, their unique flavors, origins and characteristics that make t
Specialty Coffee Examples - A Detailed Guide

 Specialty coffee has exploded in popularity in recent years. But what exactly makes a coffee "specialty"? In this comprehensive guide, we'll cover numerous examples of acclaimed specialty coffees from around the world and delve into what gives each their distinctive character.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Specialty Coffee

So what exactly constitutes "specialty" coffee? According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), there are a few key criteria:

  1. Grown at high altitudes of 3000 feet or more
  2. Ripe, flavorful coffee cherry varieties like Typica, Bourbon, Caturra
  3. Proper processing and drying
  4. Score 80 points or above on a 100 point sensory scale

Essentially, specialty coffees are the highest quality beans produced in microclimates suitable for growing flavorful coffee. They exhibit no flaws or defects and possess unique flavors and aromas.

Let's look at some shining examples from top coffee-growing regions around the globe:

Kenyan AA Coffee

One of the most highly regarded specialty coffee origins, Kenyan coffees like Kenyan AA are famed for their brisk, vibrant acidity and potent sweet fruit notes. The rolling hills of central Kenya provide excellent growing conditions. Key features:

  • Grown at high elevations up to 6,500 ft on Kenya's fertile central highlands
  • Rich volcanic soil nourishes coffee trees and contributes to distinctive flavor profile
  • Processed using the washed or "wet" method to bring out acidity and fruit tones
  • Notable white grape, lemony acidity with undertones of black currant and stone fruit

Ethiopian Yirgacheffe

Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and still produces some of the world's most prized beans today. Yirgacheffe is widely considered Ethiopia's finest growing region:

  • Located in southern Ethiopia at elevations from 1,700 to 2,200 meters
  • Microclimate and fertile soil produce beans with floral, citrus notes
  • Processed using the washed or natural methods
  • Floral aroma, intense citrus acidity, rich mouthfeel

Colombian Supremo

The rugged, mountainous coffee regions of Colombia yield some of the most consistent and balanced specialty coffees:

  • Grown in the Colombian Andes at ideal high elevations
  • Volcanic soil, plentiful rainfall create prime growing conditions
  • Wet-processed to highlight complex fruit flavors
  • Smooth, syrupy body with red apple, milk chocolate notes

Costa Rican Tarrazu

The rich volcanic soil and microclimates of Costa Rica's central highlands produce some of the most sought-after beans in the world:

  • Tarrazu region has high elevations up to 5,900 ft
  • Steep slopes yield dense, deeply flavorful coffee cherries
  • Processed using the washed method to accentuate crisp fruit notes
  • Complex acidity with notes of orange, lemon, chocolate

Brazilian Santos

The largest coffee producer in the world, Brazil grows vast amounts of commercial coffee, though also boasts some prized specialty beans like Santos:

  • Grown in the state of São Paulo, near the port of Santos
  • Lower elevations produce smooth, balanced, less acidic coffee
  • Dry processing helps bring out the cocoa, nutty dimensions
  • Silky, creamy body with chocolate, almond, sweet spice notes

Indonesian Sumatran

The Indonesian island of Sumatra is known for full-bodied, earthy coffees like Mandheling and Lintong:

  • Grown near Lake Toba in rich volcanic soil
  • Processed using the wet hulling or Giling Basah method
  • Bold, syrupy texture with intense herbal, spicy notes
  • Complex earthiness with tobacco, cedar qualities

Hawaiian Kona

The pristine, mineral-rich volcanic soil of Hawaii's Big Island imparts a delicious flavor and aroma:

  • Grown on fertile Kona coast of Hawaii
  • Ideal growing conditions yield densely flavored cherries
  • Medium body, vibrant acidity, divine florals
  • Jasmine, brown sugar with clean fruit tones

Jamaican Blue Mountain

Jamaica's Blue Mountains produce one of the most revered gourmet coffees in the world:

  • Grown at heights up to 5,000 ft in the Blue Mountain range
  • Sparse coffee cherries impart intense flavor
  • Subtle, balanced profile with delicate acidity
  • Hint of spice with orange, vanilla notes

Indian Monsooned Malabar

A unique monsooning process adds a distinctly spicy, mellow dimension to these Indian beans:

  • Native to India's Malabar Coast region
  • Monsooning entails repeated exposure to moist monsoon winds
  • Process reduces acidity and amplifies body and exotic flavors
  • Notes of cardamom, nutmeg, earthy woodiness

Yemen Mocha

The original beans used for Mocha coffee, Yemenia Moach Mocha is dried in a unique way to bring out the fruit flavors:

  • Grown in rugged, mountainous regions of Yemen
  • Dried in the sun to allow cherries to raisin, which removes moisture but retains sugars
  • Complex, winey acidity balanced by chocolate notes
  • Wild, fruity flavor with hints of spices


These are just a handful of examples of the incredible diversity of flavors, aromas and qualities found among specialty coffees worldwide. From the sparkling citrus of a Kenyan AA to the seductive fruitiness of a Jamaican Blue Mountain, specialty coffees offer a nuanced tasting experience that continues to beguile coffee connoisseurs and newcomers alike. With dedicated small-scale farmers constantly improving their plant stock and growing techniques, the specialty coffee scene promises to continue thriving and surprising for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What qualifies a coffee as "specialty"?
  2. To be considered specialty, coffee must be scored 80 points or above on a 100-point scale and exhibit no defects. It is grown at high altitudes in optimal coffee-growing climates and processed carefully to highlight unique flavors.

  3. What makes Kenyan AA coffee special?
  4. Kenyan AA comes from Kenya's high-altitude central highlands where climate and soil produce beans with refreshing acidity, sweet fruit notes and vibrant character.

  5. Why is Yirgacheffe considered Ethiopia's best coffee?
  6. The Yirgacheffe region has an ideal microclimate and terroir for growing intensely floral, citrusy coffees with fine acidity and complexity. Careful processing accentuates these floral qualities.

  7. What kind of flavors does Tarrazu coffee have?
  8. Coffees from Costa Rica's Tarrazu growing region offer a symphony of fruit tones like orange, lemon and red cherry along with hints of chocolate and sweet spice.

  9. How does monsooning process affect Indian Malabar beans?
  10. Monsooning involves prolonged exposure to moist winds that mellows the beans' acidity while bringing out exotic spicy flavors and a fuller body.

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