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100% Specialty Grade Coffee

What is Specialty Grade?

Complementing the trade categories, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has created a common standard of quality for Coffea Arabica. Specialty Coffee is defined as Class 1, Specialty Grade by the SCAA and shows zero primary defects, up to 5 secondary defects, and zero quakers (unripened coffee beans) in a 350 gram sample. It should also register 80 points or above in cup evaluation in a 100 gram roasted sample.


SCAA Classification Full Defects Allowed Primary Defects Allowed
Specialty Grade 0-5 No
Premium Grade 0-8 Yes
Exchange Grade 9-23 Yes
Below Standard Grade 24-86 Yes
Off Grade Over 86



 In addition, growing regions typically have their own systems to indicate quality or grades. For example, in Costa Rica, coffee grown above 3,900 feet is designated as “strictly hard bean” or "SHB" reflecting the higher density of the bean and the unique and prized qualities of coffee grown at these higher altitudes. Kenya has AA, Ethiopia has Q grade. All of these represent the best these growing regions have to offer. 

At Nordic Coffee Company we have a high selection criteria; Specialty Grade, Strictly High Grown "SHG" (above 1,200 m), Strictly Hard Bean "SHB" (from above 1,400 m), shade grown, high density, and from the best a region has to offer with consistent size, density, total water content, as well as water activity at ~.60. Water activity has the ability to predict the potential and rate of changes related to browning reactions like caramelization and Maillard reactions. We know that these reactions are absolutely critical to the development of complex chain sugars and aromatic compounds and flavors in coffee as it roasts. In most cases, stable coffees with ideal moisture content indicate good drying practices which have sufficiently preserved the integrity of cellular structures to retain compounds that contribute to high quality flavors. (Conversely, water activity readings that are either too low or too high can often indicate that those cellular structures were in some way compromised, almost certainly during the drying process and can contribute to off flavors in the cup.)

We take the necessary steps to attain certified Fair Trade Organic Specialty Grade Coffee Beans when and where available. However, our focus is on providing the best quality Specialty Grade coffee beans from hand picked ripe coffee cherries, high grown in the shade to allow for slow and complete development of the growing coffee cherry, producing a denser bean and from single farms, or small co-ops with organic farming and processing methods. Shade grown coffee requires little or no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. The shade trees filter carbon dioxide, aid in soil moisture retention and minimizes erosion. In study after study, habitat on shade-grown coffee farms outshone sun-grown coffee farms with increased numbers and species of birds as well as improved bird habitat, soil protection/erosion control, carbon sequestration, natural pest control and improved pollination. Shade grown higher density coffee beans are also more uniform in size, are more consistent in roast, and have a higher concentration of sugars, which produce more desired and nuanced flavors. Some farms, while they do grow organically, naturally and follow sustainable farming and processing practices, do not have certifications.

10% of our proceeds are donated to the Gary Sinise Foundation to help support the needs of our service men and women, veterans, first responders and their families.