As I work in growing coffee, many people talk about the markets for different coffees. While I focus on the sustainability of my coffee, many people have told me that you really want your coffee to be 'special'.

I have been trying to figure out what this special means. Some roast their coffee with peanuts or cacao bean for flavor, some claim that because they grow coffee on a very high mountain or an especially cold climate that their coffee is now 'special'.

Are there any objective criteria for specialty coffees? Which specialties add the most value in terms of price?

1 Answer 1


There are not any firm guidelines established for what constitutes a specialty coffee. Theoretically no one would consider anything made by Folgers to be a specialty coffee, and anything produced by a small local roaster should probably be considered specialty, but there is a lot of gray area in between. For instance, some people may consider the bagged beans Starbucks sells to be specialty coffee, others (myself included) would not. Specialty is largely a marketing term like "Cloud" is for computing. "Cloud" is used ambiguously for private, public, small, large, closed and open platforms.

Generally I would define specialty coffee as something not produced and sold on a national scale. Most specialty coffees are not "branded" by a company because they are bought in lots and sold sort of "as is". That is, the roaster bought X amount and when they sell through it, it is gone. This is opposed to a larger company that will always have "Sumatra Special" available for sale.

When you start talking about roasting with other things, or adding flavors, you have moved to "flavored" coffee, which I personally would never consider specialty coffee. Oils and additional flavorings may be well liked by many people, but they can also be used to mask the shortcomings of less expensive beans and are generally used to produce a consistent tasting product.

Lastly when you start talking about growing conditions, it can vary, and doesn't necessarily mean anything. You can have beans that come from the same lot differ widely even in processing. There is no "perfect area" to grow coffee and good coffee can be grown in a fairly well defined, but still variable conditions. Advertising that coffee was grown in a specific place doesn't mean it was properly grown, harvested, processed or roasted well.

  • Interesting that there are no real definitions here.
    – Alex
    Jan 20, 2016 at 16:04
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    It's very standard when you realize that marketing terms almost always mean nothing. Jan 20, 2016 at 17:44
  • its a great answer, add in that comment with another marketing example and Ill give it the check.
    – Alex
    Jan 21, 2016 at 13:40
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    While not necessarily perfect, coffee grown at higher altitude is considered better quality. Bags were labeled SHB or SHG, depending on the country for Strickly Hard Bean and Strickly High Grown respectively. Coffee beans grown at high altitude are smaller and denser therefore harder. Hard beans will hold up to dark roasts whereas low grown coffee will ignite.
    – Curt
    Jan 31, 2016 at 8:08

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