What Sets Specialty Coffees Apart?

Price differences between specialty and commodity coffees indicate a stark contrast in what you can expect from the final cup. Price isn’t necessarily a guarantee of superiority, but in the case of specialty beans, the reasons behind the higher cost are what makes them a better choice.


The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) defines specialty coffee as “the highest quality green coffee beans roasted to their greatest flavor potential by true craftspeople and then properly brewed to well-established SCAA developed standards.” These rigorous standards include:


  • Number and type of defects
  • Sample size used for evaluation
  • Lighting and surface type used for evaluation
  • Water activity, “the availability of water for survival and growth of microorganisms”


To meet these standards, meticulous procedures are followed during the harvesting, processing and roasting of specialty beans. Each batch can be traced back to its origins in countries like Colombia, Kenya and Ethiopia.


By contrast, commodity coffee is harvested and processed with mass distribution in mind. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to discover the true country of origin even if the company puts one on the label, and the level of attention given to preparing the beans is much lower than with specialty varieties.

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