America’s coffee industry has come a long way in the past three decades.
Before our industry’s pioneers came together, there was little standardization, no formal certifications, a stunning lack of careful research, and hardly any industry comradery.
Thankfully, a small group of coffee professionals got together in 1982 and decided to start creating solutions to these problems. They formed the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).
Though it had humble roots, the Specialty Coffee Association of America has become America’s leading specialty coffee organization with over 2,500 company members in over 40 countries.
Through intense research, industry-building events, and a slew of certifications and standardizations, the SCAA has helped propel specialty coffee to become the largest coffee industry segment in America.
Let’s take a deeper look at these major advances.
Standardizing A Divided Industry
This is perhaps the most amazing feat.
Before the SCAA, the coffee landscape resembled the wild west. Coffee shops didn’t agree on what was espresso and what wasn’t. Every roaster had their own way of classifying green coffee quality. There was no standard for what kind of water produced the best coffee.
Fast forward to today and these issues (and a host of others) are, for the most part, resolved.
- Deep studies on how water chemistry affects coffee have been completed
- Espresso has a clear definition (even if not everyone follows it strictly)
- A consistent green coffee assessment system is now widespread
The SCAA became a way for us to cooperate on these standards so we could communicate more effectively across the industry. And this has further enabled us to innovate and grow specialty coffee across the globe.
Professional Coffee Certifications
New companies and professionals alike are able to get caught up on the industry’s progress thanks to the Educational Pathways set up by the SCAA.
Here’s a quick look at the five course programs.
- Barista: Teaches new baristas everything they need to know about coffee fundamentals, brewing, equipment care, and customer service from behind the bar.
- Roaster: Trains roasters how to properly care for their equipment, roasting theory, and – of course – how to roast stellar coffee.
- Coffee Buyer: Introduces coffee buyers to the nuances of the coffee supply chain, including logistics, economic philosophy, and ethical practices.
- Coffee Taster: Empowers professionals to taste coffee with precision, develop quality control systems, and understand the science behind our complex senses.
- Golden Cup Technician: Educates professionals on how to assess brewed coffee quality and make adjustments to reach the Golden Cup Standard every time.
Newcomers to coffee don’t have to learn by frustrating trial and error anymore. They can skip those stages with structured, meaningful training and move onto more important things like running their business and finding solutions to other issues.
The SCAA, in partnership with World Coffee Research, released the world’s most incredible study on coffee flavor: the Coffee Sensory Lexicon.
Essentially, the lexicon outlines a way to objectively identify and measure flavors to coffees. No more creative guessing about flavors – now we can test them with science!
The release of the Sensory Lexicon also resulted in an updated Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel, which compiled the data into a quick, visually-appealing poster that anyone can use to help them identify flavors.
But this progress into coffee flavor is just the beginning.
The SCAA has played a role in many other research efforts including…
- A substantial report on coffee and health
- A thorough investigation into gender equality in coffee growing communities
- A blueprint for how coffee producers can adapt to climate change
The list goes on and on – and it’s sure to keep growing.
Organized Coffee Competitions
But the SCAA knows how to have fun as well. The organization has planned and hosted a variety of coffee competitions over the years.
Yes, coffee competitions. They are a thing.
Every year, thousands of American coffee professionals descend upon The Coffee Expo, the SCAA’s annual trade show. When they’re not taking classes or pursuing the booth hall, they’re competing in the competitions.
Let me introduce you to a few of them.
- The Barista Competition: The most prestigious competition of them all. Competitors follow a strict set of rules in a 15-minute routine where they prepare espresso, a milk drink, and an original creation for judges who are critical of their every move and word.
- The Brewers Cup: Competitors brew their coffee using any filter method of their choice and present it to judges, who critically assess the presentation and coffee.
- Cup Tasters: Competitors taste several coffees in rapid succession and attempt to identify their flavors with as much speed and precision as possible.
These friendly, yet rigorously practiced for, competitions give baristas across the country the chance to interact and compete. They increase comradery across the industry and bring us all together.
The winners go on to represent the USA in the world championships of these competitions, which is held in the States every other year.
The SCAA recently joined hands with the SCAE (SCA of Europe) to form the Specialty Coffee Association of America. With the power of not one, but two major organizations, we will be able to create even more meaningful research and change in our industry.
If you’d like to explore ways we can partner to make your coffee program as delicious and simple as possible, reach out to us.