What is Speciality Coffee

What is Speciality Coffee

Breaking down the Speciality Coffee Association scoring system

The Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) scoring system is fairly new, starting in 1982. The purpose was to differentiate specialty coffee from commercial coffee and to create a means of evaluating coffee quality. The system was created with the intention of making cupping more consistent and reliable. It was also intended to make it easier to communicate about coffee, especially with regard to buying and selling.While the system is well-known and broadly used, it is still worth explaining why it was created.    

What is Speciality Coffee

Coffee is scored during cupping, which is the act of preparing and evaluating brewed samples called “cupping”, using a special brewing process.

Coffee (the drink, not the beans) has almost 450 flavor compounds. Professionals taste coffee with a “tongue map” in their minds, they don’t use the taste buds on their tongue. The tip of the tongue tastes sweet and salty, the sides taste bitter and sour and the back taste umami.


The SCA cupping method generally involves tasting six cups of coffee at once. Each cup uses 7 grams of ground coffee and 125 grams of water, which steeps for four minutes before you begin tasting. Because the same amount of water is used for each cup, the extraction percentage will vary depending on how fine or coarse the grind is. To account for this, cuppers use different grind settings for each sample.

What is Speciality Coffee

The SCA Evaluation Points

Aroma: scale of 0.25 with a maximum of 10 points.

Taste: scale of 0.25 with a maximum of 10 points.

Aftertaste: scale of 0.25 with a maximum of 10 points.

Acidity: scale of 0.25 with a maximum of 10 points.

Body: scale of 0.25 with a maximum of 10 points.

Balance: scale of 0.25 with a maximum of 10 points.

Cleaning: 2-point scale with a maximum of 10 points.

Sweetness: 2-point scale with a maximum of 10 points.

Uniformity: 2-point score with a maximum score of 10 points.

General: scale of 0.25 with a maximum score of 10 points

Coffee defects are also evaluated. These can include fermentation, phenol, fungus, chemical taints, or other taints that decrease quality and cleanliness of the drink.

Defect intensities:

  • Minus 2 points for a defect that lowers quality and cleanliness.

  • Minus 4 points to a strong defect – one that seriously damages the quality and cleanliness of the cup.

SCA coffee scoring system is used in competitions

The SCA system isn’t used just for cupping, the SCA’s scoring system is also used during competition, where it’s employed as a means of evaluating different coffees on an objective scale, regardless of what their subjective qualities are. Obviously, this makes it easier for judges to come to a consensus about which coffees tasted the best, and therefore should be awarded points.

It’s important to remember, however, that there is no perfect coffee scorecard. Each scoring chart is designed with a specific purpose in mind and is best suited for certain situations. For example, the SCA scoring chart is ideal for evaluating crops and comparing similar crops against each other, but it’s not as well-suited for roasting and brewing purposes.       


What is Speciality Coffee

Members of SCAE and SCA since 2004.

The Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) is the largest coffee trade association in the world. It has a global membership of individuals and companies involved in the speciality coffee industry, including roasters and retailers. It aims to promote excellence in coffee and improve sustainability through education, research, training and science.

The SCA is based in the US but has offices around the world. It operates the Coffee Quality Institute, which provides training and educational resources for professionals across the supply chain, from farmer to barista, as well as offering certification programmes for all stages of coffee production, preparation and serving.

Back to blog