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What is the difference between specialty coffee and premium coffee

People sometimes purchase a bag of specialty, premium or gourmet coffee without knowing exactly what they are buying. These terms are confusing; they are often used to refer to quality coffee in general and, in other cases, they are simply used as a marketing strategy to boost sales — particularly the words premium and gourmet.
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Specialty coffee

A specialty coffee is one that, after being evaluated by certified tasters, obtains a cupping score of over 80 points out of 100. According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), a sample of 350 grams of green coffee is analyzed, unroasted, and must be free of any primary defects (full black, full sour, severe insect damage, foreign matter). Only a maximum of five secondary defects (broken or chipped bean, floater, partial sour, wrinkled) are allowed. 

Another characteristic of specialty coffee is that it comes from clearly defined geographical areas and microclimates, it is grown by small producers in microlots, and quality is a priority from farm to cup. For this reason, great care is taken in planting, harvesting, selecting, processing, storing, roasting, grinding and extracting the coffee to yield a drink with complex flavors.

The labels on specialty coffee offer information on the roasting date, origin, farm the beans come from, altitude, process and variety. In addition, the purchase of these beans benefits the coffee farmer, who will be paid a fair price.

As for the terms "premium" and "gourmet", they have been used in marketing without a clearly defined standard and are often used to refer to specialty coffee.

Premium coffee

Premium coffee could be defined as a clean, acceptable bean with a distinctive flavor in the cup, but one that did not receive a high enough score to be considered specialty. Commercial coffee brands sometimes offer above-average coffee that can be classified as premium.

Gourmet coffee

As for gourmet coffee, there is no strict definition either, since it can encompass specialty coffees, premium coffees, or merely serve as an attractive commercial label for marketing purposes. In its most common meaning, “gourmet” designates foods that have been selected with extreme care in order to preserve their attributes, the result of excellent harvesting or processing, and which are consumed by people who appreciate that superior quality.

To determine the quality of a coffee, it is recommended that it be submitted to a certified taster for analysis, and to examine its traceability, which is the information related to the bean’s journey, from the time it is grown, processed, stored, transported, roasted and ground, all the way up to when it is served in a cup.