Determining the Differences Between Specialty Coffee and Commercial Coffee

Determining the Differences Between Specialty Coffee and Commercial Coffee

When we buy our coffee, it can be difficult to distinguish between specialty coffee and commercial coffee. This can be true when the taste, smell, or appearance can be equal between the two.

However, it is important to distinguish between the two because there may be other brews offering better quality brews. Of course, you do not need to like either quality or commercial coffee. The point of drinking one type of coffee is due to love one brand and the fact that the coffee drinker has grown accustomed to it.

When you choose a coffee, it is always best to stick to the brand that you love the most, whether it is a specialty coffee or commercial coffee.

What is Specialty Coffee and Commercial Coffee?

To understand what these two coffees are, it is important to know their definitions.

Specialty coffee is normally sold as whole beans and requires you to grind them to make coffee. The beans are usually in bulk and you can purchase any size bag from a specialty coffee shop.

Commercial coffee is the type that you see on supermarket shelves and is manufactured in bulk after roasting.

Although it is all coffee, what makes both of them so distinct? Well, the reason is a little more complicated than anything, which is why you need to know what the differences are between these two coffee types. Before we explain the differences, you should know that out of the many varieties of coffee, there are two that the coffee industry uses the most, which are:

  • Robusta bean: The robusta beans make up just 40% of the beans used around the world. The robusta is bitter and originates from sub-Saharan Africa. Producing this bean costs less due to the yield being much higher, which allows it to be distributed easily.
  • Arabica bean: With over 160 varieties, you may be familiar with some of the names associated with this type. These may include Acaia and Tribeca and they make up 60% of the coffee supply the world uses.

Between these two types, there will be different flavors associated with them, and it will be this difference that you experience. In your cup. These both are incorporated in the production of coffee, but the usual standard is that the brands used commercially will be lower quality Arabica and Robusta bean.

Different type of coffee beans, specialty coffee vs commercial coffee

Image credit > NordWood Themes from Unsplash

The Cost for Specialty and Commercial Coffee

The cost of the coffee bean plays an important role during production. Because of this, the bean that costs the least will likely be used more often. This also means that the higher quality Arabica coffee beans will be seen among specialty coffee brands and contain a higher acidic taste and less bitterness.

The thing to know is that the specialty coffee beans’ location is also an important factor. By knowing where the coffee is coming from, they can let the consumer know and do so by labeling the package. This labeling is a great way to sell coffee because many enjoy the same coffee type and continue to buy what they love.

You will not find this with any coffee produced commercially because the beans are a mix of several types roasted together.

Coffee Bean Locations

Another difference between specialty and commercial coffee beans is the location where they are grown. With specialty coffee, the location where it is grown is important and will be determined by the farm growing it, the region of the country, and the country itself.

Knowing these factors makes the quality control a lot easier to conduct and easily sticks to what the consumer prefers while the buyer may prefer the beans from a certain country or having a certain type of bean. A good example is Hawaiian Kona Coffee.

Why is the Location Important?

The location of where the bean comes from is an important part because it can determine the flavor of the bean. So when a bean is for a specialty brand that you enjoy, then you will likely stick to it. However, the specialty brand will go further. With flavors being a specific type, unlike commercial flavors, the consumer cares about the specialty flavors. Because of this, coffee bean farmers grow and pick their beans from hillsides, high altitudes, and certain types of soil.

With a process having many details involved, the flavors can be enhanced and have satisfied customers who love the quality beans.

You won’t see this happening with commercial coffees because the coffees are only favorable when the public finds them pleasing.

Grading Specialty and Commercial Beans

With many commercial brands being a mix of coffee beans, the beans used for specialty types are only made up of the finest quality beans. The amount of quality the beans have is based on their grading after production. When grading is accomplished, it looks for primary and secondary defects.

The defects encountered involve the following:

  • Malformations
  • Dryness
  • Fungal infection
  • Discoloration
  • Over-ripe beans
  • Insect damage

A grader will take a sample from various batches and have it be the main grade for the bulk… If coffee is being turned into specialty coffee, then it will need to have a minimum grade of 80.

