Specialty vs. Commodity Coffee: 3 Key Differences

From the outside, all coffee beans may look the same, specialty when you look at them only by a quick glance. You may find it much easier to differentiate them once they are packaged as you can easily find commercial coffee already ground in a tin and specialty coffee in whole bean yet still needs to be ground before brewed.

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So, what do “specialty coffee” and “commercial coffee” actually mean?

To put it simply, specialty coffee refers to high-quality coffee with distinct flavors – depending on the soil where they were grown, processed, and sorted and roasted – while commercial coffee revolves around flavors from different beans like cacao or nuts. Do not be overwhelmed by this categorization, because all you need to do is to understand the key differences between specialty coffee and commercial coffee to find out which one is the best for your coffee business.


1. The quality on a cupping scale

We have talked about specialty coffee previously and how it is graded using the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) cupping protocol. While specialty coffee scores over 80 points on a 100 points scale, most commercial coffee scores below 75 points. Specialty coffee is grown at the perfect altitude, in the best soil, during the perfect time, and eventually picked at the perfect time. The results? A distinct flavor profile and top-notched coffee beans.

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2. Coffee defects

Defects in coffee may affect the coffee taste, such as extreme levels of bitterness, sourness and other defects of flavors like baggy and moldy. Since coffee taste preference is a highly subjective matter, this can be desirable for some. However, defects are very unlikely to be found in specialty coffee due to the high amount of care and treatment given by the coffee farmers. Using their very own hand, the farmers pick the ones with the perfect ripeness and minimum blemishes.

3. Flavorful coffee vs plain coffee

Here’s a fun fact: the soil where the coffee beans are grown will determine the flavor of the coffee. Being grown at a higher altitude, specialty coffee tends to have distinct flavors, such as fruity flavors and floral aroma, while commercial coffee tastes exactly like what it really is: “just coffee”. Commercial coffee also lacks acidity while specialty coffee offers different levels of pleasant acidity, from mild to bright, making it the quality-rich and tasteful choice.

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Specialty coffee is considered the “Queen of coffee” while Commercial coffee is supplied with a large quantity and many varieties of the trading market. Now that you know the key differences between specialty coffee and commercial coffee, try to consider factors such as budget, access or convenience, and your preferred target audience before making an informed decision on the type of coffee that you plan to utilize for your coffee business. One thing for sure, we can assure you that specialty coffee is definitely worth the investment or, at the very least, worth a try.

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