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Common terms about Specialty Coffee you should know

In recent years, the specialty coffee trend has become prominent among the coffee enthusiasts community, turning the enjoyment of that aromatic, bitter drink into a culture. When you visit specialty coffee shops or come across coffee articles, you may see such terms as third-wave, blend, single origin, artisan, cupping, etc. For those who are in the coffee sector, these languages are rather similar, but for others, they are quite difficult to reach.

So, what are the most common terms used in the specialty coffee industry and what do they really mean? Let’s explore with us in the article below!

Specialty Coffee

The term refers to the coffee beans that must pass a certified coffee taster (SCAA) or a licensed Q Grader (CQI) for transparent origin, flavor value, and closed production process.

Unlike commercial coffee, the beans used to produce Specialty Coffee are strictly selected. All stages of harvesting and processing from the coffee farm must be carefully conducted by hand, to bring out the most qualified beans. In addition, factors such as climate, topography, soil, and origin are also paid attention to because different farming regions will produce different coffee flavors.

Third-wave Coffee

In the 1960s, coffee consumption began to increase exponentially. For the very first time, coffee became widely accessible, which marked the first wave. The second wave came with an increase in the quality of coffee available and coffee shops, like Starbucks. Coffee began to become more of a luxury product than a necessity.

Gradually, the quality of coffee and the relationship between cultivation, production, and preparation, have received more attention. Producers became interested in high-quality coffee production and viewed coffee as a craft – and this was also the third wave of coffee.

Single Origin

Single Origin, or Origin Coffee, is local coffee grown in a typical region, not distributed in combination with any others. The trees are cultivated from specific soils in terms of climate and landscape, so when used, you will feel the rustic flavor and characteristics of each area where they are cultivated. For example, Latin America often gives Single Origin beans with acidity and the smell of cocoa; while in the Asia-Pacific, indigenous coffee beans will carry aromas of herbs and grains.

For the sake of taste, the traceability and transparency of the chain’s specialty coffee are also of great concern.


Blend means a blend of many different types of coffee beans, giving a special flavor. The blending of beans aims to provide a balance of sweetness, aroma, acidity, and coffee body.

In addition, blend is also a way to mask and repair defects between coffees. For example, Robusta has a strong bitter taste, but the aroma and aftertaste are not long, while Arabica has a characteristic sour taste, and attractive scent, featuring a light aftertaste which also does not last long. When mixing the two types, the cup of coffee becomes more complete in flavor and taste.


Arabica coffee originated from Ethiopia, then bred and became a popular commercial coffee crop around the world. This nut has a characteristic sour note, moderate caffeine content (from 1.2% – 1.5%), and multi-layered flavor – including mild bitterness, slightly sour taste, seductive fruity, and caramel flavors. This also makes Arabica the most premium quality coffee in the world.


Compared with Arabica, Robusta coffee is more resistant to pests, diseases, and gives high yields. Therefore, the cost of growing Robusta is lower than that of Arabica. However, Robusta cannot endure prolonged drought and poor cold tolerance, so the output is often unstable.

Robusta coffee beans are round and smaller than Arabica. In terms of taste, Robusta is quite strong, and rich, with a characteristic aroma due to its high caffeine content, about 2-2.5%.


Cupping or Coffee Tasting is the way of the tasting process to judge the quality of coffee. This process aims to analyze the quality, price, and flavor potential of each bean. Professional Cupping is usually performed by expert tasters, known as “Q Graders” and must follow certain techniques.

Through much trial and error, over 5 years, the SCAA Cupping standard has evolved into a system of 10 quality attributes, each of which is given 10 points, hence the assessment of specialty coffee will be based on a 100-point scale.

Craft & Artisan

These terms are used to refer to a more premium, higher-quality product that is carefully crafted by hand. In the specialty coffee industry, Craft and Artisan are most commonly associated with roasting and are often used in conjunction with terms such as manual roasting and craft brewing.

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