Differences between Commodity and Specialty Coffees

What’s The Difference Between Specialty Coffee And Commodity Coffee?

The specialty coffee industry has seen rapid growth in the past few years due to a demand for higher-quality coffees. Specialty coffee now makes up almost one-fifth of all global green coffee trade volume. Coffee is among the world’s most traded commodities, with over 130 million bags sold annually. But this number also contains many other types of coffee – such as commodity and standard trade coffees – that aren’t usually included when speaking about specialty or high-end coffee. Unfortunately, many people in the industry often use these labels interchangeably. To help understand these terms and shed some light on how they operate separately from one another, we’ll go over the differences between specialty coffee vs. commodity coffee vs. standard trade coffee.

Key takeaways

Specialty coffees have been carefully cultivated for their unique characteristics, such as high acidity levels and a particular flavor profile. They are often more expensive than commodity coffees, but the extra money can be worth it if you enjoy a more unusual or complex cup of joe.

Specialty coffees are often sweeter than commodity coffees, although there is some variability from one variety to the next. In addition, specialty coffees may have a more intense aroma and a more robust flavour profile.

Commodity coffee beans can be grown anywhere and are less expensive than specialty coffee beans. When buying commodity coffee, it’s essential to check the beans’ origin to ensure they come from a reputable supplier that has been around for a while and that they don’t use additives or other questionable practices in their processing.

Specialty Coffee

Beautiful cup of specialty coffee

Specialty coffee is a term used to describe any coffee grown, roasted, or brewed using methods specific to the region in which it’s produced. In other words, specialty coffee is any coffee different from traditional commodity coffee. Coffee made in this manner is more expensive than commodity coffee, but it tends to be much more delicious. Specialty coffee is a type of coffee that is prepared using specific methods.

Specialty coffee has a wide range of flavors, from the mildest to the most intense. Specialty coffees can be prepared using any type of bean or plant, including beans from Brazil, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and other countries in Central America. Specialty coffee includes flavored coffee, cinnamon, chai-flavored coffee, and chocolate-covered coffee beans. Specialty coffee is grown and processed to produce a high-quality, flavorful product.

Specialty coffees are often grown in smaller farm lots, allowing the harvesters to closely monitor each tree on the farm and pick only the ripest cherries. This process helps prevent over-picking, leading to less yield and lower quality coffee beans. Specialty coffees are often processed at smaller, family-owned mills and washed using more hands-on, manual techniques. This extra care and attention to detail help to ensure that each coffee bean is processed correctly and consistently. Specialty coffees are typically more expensive than standard trade. They can be found in coffee shops, cafes, and grocery stores.

Commodity Coffee

Commodity coffee in a cup

Commodity coffee is a broad term for any coffee produced and sold for commercial purposes. Specialty coffee refers to coffee that is made and sold for personal use. These are coffees grown on a large, commercially-driven farm and then processed into a standard product for sale to the public. There are several different commodity coffees, including Arabica beans (grown in Latin America), Robusta beans (grown in Africa), and African coffees that mix both types.

Coffee production is highly industrialized and complex. Coffee plants take three to five years to reach maturity and need to be planted, tended, and harvested by hand. The process is labor-intensive, leaving little room for error. It also requires massive water for irrigation, a scarce resource in many parts of the world.
Arabica beans tend to be more expensive than Robusta because Arabica trees grow at a slower rate and yield more fruit per tree. Arabica beans also have higher acidity levels and less caffeine than Robusta beans. Both types of beans can be used to make coffee, though they have different flavors depending on how they’re processed and roasted.

Commodity coffees are usually sold on the open market for a meager price – and are often regarded as a “cheap” product that’s almost viewed as a by-product of the coffee industry. Commodity coffees are often sold as a bag of mixed beans from different countries and regions – that may contain any combination of Robusta, Arabica, and other types of coffee. Many roasters buy commodity coffees and blend them to produce their final product. This way, they can create an “all-in-one” blend that can be sold to countless customers at a lower price. Commodity coffees are available in cheap grocery stores, gas stations, and Wal-Mart.

Differences between Commodity and Specialty Coffees

There are some differences between commodity and specialty coffees. Still, the most important one is that commodity coffees are generally more affordable than specialty. Commodity coffees are also more likely to be mass-produced, meaning they have less control over the growing process and can be grown in lower-quality environments.
However, there are some upsides to commodity coffees as well. They tend to be cheaper than specialty coffees, so they can be a good option if you want to reduce your spending while maintaining quality. In addition, commodity coffees typically have lower levels of caffeine than specialty coffees, making them a good choice if you’re looking for a caffeine-free beverage.

While commodity coffees are bought in bulk and sold as a single product, specialty coffees are often purchased by roasters in smaller quantities due to their higher price point. They’re also often grown in smaller farm lots, which helps create more distinctive and unique flavors. Coffees considered standard trade coffees usually have little processing before being sent to market. They’re usually grown in small lots and sold in bags with precise information. Coffees labeled specialty coffees, however, have different and specific growing, harvesting, and processing techniques – which usually result in higher quality and flavorful products.
The most crucial difference between specialty and commodity coffees lies in their origins. Specialty coffees are typically organic, or Fair-Trade Certified beans grown and processed in small batches in specific regions. Commodity coffees are typically non-organic and are selected for their conformity rather than their characteristics. This means that the beans used to make commodity coffees may have been processed by machines rather than by hand and picked at different times than the specialty variety used to grow them.

As with any coffee, it’s essential to drink it in moderation to avoid adverse side effects like jitters or insomnia. Of course, you should also consider your taste preferences when selecting a cup for yourself.

Similarities between Specialty coffee and Commodity coffee

The growing region will determine the type of coffee produced in commodity and specialty coffees. For example, Arabica coffees from Brazil tend to have bolder flavors than coffees from Ethiopia. The growing region will also determine the process the beans go through before selling. In general, commodity beans are exported whole, while specialty beans are processed after being harvested. Both coffees are typically shipped fresh so importers can preserve coffee for sale in their regions.

There are many similarities between arabica and specialty coffee; both types are produced and sold globally. Although both types of coffee have health impacts based on how they’re consumed, they’re now staples in many households worldwide. Both varieties are currently being grown in many different locations worldwide, allowing producers to develop new variants for export. Because specialty coffee is getting very popular, researchers are trying to find ways to produce higher quality versions that promote better health without adding extra caffeine.


Commodity coffees are often lower-quality coffee sold in bulk to various customers. On the other hand, specialty coffees are more meticulously grown and processed to produce a high-quality product found in higher-end locations. Finally, standard trade coffees are grown in smaller lots and processed more fundamentally, making them lower-cost coffee sold in bags without any printed information.

With coffee being such a vast and global industry, there are many different coffee beans to suit any palate and coffee shop’s menu. Understanding the differences between commodity, specialty, and standard trade coffees will help you better understand the coffee industry and make more informed purchasing decisions.

Main image credit > Jakub Dziubak 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.