Posted on Leave a comment

Speciality is Dead, Is Specialty Dying Too?

The Specialty Coffee Associate seeks to make coffee better. It is ill? Well, the term ‘specialty’ is.
The Specialty Coffee Associate seeks to make coffee better. It is ill? Well, the term ‘specialty’ is.

Why we’re now (reluctantly) writing ‘specialty coffee’

We’ve long hated the term ‘speciality coffee’ because consumers have no idea what it means and it carries no clear meaning. Obviously the term ‘specialty’ is not much better. We’ve consistently used the term ‘speciality coffee’ for the want of a better descriptor because United Baristas primarily speaks to those in the European coffee industry.

For those of you who who haven’t noticed, baristas in the US work in specialty while baristas in Europe worked in speciality. This is because the SCAA was the Specialty Coffee Association of America and SCAE was the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe.

With the unification of the SCAA and the SCAE the organisation has become the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA). There’s no ‘i’. In fact, the SCA website abolishes this quirk of history on its about page:

As of January 2017, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, established in 1982, and the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe, established in 1998, have officially become one organization.

Over recent weeks we’ve been writing copy for some forthcoming projects and we keep tripping over this point. Do we stick to British English and our heritage, or accept the Americanisation (note, not with a ‘z’) as the new global standard? So we asked Twitter:

It seems the ayes have it (we what we did there). For example:

Explore United Baristas

This seminar at Caffè Culture 2019 is designed to provide practical information on how coffee shops can build sustainable businesses.
Find out more and register to attend for free >


History and British spelling seems to have a deep hold on the domestic coffee community’s heart. And fair enough.

However, upon reflection, we’ve decided to reluctantly use the term ‘specialty coffee’ going forward. On the positive side it’s probably better to have a single, global term to define the industry (it’s worth noting that the other national coffee associations use the term ‘specialty’).

On the negative side, specialty has a lot of work to do. Much of the industry has little idea what it means in practice and the great British public will be more confused than ever before – but at least it’ll be a globally shared confusion.

The ASC or the CSA? Any which way when used as a standalone device one can’t logically deduce that it’s the SCA.
The ASC or the CSA? Any which way when used as a standalone device one can’t logically deduce that it’s the SCA.

The unification was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally consider what might be fit-for-purpose for an international coffee organisation with global influence.

Whatever the specifics of the debate around the SCA’s agenda, increasing consumer awareness of the higher-grades of coffee quality is a core part of the organisation’s remit. In this light, the name and branding are a mis-fire and a squandered opportunity.

Good brand identities encompass and communicate core values and propositions. Given the chance, many brand agencies would have used the merger as opportunity to craft a new identity that reflects the industry’s aspirations, values and to more clearly communicate this to the widest possible audience. Here’s hoping that the new identity is doing a terrible job at communicating the Association’s proposition; the brand screams uncertainty and muddling through. In case you haven’t been looking at the pictures, the name is confusing, the logo is confused and the tagline doesn’t make sense.

From now on we’ll be using the term ‘specialty coffee’ to describe the sector in which we work; but we’ll be back any decent coup of the term. May specialty’s reign be short.

Update — 24 March 2017
We’ve just been informed that upon unification the new organisation was originally to be called the ‘Association of Specialty Coffee’, but reverted to the ‘Specialty Coffee Association’ at the last minute. This explains why the logo doesn’t read well, and potentially highlights some fluidity in the SCA’s decision-making process. Any which way, it’s not a great outcome.

Leave a Reply