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SCAA Sets the Standards

April 20, 2014

With the specialty coffee industry focused on The Event in Seattle, it's easy to forget that the Specialty Coffee Association of America does a lot more than throw one heck of an annual party. It's also the body that sets the standards for high quality coffee, brewing equipment and brewing methods across the country. Want to know what the judges will be looking for in all those competitions happening this week? Here's a closer look at the various standards and criteria set by the SCAA.  

Green Coffee Standards

  Did you ever wonder how a coffee is classified as a "specialty coffee" as opposed to premium or commodity grade coffee? In order to be considered a specialty coffee by the SCAA, green coffee has to meet specific grading standards set out in the SCAA Green Coffee Standards. Specially trained graders examine 300 g of beans, looking for specific defects. The defects are divided into primary and secondary defects. If a coffee sample has just ONE primary defect - like foreign material or dried cherries - it doesn't make the grade. It can have up to five secondary defects, like chipped or broken beans.  

Coffee Cupping Standards

  Throughout the week in Seattle, coffee tasters will cup thousands of cups of coffee from dozens of coffee roasters around the U.S. In official coffee cupping competitions, every single cup served to the tasters will be prepared according to precise standards established by the SCAA. The beans must have been roasted for 8-12 minutes within the past 24 hours and have rested for no less than 8 hours. The coffees will be ground to a specific grinding standard, brewed using a precise coffee-to-water ratio (it's 8.25 g (+/- .25g) to 150 ml or water, in case you were wondering), with water (which must also meet quality standards) that is 200 F. (=/- 2 F.) and prepared in cups that are identical in size, shape, volume and material. The SCAA coffee cupping standards even specify the minimum size of the tables used for cupping and the room in which the cupping will be held. These standards ensure that when the tasters slurp their coffee from their (also standardized) spoons, the ONLY differences they taste should come from the coffees themselves.  

scaa-coffee-flavor-wheelCoffee Cupping Protocol

  In addition to the standards, the coffee cupping events also have to follow a specific set of protocols, which cover everything from how long to let the coffee steep in the water (3-5 minutes undisturbed) to exactly how to break the crust of grounds on the coffee cup before sniffing for aroma (stir three times with a non-reactive spoon, then allow the foam to run down the back of the spoon while sniffing).You can read a description of what coffee cuppers look for and check out the SCAA Coffee Flavor Wheel on the SCAA resources pages.  

Coffee Education

  A lot of the attendees at The Event will be taking classes in pursuit of one or more of the professional certifications offered by the SCAA. They include certificates for baristas, roasters, tasters, technicians and instructors.  

Certified Home Brewer Program

  Finally, the SCAA also has a certification program that's near and dear to our hearts -- the Certified Home Brewer program. The SCAA's Home Brewer program certifies electric drip coffee makers that meet very specific standards necessary to consistently brew excellent coffee. The testing protocols for certification are as rigorous as those used for coffee cupping. In order to be certified, a brewer must pass all of these tests.  
  1. The brew basket must be large enough to accommodate enough coffee for the volume of brewed coffee specified using the Gold Cup ratio.
  2. The brewer must take between 4 and 8 minutes to circulate the water through the coffee grounds.
  3. The water temperature at contact with coffee must reach 92 C. within the first minute and stay within the range of 92 C. and 96 C. throughout the brewing cycle.
  4. The coffee produced by the brewer must have a minimum of beverage strength of between 1.15% and 1.35% measured according to coffee solubles in the cup.
  5. The lab tests a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 10 brewers of each model, and each individual brewer is tested through at least 10 brew cycles to ensure that the results are consistent.
  6. The grounds in the basket are checked to see what percentage of the coffee is wet and fully extracted.
  7. The brewed coffee must contain no more than 75 mg of sediment per 100 ml of coffee.
  8. The brewing receptacle (that's the decanter, in plainer English) must maintain the temperature of the coffee between 80 C. and 85 C. for at least 30 minutes after brewing.
  9. Proper brewing and cleaning instructions must be included with the brewer.
If that's not enough coffee geekery for you, you can read a fuller description, along with the testing procedure, in the SCAA coffee brewer program guidelines.   The only automatic drip coffeemakers we recommend here at Coffee Kind are those that earn the SCAA certification. Currently, those are the Bonavita 8-Cup Exceptional Brew and the Technivorm Moccamaster.   Stay tuned this week and follow us on Twitter (@coffeekind) for updates and retweets from and about #scaa2014.  



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