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After all these years, what do you really know about coffee courses?

Author: Marty Pollack 

Editor: Kelvin & Amir 

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Every new year, we all try to think of a resolution for the year, usually a new skill we want to master or something we want to accomplish.  The idea is always to better ourselves, to grow and feel a sense of accomplishment.


It’s now June and nearly half the year is gone. Time to ask ourselves again, what progress have we made on these goals?  How resolute have we been with our resolutions?

I often ask myself, why am I interested in coffee anyway? Some people get into coffee simply because they think it’s a cool skill to master, but most people don’t even realize how hard they’ve been trying to “be cool”!


For those who have known me for a long time, you’ll know that I was not always a coffee guy.  I got into this industry because of Samuel.  I might not know everything, but at the very least I can say that I am open to learning and persistent in what I am passionate about.


I just recently came back from the borders of Yemen, and I am currently residing in Saudi Arabia, where I have been sharing my knowledge and love for coffee. This city has a very unique culture, vastly different from that in China, yet I have found at least one common thread between these places: the people have a strong desire to learn and grow themselves.


I’m not the sort of person who loves to read—I honestly just can’t sit still! I love meeting people, hanging out with friends, walking around and exploring. Lucky for me, coffee is one such industry that can afford me such freedoms. Today, however, I’ve taken some time away from my active life to focus on sharing some of my experiences and what I’ve learned during my time with coffee.


Coffee education systems are by no means a new phenomenon, but I want to talk about two of the most prominent professional education organizations that are running programs all over the world: Specialty Coffee Association(SCA) & Sustainable Coffee Institute (SCI). 


SCA Origin


First, let’s talk about the SCA. Unless you are new to coffee, you will definitely be familiar with this name. 

SCA is a nonprofit, membership-based organization that is comprised of thousands of coffee professionals, from producers to baristas, encompassing every part of the coffee value chain. SCA was introduced this year as the merger of the Specialty Coffee Association of America & Specialty Coffee Association of Europe.

SCA acts as a unifying force within the specialty coffee industry and works to improve quality by raising standards worldwide through a collaborative and progressive approach. They also offers network opportunity among the members by introducing different guilds such as Barista Guilds of America, Barista Guilds of Europe, Coffee Roasters Guild & Coffee Technician Guild. Members can enjoys up-to-date information and certain discounts on coffee expos and SCA merchandise. 



Why SCI?


SCI is a newly established education curriculum that focuses on the upstream of the coffee supply chain. SCI aims to improve specialty coffee from seed to cup and promote sustainability. 


Every business in the speciality coffee industry is dependent upon farmers to produce speciality grade coffee beans. The farmers set the pace for the entire value chain, and each link in the chain is interdependent.

SCI promotes sustainability and helps to foster a higher demand of speciality grade coffee worldwide.

Through innovation & certification courses, building awareness and connections, the whole business chain of the Sustainable Coffee Institute is committed to improve the welfare of coffee farmers and their chances for long-term success.

Although SCI was just launched about a year and a half ago, it has already captured the gap in the market and continues to solve real problems in the industry. 

This is a revolutionary approach to the coffee industry, and so I believe this new system has a great potential to shape the future of coffee. 



Course Modules

SCA Modules


The new SCAE & SCAA merger has also resulted changing the Coffee Diploma System (CDS) to the Coffee Skills Program (CSP). This program consists of six different modules: Barista Skills, Brewing, Sensory Skills, Green Bean, Roasting and Introduction to Coffee. 


Most of you are probably wondering, “What are the major changes or differences from this name change?”

I reviewed the new and old modules and found that CSP is more focused on the standards of technical skills you are require to perform. It’s just some very minor changes compared to the old curriculum. 

For the Associate SCA Trainers out there—no need to worry! You can download the latest modules through your AST portal. As for the students those who have already earned certificates through CDS, you may further your study from CSP. 

Students can choose from six modules based on preference. The modules are divided into 3 levels: foundations, intermediate & professional. There are certain points allocated to each point once you pass the test. Refer to the diagram below for more details: 

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Once you obtain an accumulated points of 100. You can apply for your CSP diploma through the membership login section of the website. 