Selecting good and bad coffee beans pecialty coffee vs commercial coffee

Coffee Cupping

When it comes to coffee, it is all about the taste and not the look. Because of this, there will be a cupping of the two coffee bean types. Once their method of roasting is accomplished, they will be graded for their:

  • Aroma
  • Body
  • Flavor
  • Fragrance
  • Balance
  • Sweetness

Once tested, the beans will be labeled as either:

  • Below grade
  • Commercial grade
  • Usual
  • Very good (specialty)
  • Excellent (specialty)
  • Outstanding (specialty)

Coffee Farms are Supported by Specialty Coffee in a Sustainable Way

With specialty coffee becoming more popular, there will be increased demand. Not only does this provide more options for the coffee drinker, but the farmers are supported. Oftentimes, the prices that the farmer is able to sell their beans for are better due to the demand being higher. Having a better income because of the demand allows for a better living for the farmers. As opposed to specialty coffee beans, the beans used for commercial coffee are a mix of lower quality beans, so the farmers are being paid less for low quality.

Enjoying Specialty Coffee Makes An Impact On the Supply of Coffee

When you purchase specialty coffee, it can impact the coffee supply in a positive way. When the supply is high, the amount of pressure placed on the farmer is low when lower-quality coffee beans are produced. This allows the supply of coffee to remain at a higher quality and thus enjoyed for many years into the future.

The Availability of Specialty Coffee

As compared to commercial coffee, specialty coffee has a very unique place in the industry due to its characteristics they have. However, the beans that makeup specialty coffee may not be available throughout the year because of the seasons involved.

However, this does not mean the coffee is only available yearly. In fact, many coffee growers are able to plan ahead so that coffee beans are always available for consumers to enjoy.

But, it is important to remember that there may be a limit. When there is a limit, that means the beans you love may not always be available as a merchant may concentrate on selling certain types.

With a limited variety, a store owner is not able to have more stocked if there is no high demand. Their availability may also be due to certain beans not being available so other growers may need to be located who offer the same beans you desire.

When it comes to the availability factor, commercial coffee will be the winner by comparison. This convenience of having coffee available is what makes commercial coffee popular because it may be available at every grocery store.

Product Packaging is Important

When you buy commercial coffee, take a look at the packaging it uses. They will usually consist of sealed sachets, jars, or cans. These sealed containers will keep the coffee grounds fresh. However, once the packaging, cans, and jars are open, their freshness will only last as long as the date stamp suggests.

You know that there is always a difference in taste between the coffee that is first used after opening and the last bit in the packaging. While the beans are roasted, there is a different flavor effect due to the interaction of air. This same effect occurs as coffee is utilized in your home. Most of the time, special bags will be used to prevent moisture before and after the packaging has been opened.

The manufacturers of specialty coffee have more concern for the coffee flavor that you enjoy and do everything to keep deterioration from setting in.

Longevity of the Coffee

The coffee packaging will have a certain date stamped that suggests when the coffee should be consumed. This is because the ground coffee and beans will only last so long once roasted.

Manufacturers of specialty coffee understand that it is important to let consumers know how fresh the coffee is and when it should be used before expiring. This is also another reason why specialty coffee is available in a small amount so that you do not have to worry about it expiring.

The flavor of the coffee bean peaks shortly after roasting takes place. This is why the coffee should be brewed as soon as possible. The date printed on the packaging will signify if your coffee is fresh, so if you want to ensure that it is enjoyed as much as possible, it needs to be brewed 10 days following its roasting.

Once this time has passed, you should have been able to enjoy the full flavor of specialty coffee and commercial coffee. When you are done with one package of coffee, you will be able to obtain another shortly after. Being able to enjoy this luxury is what makes it great to have the technology and transport methods that allow the coffee to remain fresh as it heads to the market shelves.

The commercial coffee will unlikely have a date stamp that states when the coffee should be enjoyed or where the coffee bean originates.

Expert examining coffee beans before roasting

The Roasting Makes the Difference

The roasting is what decides how flavorful your coffee will be and will ultimately become your favorite.

