Specialty Coffee Standards and Best-Practices


Over the past year, the Technical Standards Committee of the Specialty Coffee Association of America—now the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), after the recent unification with the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe—has been busy working on revisions to SCAA standards and creating new standards to protect the quality and integrity of specialty coffee. Recently, many new documents have been published on the website. This article is part of our communications effort to get the word out to members, instructors, campus locations, and Guilds. All documents can be found here.

The volunteer members of the Technical Standards Committee have developed standards through a process
 of research, testing, and peer review, utilizing consensus principles that include the participation of stakeholders with an interest in their development and use. Best practices are determined by collaboration with subject matter experts. To review the requirements for educational campus locations our members participated in a multi-functional task force with lead instructors, Q instructors, Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) staff, the global education committee, and campus operations managers.


A standard establishes specifications, requirements, protocols or methods of measurement that shall be used as the basis for SCA educational curriculum and for the identification of specialty quality coffee.

NEW SCA STANDARD – Water Activity for Specialty Coffee

Specialty grade green coffee beans shall have a water activity measurement lower than 0.70 aw. This standard was developed to control the wholesomeness and sensory quality of specialty grade green coffee by minimizing the possibility of microorganism infection. Compared to moisture content, water activity (aw) is considered a better parameter for quantifying the degree of binding of all water present in food, both free and bound and, therefore, its availability to act as a solvent and participate in chemical, biochemical and microbiological transformations (Fellows, 2006), becoming the main indicator of food deterioration.


The cupping room shall be sufficient size to accommodate all students for cupping at the same time. This will ensure accurate cup scores amongst all students. Also, for ergonomics and appropriate workspace, each cupping table shall have 36-inch space surrounding the table for cuppers. No other furniture or fixtures shall be closer than 36-inches from the cupping table. If two or more tables are in the cupping room, a 60-inch radius shall be required between tables.


Cupping tables (for 6 people) shall have a surface area of at least 10 square feet (0.93 m2). Cupping tables shall be a comfortable height for all student sizes, abilities, and disabilities without a measured minimum or maximum height. (Cupping table shall be stationary and the students shall move around the table. Spinning table are inefficient and do not allow each student to direct their own cupping experience and should only be used in extreme situations when the student has no mobility.)

REVISED FORM – Washed Arabica Coffee Grading Form

This educational and functional tool was upgraded to include data collection for all relevant physical coffee attributes for green and roasted coffee. An electronic form was developed to automatically calculate the defect counts and quality classification for SCA and CQI standards.

Best Practices

Best practices are published methods, processes, or techniques that are generally regarding by professionals as superior because of the results achieved, but are not requirements. Best practices are created in collaboration with subject matter experts and shall be used as the basis for SCA educational curriculum.

Best Practices – Separation for Coffee Products

To protect the integrity of coffee products and prevent product contamination green coffee, roasted coffee, organic and non-organic coffee should be separated in warehouse storage, manufacturing storage, totes, re-work bins, and sample trays.

Best Practices – Brewing

Guidelines are established for many popular brewing methods, including: column brewing, French press, immersion dripper, pour-over brewer, siphon brewing, and by-pass drip brewers.

Campus Requirements

Regarding educational campus locations we have confirmed/updated the following requirements:

GREEN COFFEE GRADING SPACE – Shall be measured at 2’ x 2’ per student. These spaces may be staged in different rooms or grading may be completed at different times to accommodate all the students.

LIGHT LEVEL REQUIREMENTS – Shall be measured for green coffee grading only and measured on the green coffee grading surface. The light specification does not apply to the cupping room or cupping table surfaces.

PROJECTOR REQUIREMENT – Educational campuses shall have appropriate audio/video equipment for presentations. This equipment includes, but is not limited to; projectors/screens, monitors, and large screen TV’s. The size of the screen shall be appropriate and comfortable for the number of students approved for the location.

EQUIPMENT CAPACITY – HOT WATER – Water heating equipment shall be evaluated at the start of each class to dispense the total quantity of water required for all students to cup coffee at the same time at SCA Standard cupping water temperature (see revised Standard –  Cupping Room Size).

EQUIPMENT CAPACITY – GRINDERS – Grinder shall be evaluated at the start of each class for their ability to meet SCA Standard Grind for Cupping. Grinders shall no longer be evaluated by the age of the burrs.

WATER QUALITY – Water quality shall be evaluated by a water sample drawn at the time of inspection and re-certifications. SCA shall delegate a laboratory for this analysis. Water quality shall no longer be evaluated by the age of the filters.

There is still much more work to be completed both joining the SCAA and SCAE as well as the continued development of specialty coffee standards.  As a result of the unification, we now have more resources for researching standards and determining best practices.

The article is prepared and presented by the volunteers of the technical standards committee.