Based on this system, you can choose any of the modules based on your preference, and complete the modules from foundation to intermediate to professional level. 


You may earn 40 points for each level. In order to earn 100 points, you will need to master at least 3 modules, or you can spread out all of the modules. It’s very flexible. 

If you have a certain amount of practical experience in certain modules, you can even skip the foundation levels and proceed to intermediate directly. You are only required to have the prerequisite of the previous level for the professional level courses. 

For more information, you can also refer to sca.coffee



SCI Modules


SCI modules take the curriculum one step further—it consists of 10 different modules that aims to cover the complete coffee chain. We can actually divide the 10 modules to the supply chain and the consumer chain in coffee industry in this way: 

Supply chain coffee courses consist of: 

  • SCI Nursery 

  • SCI Farming 

  • SCI Processing

Consumer chain coffee course consist of:

  • SCI Green Bean 

  • SCI Roasting

  • SCI Sensory

  • SCI Brewing

  • SCI Barista

  • SCI Cafe

  • SCI Business & Marketing in Coffee Industry 

In addition, there is also a course on SCI Coffee Foundations.


When the courses were first launched, I actually had my doubts, since I was more familiar with the SCA system. But at the same time, I wondered why there weren’t any courses that let me experience coffee in the supply chain. For starters, how can I even grow coffee well? 

Even though I visit coffee origins here and there, the introduction of these courses challenged the way I thought about coffee education. It’s a whole new experience for the student, and that is a more holistic, effective way to promote seed to cup coffee education. 

However, there is one minor thing in SCI supply chain course that cannot be avoided—these courses rely heavily on the timing of harvest season at each origin. This means that, unlike any of the other courses, these can only be held during certain times of the year. Students need to head to the origin at the right time to take these courses. 


In Yunnan, for example: 

  • SCI Processing Courses usually takes place around mid October / early November through  February;

  • SCI Farming & Nursery takes place from Feb through the end of June. 


Same as SCA course are divided to 3 levels and you need to accumulate a certain total of points to earn your diploma. 

Both bodies have their own strengths and shortcomings, but for now I would like to explore how these two organizations contribute to the industry outside of their respective curricula.

SCA Contributions

SCA has made tremendous contributions to the coffee industry largely because of its early establishment. SCA has hosted a lot of international expos, such as the SCA Coffee Expo, World of Coffee Competition, and others. All those signatures event are where people get to connect and learn more about specialty coffee. 

Besides that, SCA also works on coffee research reports. This includes the recently published articles on coffee farming and water security sustainability and the gender equality in the coffee industry. 

SCI Contributions


SCI introduces origin processing classes in China, Thailand and Ethiopia to promote origin coffee farms and improve coffee quality. 

Besides that, SCI also introduced a descriptive cupping form that serves as an upgraded syllabus based on the SCA  cupping form while also taking more factors into consideration, and has redefined flavors of coffee through more descriptive language. 


In addition, SCI has also launched the first all-around coffee competition in January of this year. It was a unique competition where group consisting of two people need to demonstrate their mastery of various skills, including green beans, sensory, roasting, and barista skills. This competition promotes teamwork and challenges comprehensive knowledge about coffee from seed to cup. 

On the whole, I believe that both bodies have helped to make great strides towards improving the specialty coffee industry. These improvements not only benefit the people working in the industry, but also allow those who outside the industry have a great chance to learn more about coffee through a more interactive and comprehensive system.


At Torch, we never think of ourselves as the central character in the coffee story. Instead, we seek to build up the main characters, we help develop those who will one day become the coffee experts. 

We believe that education is one of the best platforms for people to develop themselves. 


We believe that teaching is also the best way to learn, and through being humble and open-minded we can learn even more. With that in mind, here am I, in Saudi Arabia, another land where I keep exploring. 

What are your thoughts on these two coffee professional bodies?  Please leave your comments here so we can all learn more from each other’s experiences and ideas.