The Difference and Relationship Between Specialty and Commodity Coffee

Wednesday 29 May 2019, 4:05PM
By Beckie Wright

Many casual coffee drinkers don’t know the exact difference between specialty and commodity coffee, or the relationship between them. For example, the market price of commodity coffee impacts the prices of other coffee.

The markets that impact the price of your average cup are those through which roasters buy green beans from farmers, co-operatives, or other distributers. If this international commodity market is paying more than usual for generic coffee beans, all the prices go up. This can happen for a lot of reasons – commonly it’s due to shortages, caused by weather, parasites, and sometimes even new trade laws.

But what is ‘specialty’ coffee, and why is it more expensive? Specialty coffee is a movement within the industry to put more emphasis on quality, global ethics, and the importance of a diverse and thriving community within coffee. While specialty coffee can mean something different depending on where you are in the world, it has s a few hallmarks.

The first is that farmers and producers are paid more. Paying more for their product means they can turn a profit, and this is the foundation of Fair Trade. The commodity market tends to pay producers just enough to pay their workers and keep their farms running. Fair Trade – and to a greater extent, Direct Trade – aims to pay producers more, so they have a surplus to invest in themselves, and into making the product as good as it can possibly be.

Specialty coffee also focuses on being sustainable. If the commodity market hits a slump, prices are so low that farmers sometimes can’t weather the loss, and are forced to replace their coffee crops with something else that’s more likely to help them survive.

Finally, specialty coffee has character. Producing commodity coffee means harvesting crops in bulk, and mixing together coffee beans NZ from many different farms in order to sell in large quantities. This makes all the coffee in the bunch only as good as the lowest quality crop. When paid more, coffee farmers can afford to plant smaller crops, and achieve much more specific flavours. This also means you can often easily find out the exact farm your coffee came from!

All of this is why you may feel like you’ve seen the cost of coffee rise over the last decade or two. Coffee isn’t necessarily getting more expensive – instead, many roasters are simply finding ways to pay farmers what they’re really owed. When it comes to the difference between commodity and specialty, this is the major contrast it comes down to. To know more about wholesale bulk coffee beans visit our website: