What Is The Specialty Coffee Association?

Written by:
John Paradiso
Photography By:
Vicente Partida

In recent years, the word “craft” has become a marketing buzzword. In most cases, consumers have no idea whether the “craft” product was made with intent and purpose by an independent company or if it’s just a name slapped on the packaging by a giant corporation.

Unlike beer or spirits, coffee doesn’t necessarily have a singular “craft” definition. Rather, there are several trade organizations representing the interests of different coffee professionals.

The Specialty Coffee Association, one of the largest and most prominent of these organizations, has made progressive growth in the coffee industry one of its core values. Representing coffee farmers, roasters, baristas, importers, and more, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) unites members behind common goals. It also offers much-needed data and resources, and fights on behalf of members with regards to key legislation.

The History Of The Specialty Coffee Association

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) was formally established in January 2017 as a result of the unification of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), which was founded in 1982, and the Speciality Association of Europe (SCAA), which was founded in 1998.

Those original associations “were focused on representing coffee communities in their regions but were very aligned in the goal of promoting the standards of specialty coffee around the world,” explains SCA Director of Communication Vicente Partida. “Today, the SCA has evolved into a global association.”

What Does The Specialty Coffee Association Do?

education at the specialty coffee association

The Specialty Coffee Association is a non-profit, membership-based organization, much like the Brewers Association in the world of beer.

In addition to providing members critical research, educational webinars, and sustainability reports, the SCA hosts international expos, local events, and competitions.

“We work to bring resources that are relevant to coffee professionals and businesses everywhere in the world and we work at a local level by empowering local SCA Chapters, which are run by elected volunteer leaders,” shares Partida.

work at the specialty coffee association

The SCA also offers “standards,” which are reference tools vetted by industry professionals concerning different aspects of the coffee brewing process. This includes green coffee metrics, cupping protocol, and water quality. The standards are a resource for SCA members to elevate their practices and better inform customers about the quality of their coffee.

“We continue to prioritize raising awareness of the standards of specialty coffee, just like the SCAA and SCAE did for so many years, but we’re even more focused today on addressing serious problems in our industry, including the inequalities that exist at the farm level,” Partida continues.

science at the specialty coffee association

“For the past year, SCA staff and volunteers around the world have been working on addressing what has been commonly known as the ‘coffee price crisis’ in which farmers saw a huge dip in the prices they were being paid on the C Market for their coffee. Some of the recommendations from this work will be published in the next week or so, including a call for specialty coffee to embrace what’s called the ‘living income movement.’”

Ultimately, one of the most important things the SCA provides is the sense of community. Baristas, coffee farmers, roasters, and more collaborate at the SCA expos. As members of an organization dedicated to progressive coffee, they also share business-related knowledge, research, and best practices.

Should I Join?

membership at the specialty coffee association

The SCA has several membership tiers and folks can join as individuals or as a company. That means anyone from a large roastery with several locations to individual baristas can join and get access to membership benefits.

Annual memberships range from $300 for small companies (annual revenues of less than $1 million) to $1,600 for coffee companies with annual revenues greater than $20 million. Or, individuals can join for as little as $70 and up to $200.

The SCA lists “relevant member value” as its first core value and it strives to promote equal access to education and resources.

The organization also encourages all its members to join specialty guilds like Barista Guild, Coffee Roasters Guild, and Coffee Technician Guild to connect with other professionals and develop relevant skills in their field.

Specialty Coffee Association Competitions and Awards

competition at the specialty coffee association

In addition to offering educational opportunities, the SCA hosts some of the industry’s leading competitions. This includes the World Barista Championship, the World Latte Art Championship, and the the World Coffee Roasting Championship.

All three events occur annually in the fall. This year, the World Barista Championship is scheduled for November 3-6 in Melbourne, Australia. The World Latte Art Championship and the World Coffee Roasting Championship will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from October 15 to 17.

Coffee in the Coronavirus

Like most trade associations, the Specialty Coffee Association has responded to the global Coronavirus pandemic with pertinent information and useful resources for coffee professionals. Although they’ve had to cancel in-person events, they’ve shifted to an online model, offering webinars with information on how to pivot to online sales, guidelines for delivering coffee, and more.

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