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Coming This Month: Producer Perspectives on the Definition of ‘Specialty Coffee’


Independent parties from throughout the coffee industry are convening for an online exploration of producers’ perspectives of the definition of the term “specialty coffee.”

The free-to-attend English/Spanish discussion event, called “How We Define Specialty Coffee: Producer Perspectives/Cómo Definimos Café de Especialidad: Las Perspectivas de Productoras.” is being hosted by the International Women In Coffee (IWCA) Honduras chapter and the Women In Coffee Project on Saturday, Feb. 12 at 11 a.m. Eastern time. Click here to register. The discussion will be translated live into English and Spanish.

It comes four months after the United States- and Europe-based Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) released a white paper called “Towards a Definition of Specialty Coffee.”

The SCA report recognized a need for the coffee trade organization to revise and update existing definitions of specialty coffee. It proposed a definition based on coffee attributes and their marketplace connections, rather than merely relying on definitions of “quality.” The working definition in that white paper is:

Specialty coffee is a coffee or coffee experience recognized for its distinctive attributes, and because of these attributes, has significant extra value in the marketplace.

That important work has prompted further discussion throughout the coffee world, including a conversation in the Facticity Coffee Club, an online coffee discussion group launched by longtime coffee professional, marketer and journalist Ever Meister. The group offers monthly discussion topics, while promoting a broad range of perspectives from throughout the coffee chain.

“We spent our first month examining what ‘specialty coffee’ means, and I assigned some groups to reach out to producers to ask them what they think,” Meister recently told DCN. “This panel discussion was born out of those findings, and inspired by the really powerful and emotional response that a lot of producers have had to the white paper, and to the ways that we discuss and attempt to define ‘specialty.'”


The forthcoming online discussion will be moderated by Amaris Gutierrez-Ray, the director of coffee and roasting at New York City’s Joe Coffee Company. Gutierrez-Ray is also the founder of the not-for-profit Women in Coffee Project and an active member of the Facticity Coffee Club.

Panelists at the upcoming discussion include: third-generation coffee producer and IWCA Honduras President Orieta Pinto; past IWCA Honduras president, coffee producer and Beneficio San Marcos manager Delmy Regalado; Salvadoran coffee farmer (Finca San Antonio Amatepec) and Virginia Tech master’s candidate Karla Boza; and longtime Honduras small-scale farmer advocate and IWCA Honduras founding member Diana Osorto. 

Gutierrez-Ray told DCN that any conversation surrounding the “definition” of specialty coffee is bound to be inherently limited, given language differences or individual priorities within the supply stream. However, the event is an attempt to amplify the voices of producers (sellers) in an industry in which roasters and traders (buyers) have historically dictated such definitions.

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“There also seem to be different ways to quantify value, on the one hand talking about the product (the physical attributes of the green coffee itself) and on the other talking about the process (the human labor adding the value to the raw material),” Gutierrez-Ray said via email. “When you place those separate value signifiers into a marketplace, the framework is at risk of prioritizing only what the buyer sees as being the most valuable.”

Meister echoed that notion, suggesting the coffee industry has an obligation to ensure that its definitions and use of language are more inclusive and meaningful.

“I am especially concerned with how our expectations, ideas, language, and the moving target of this definition impacts coffee growers, period,” Meister said. “It’s already hard as hell to grow coffee, let alone grow great coffee, let alone grow great traceable coffee, let alone grow and market great traceable coffee — what else are we going to ask for?”

Click here to register for the event.

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