"Specialty coffee" was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen in an issue of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. Knutsen used this term to describe beans of the best flavor which are produced in special microclimates.
Specialty coffee should not be confused with "gourmet" or "premium" coffee. The latter are marketing terms with no defined standards. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), coffee which scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale is graded "specialty." Specialty coffees are grown in special and ideal climates and are distinctive because of their full cup taste and little to no defects. The unique flavors and tastes are a result of the special characteristics and composition of the soils in which they are produced.
The specialty segment is the most rapidly growing portion of the coffee industry. In the U.S., specialty coffee has increased its market share from 1% to 20% in the last 25 years.
Coffee cupping, or coffee tasting, is the practice of observing the tastes and aromas of brewed coffee. It is a professional practice but can be done informally by anyone or by professionals known as "Master Tasters". A standard coffee cupping procedure involves deeply sniffing the coffee, then loudly slurping the coffee so it spreads to the back of the tongue. The coffee taster attempts to measure aspects of the coffee's taste, specifically the body (the texture or mouthfeel, such as oiliness), sweetness, acidity (a sharp and tangy feeling, like when biting into an orange), flavor (the characters in the cup), and aftertaste. Since coffee beans embody telltale flavors from the region where they were grown, cuppers may attempt to identify the coffee's origin.
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