Just like one-in-three Americans, I’m a daily coffee drinker and it’s the only way for me to get my day started. I’m not alone, 68% of daily drinkers have their first cup within the first hour of waking up.

(Caf)feigning for Specialty CoffeeFor me, coffee started off as a caffeine-fix to help me kick-start my day but has grown into something I get “geeky” over. I’m not just a daily coffee drinker, I’m a daily drinker of specialty coffee. Now, many people use the term “specialty” in its loosest form. Some consider the mochachino, frappamonster, and all other blended sorts “specialty coffee” drinks. Realistically, so did I until a couple of years ago.

Specialty Coffee is not defined by the ingredients but its quality score. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), coffee must pass a minimum quality score of 80 points to be considered specialty coffee. Coffee that scores between 80-84.99 means very good specialty coffee, excellent specialty coffee scores between 85-89.99, and OUTSTANDING specialty coffee scores between 90-100.

Coffee scoring is more of an “industry thing” and wasn’t designed to be a consumer facing means of ranking coffee. However, there are a handful of local specialty coffee shops that are working hard to make it more mainstream. HAUS by Coffee Hunter is a great example, they roast their own coffee and you’ll find cupping scores printed next to each coffee listed on their menu. Needless to say, HAUS is among my local favorites.

Yelp Challenge

Yelp Challenge KoreatownWith this post, I’m kicking off a series of “Yelp Challenge” posts so I did a quick search on Yelp for specialty coffee in Koreatown. I’ve used Yelp quite a bit but keep in mind, I typically seek a second opinion through alternative online sources because Yelp reviews have been hit-and-miss, especially when I travel.

HAUS was ranked #35 for best match, #12 for highest rated, and #4 for most reviewed. The top three coffee shops listed under best match were Bourbon Street Cafe, Awesome Coffee, and IOTA Brew Cafe.

Bourbon Street Cafe does not offer cupping scores but instead, they serve specialty coffee by Intelligentsia. Intelligentsia uses SCAA cupping protocols and well-known for their high standards of specialty coffee. I’m a fan of their coffee but not a fan of the coffee snobbery that comes with it.

Awesome Coffee also has great specialty coffee, sourced from various specialty coffee companies like Stumptown, Handsome Coffee, and FOURBARREL. My favorite thing about Awesome Coffee is the owner’s, anti-snob approach to specialty coffee. According to owner, John Kim, “I just want to serve a great-tasting cup of coffee and a chill place to enjoy it.” Awesome Coffee is actually my go-to coffee shop when I’m craving a “chocolatey” and “nutty” coffee but you won’t find cupping scores on their menu either.

IOTA Brew Cafe also uses various suppliers for their coffee. IOTA roasts their own coffee and you’ll find cupping notes are offered on their menu, but you won’t find the cupping scores. While I’ve been to IOTA a few times, it was more for their ambiance and desserts, not their coffee. I’m just not a fan of “winey” coffees that are a majority of their menu.

Scoring Specialty Coffee

Licensed Q-GraderMuch like Sommeliers for the wine industry, the specialty coffee industry has trained & certified experts commonly known as Q-Graders. Coffee Q-Graders must pass a rigorous six day course comprised of three-day examinations to earn their certification. Q-Grading course curriculum consists of 20 sections on coffee related subjects, such as green grading, roast identification, coffee cupping, sensory skills and sensory triangulation. A Q-Grader is a highly trained and calibrated coffee expert who professionally grades coffee using SCAA cupping protocols.

Stay tuned for more on Q-Grading, cupping scores and tasting notes (chocolatey, nutty, winey) in part 2 of (Caf)feigning for Specialty Coffee.