Speciality Coffee: Quality Scores Explained

Posted on Posted in Behind the scenes, Coffee

Pact Coffee Specialty coffee scoring

We pride ourselves on selling speciality coffee. That word ‘speciality’ is important to us. It means our coffee has been awarded with a Quality Score of 80 or above. But where does that Quality Score come from, and what does it tell you about what’s in your cup?

As long-standing Pact customers will know, every coffee has its own unique personality. They’re tricky to compare, so the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) came up with a system to give every coffee a score out of 100.

Coffee Quality Scores broken down:

65 – 80 = Commodity Coffee
The type used to make supermarket coffee, blends and instant.

80+ = Specialty Coffee
The flavours are more subtle, the cup more balanced. At Pact we only buy coffees of 84+, though most of them score 86+.

90+ = Presidential Award
These prestigious coffees make up less than 1% of the specialty coffee market, they’re just that rare. And that good.

Pact Coffee Cupping

What’s a coffee’s Quality Score based on?
Following a series of ‘cuppings’ from coffee tasting pros, a score is awarded based on a number of different criteria:

Lack of defects
A coffee with any defects (you can find out about those here) is unlikely to score more than 80 points,
as the penalty is so high. Between 1 and 3 points can be dropped if a defect is detected in the cup,
and multiplied by the number of cups in which it’s present.

There are lots of different types of sweetness in coffee; fruit, honey and sugar are three examples.
The more distinct and pleasant, the higher the score.

Acidity can be malic (apple), tartaric (grapes) or citric, for a high score the acidity won’t be overwhelming.

We all know coffee is bitter but the bitterness can often be pleasant.
The best coffees have a perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness.

Coffees all have a slightly different viscosity. Think of the difference between the feel of butter,
juice and tea in your mouth, if consistent, they all have their own merits.

All of the above happen in your mouth, but when you taste anything there’s also usually a lot going on behind your nose.
A high Quality Score will reflect well-developed flavours, which might include
peach, chocolate, cherry, blackcurrant and even Earl Grey tea.

Will Corby Pact Coffee

Quality Scoring in action…

Will, our Head of Coffee (looking brooding above), has scored thousands of coffees throughout his career and more than 1,000 coffees for Pact this year alone. Out of those 1,000 coffees, only a relatively small number will make the grade and be added to the Pact Coffee Menu.

The highest scoring cup Will has ever tasted was an entrant in Guatemala’s Cup of Excellence competition in 2014. It was called El Injerto and it scored 96. To get an idea of how exclusive that stuff was, think of it as the equivalent of the best bottle of wine produced in France that year.

Will’s second-highest scoring cup ever was from a farm called Finca la Huerta in Copan, Honduras. It’s a katimor variety of arabica bean and he was so taken with he bought a batch of it for Pact. It scored a stonking 93 out of 100!

7 thoughts on “Speciality Coffee: Quality Scores Explained

  1. Thank you for the information is really useful, however, do you what company is in charge in Colombia South America to give a score of coffee makers?

    1. Hi Daniel. The FNC will have the final say for most of the producers cupping score in Colombia. A producer should get a good understanding from the mill they are dealing with though if that mill understands the specialty process.

  2. Good afternoon we specialise in great tasting coffeebeans that come from the high regions of Vietnam. How can we send a sample to you. Your view would be very much appreciated thankyou. Kind regards Mr ar mellor (sales representative)

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