Building Understanding: Making Coffee Better Through Research

By Peter Giuliano

The new SCA Research Center has the potential to radically transform the world of specialty coffee.


Since the very beginning, the ideal of specialty coffee has been about making coffee better, but how do we do that? How do we distinguish ‘better’ from ‘worse’? What tools can we develop to improve coffee along with the livelihoods of those who work to create it?

These questions are at the very center of the specialty coffee movement, and have been a central focus of both the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe and Specialty Coffee Association of America since their beginnings. And both organizations came to a similar conclusion: that building understanding of specialty coffee through scientific research is the essential first step towards making better coffee for all.

Over the past three decades, both SCAE and the SCAA developed research strategies aimed at better informing those who work in coffee. This knowledge base is built using techniques of scientific research, including the disciplines of chemistry, sensory science, economics, genetics, medicine, ecology, agricultural science, and biology. They have published tools such as SCAE’s Water Chart and the SCAA/World Coffee Research Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel.

Bringing together these two powerful research traditions was one of the most compelling reasons to merge our efforts: science is better when more people are involved, more perspectives are included, and more data is gathered. A truly global research initiative supporting the specialty coffee community is an incredibly powerful idea, which can drive progress for our community worldwide.

And this is exactly what we are creating by coming together. In the few months since the creation of SCA, we’ve established the Specialty Coffee Association Research Center, an institution that exists to drive, support, and disseminate scientific research throughout the specialty coffee community. We have inherited from our predecessors a strong foundation in scientific research, including deep relationships with academic institutions such as the University of Copenhagen, the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, and UC Davis, along with other research initiatives like our founding role in World Coffee Research and the Coffee Quality Institute.

The result is something unprecedented in specialty coffee: a global network of scientists, coffee professionals, academic researchers and experts who are together focused on expanding the understanding of coffee and the coffee trade among the Specialty Coffee Association membership. This is the sort of thing that has the potential to radically transform the world of specialty coffee: a global, collaborative scientific research institution to serve the SCA community.

Scientific research in coffee is at a turning point. We believe we’ll look back on this moment as the beginning of something that transforms the world of specialty coffee for generations to come, and are humbled and thrilled to be a part of it.

Peter Giuliano is the Chief Research Officer for the Specialty Coffee Association.