The Importance of the SCA Score


The Importance of the SCA Score

 The Significance of SCA Scoring

Without Googling, can you name the six most essential beverages that helped shape our world and societies at large? If you at least answered with ‘coffee,’ then you’re 1 for 6, with the remaining answers being beer, wine, spirits, tea, and Coca-Cola. There’s a long history chronicling the usage of each one of these beverages in society, but the one we’re looking at specifically is coffee.

As children, we often saw our parents brewing a cup o’ Joe in the morning; the distinct aroma of java permeated the house. From the coffee pot, coffee poured into ceramic and iconic mugs or travel thermoses for their daily commute to work. Flavored creams, half-and-half, sugar, or served black, we discovered that coffee could be manipulated and changed to individual preferences. And we further discovered and purported we’d never drink coffee after having tasted the scalding bitterness of the java.

As part of the daily ritual, we’d wait diligently in line at the drive-thru as our parents stopped for their morning cup of coffee, reciting off their memorized order — and God forbid should the coffee come out wrong. It’s during these formative years that we had planted in our minds the ubiquity and significance coffee has.

Eventually, the disdain we had as kids for the bitter beverage dissipated, and as our parents before us, we now treat coffee as our lifeblood. The hot or iced beverage brewed day in and day out for the entirety of our growing lives suddenly made sense. From the aromatics in the morning that signaled it was time to be awake, to the dressing up your drink with x amount of cream and sugar, to the kick of caffeine upon your first hearty sip, the idea of coffee transformed from, “How can they possibly drink that?” to “I can’t function until I have my cup of coffee.”

Differentiating Good and Bad Coffee

While we Americans indeed love ourselves some java, many of us don’t know anything further about coffee than how we’d like it ordered from our favorite coffee places. We know of the final product but likely haven’t delved further back down the supply chain to understand how coffee beans advance from point A to point B. It’s along this supply chain where the difference between okay, good, great, and excellent coffee emerges. 

The SCA, Specialty Coffee Association, has gone to great lengths to quantifiably score coffee based on numerous factors: the harvesting, processing, roasting, and brewing steps along with the intermediary steps in between. It’s these SCA scores that coffee beans earn that help distinguish themselves apart from average, special, and premium blends. 

Reviewing the SCA score guide, any coffee with an SCA score of 80 or above falls into specialty coffee territory. It’s not until you hit a score of 95 where the coffee receives premium blend recognition — an impressive feat given since only 1% of the coffee grown in the world achieves this quality. Conversely, specialty coffee, having an SCA score of 80 to 94 ranks in the top 5% of coffee in the world.

At Kaffeina Coffee, our beans are sourced from 3rd generational bean roasters located in the hub of America’s coffee culture— Seattle. With an SCA score of 85.5, that guarantees that we ethically-source our coffee; this means that the planting and harvesting of the beans are independent of slave labor as well as dependent on environmentally friendly practices. Higher scoring beans have greater transparency that allows consumers to trace the supply chain back to learn more about the land and climate in which the beans are grown in, how the beans are cultivated and nurtured to maturity by the generational coffee-bean farmers.

The Road to Great Coffee

The coffee bean’s quality can be traced back to the tropical micro-climate the beans are planted in, the chemistry of the soil, the altitude where the beans are, and the husbandry of each crop. Furthermore, one of the most significant factors of quality for coffee growers, should climate, soil, and husbandry be met, is whether they can successfully harvest only the ripest coffee cherry. By meeting all these conditions during the growth and cultivation step of the supply chain, the coffee beans are primed for good scoring.

However, there still remains a long while left in the supply chain before the bean can be assessed. After picking the ripest cherries, it’s imperative to deliver the bean from the tree to the mill for preservation. It’s at these mills where the coffee grower exercises style and preference. They can either have the coffee cherries mechanically pulped and washed or processed in a demucilaging machine (a similar mechanical process that eliminates mucilage, a gluey substance present after removing the pulp, through friction).

A lot can go wrong here, mostly if the beans, after having the skin and pulp removed, are dried poorly. Too quick or too slow, unevenly, insufficiently, or rewetted during the drying process can cause the beans to lose a lot of potential quality. And should the beans be correctly handled and processed up to this point, they still must be stored properly to avoid humidity and temperature from altering the bean. And lastly, before being shipped for roasting, the coffee has to be hulled, separated according to size, and packaged. Per SCA scoring, to score above 80, for every 350 grams of beans, there can only be a maximum of five defects, barring primary ones. 

To complicate an already intricate process, defects are split into primary and secondary defects. Primary defects include full blackness of a bean, full sourness, presence of pod or cherry, medium and large sticks & stones.

Secondary defects that the beans are scrutinized for are the following: broken or chipped beans, presence of insect damage, a partially blackened bean, a partially sour bean, shells or husk, water damage, etc.

Scoring Quality Coffee

After roasting and brewing the coffee bean, after its long journey from farm to packaged bags, the coffee is ready for assessment based on ten qualities. For each assessing quality, the coffee is given an average score. Earlier scoring and grading along the supply chain are also taken into the calculation to deem the final score out of 100. Coffee graders grade these ten qualities:

  • Fragrance of the freshly ground bean
  • Aroma of the bean upon brewing
  • Flavor (highly subjective but measured from mild to rich)
  • Acidity (pleasant tanginess on the palate), body (the coffee’s mouthfeel)
  • Balance (how flavor, fragrance, aroma, body, and acidity work in conjunction with each other)
  • Uniformity (is there consistency between all the cups)
  • Clean cup (should there have been non-uniform or inconsistent sample during the uniformity test, then minus points)
  • Sweetness (related to the uniformity test and not whether the coffee is sweet or not)
  • Aftertaste
  • Overall (subjective scoring to credit the beans with additional points)

Here at Kaffeina, we believe that life is too short to drink bad coffee. Given the importance and role this comforting beverage has in our lives, we shouldn’t settle for subpar java. And that extends beyond just how it tastes but where we source it from, as well. We’re proud of an SCA score of 85.5 as it means that our coffee has passed numerous quality checks along the supply chain but, more importantly, that we ethically source our coffee. We want our coffee to improve our customers’ lives and livelihoods but never at the expense of those we get it from.

We hope to inspire confidence in our products, keep our patrons happy and caffeinated, and to uphold quality. Again, life’s too short to drink bad coffee, so drink Kaffeina.

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