The roasting of commercial coffee is accomplished in a bulk capacity using machines. This can easily cause beans to experience burning or an uneven roast. With specialty coffee beans, the roasting is more delicate and supervised by the manufacturer while the batch of coffee is roasted in a small amount. The specialty coffee manufacturer will also ensure that the roast is at the perfect moment and offer various flavors. With the commercial brands, the options will be limited.

When Should Roasting Take Place

When roasters of specialty coffee obtain green coffee beans, they will be specific about how and when the roasting is accomplished. Normally, the roasting needs to take place once harvesting is complete. This will lead to providing customers with the freshest beans and will ensure that the beans’ flavors are retained. This is important because the bean will continue to change while aging, and until the production is complete.

When all of this effort is taken, it is no wonder that only the best flavor is obtained, which makes customers come back for more. Plus, there is not much needed for the roasting of commercial coffee beans because the process is centered around profit.

How Can Variety Be Achieved?

For a lot of coffee drinkers, having coffee that is produced commercially is good enough. But you can’t say that the same brew that you drink again and again does not become boring eventually. With specialty coffee aiming toward a variety of preferences, the main point is to assist in determining a favorite and not just enjoying a cup of coffee.

Varieties Origin

Having variety is a great thing and helps the market move forward. This is why you will always have coffee beans with different flavors and roasts so that there is always a different outcome from the beans. This is also why it is important to experiment so that it does not become boring. It is also important to remember that the beans will be coming from many sources, so the taste will be different.

You can easily locate the perfect coffee bean that will equal the preference you prefer in relation to its aroma, body, flavor, acidity, and sweetness.

Other than deciding on the number of scoops of coffee you use, the commercial coffee brands are unable to provide you with many choices outside of Dark Roast or French Roast. When you notice the number of other options that specialty coffee offers, you may end up making the switch to specialty coffees.

Sometimes, an artificial flavor may be added to a commercial coffee brand so that it appears more attractive but will be unable to provide the equal amount of aroma that specialty coffee can provide. This extra flavoring may also be an effort to mask a burnt taste.

You need to be aware also that when a commercial brand is offering a darker roast, it will be due to the amount of inconsistency in flavor. Of course, the commercial brand wants you to have the same coffee type although it may not be the best selection. With a specialty coffee, you are free to make the purchase and conduct the grinding and brewing the way you want. This way allows your coffee to be customized so that you can achieve the best flavor possible.

Coffee origin selection on a local market

Keep Your Budget in Mind

When talking about what differences between specialty coffee and commercial coffee, you can see that there are more perks with specialty coffee. You may not have noticed them before, but one difference that usually stands out is the price. The process to produce commercial coffee is to produce it as cheaply as possible so that you can save money at the same time as you enjoy your cup of Joe.

Producing in a mass manner allows the price to remain low so that their coffee will always be affordable. With specialty coffee, the price does not become a factor in the overall quality of the coffee. This is because their customers are more interested in the increased flavor that they offer, so spending a little bit more is no big deal. Plus, many customers will exist who will have a good amount of value in the flavors provided. In order to know what motivates you to make a coffee purchase, you need to decide if flavor or price is your driving force.

Wrapping Up

Now that you know everything about specialty coffee and commercial coffee, which is the best option for you? Some may think one is better than the other, the choice is usually made based on preference and what your coffee lifestyle is like. The flavor may not play an important role for some but may for others as well as the overall cost. Depending on what you decide, the cup may be considered good from both the specialty coffee bean and the commercial coffee bean. You may only need to decide if the investment in specialty coffee is worth it.

Main image credit > Jakub Kapusnak from Unsplash

About the Author
The Coffee Blogger

There's something special about coffee. The way it smells, the way it tastes, the way it makes you feel. It's no wonder coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. For coffee lovers, drinking coffee is more than just a way to wake up in the morning. It's an experience to be savored. From choosing the perfect beans to brewing the perfect cup, coffee is a labor of love. But it's all worth it when you take that first sip of steaming hot coffee and feel the caffeine jolt bringing you to life. That's what loving coffee is all about.