Specialty coffee vs. commodity coffee

Specialty coffee vs. commodity coffee


If you’re new to specialty coffee you might be wondering what the differences are between the specialty coffee you can buy from roasteries and cafes compared to what you might get in a supermarket (other than the price and taste difference!). This quick guide will hopefully over some insight into some of the other differences between 

Coffee as a commodity

Coffee is classed as a commodity, like gold or oil, and has a price set on the commodity market. This price fluctuates and is affected by a huge variety of factors, but excludes major factors considered by the specialty coffee market: the quality, taste, and the cost of production. Basically the actual coffee itself (the quality and the taste) does not affect the price the coffee is sold for.

Commodity coffee is still the vast majority of all coffee consumed in the world. This means the farmer gets paid the same for their coffee regardless of the quality of the coffee or the way in which it was produced. In a lot of cases and countries, the commodity price is below the cost of production so — so it is impossible for the farmer to make money.

Specialty coffee

Specialty coffee is defined as coffees that have scored between 80 and 100 out of a possible 100 on a standardised scale scored by coffee professionals. But specialty coffee is much more than that.

Many specialty coffee roasteries form relationships with the farms, washing stations, and co-operatives they buy from, whether they buy directly from farmers or from specialist green coffee companies. Specialty coffee is always of a better quality and farmers are paid far above the commodity price.

What about Fairtrade coffee?

Fairtrade coffee is a premium paid on top of the commodity price. This premium still doesn’t always necessarily cover the cost of production, but part of the premium is reinvested into the community. The price paid to farmers for Fairtrade coffee also isn’t affected by the quality of the coffee

So, why specialty?

It isn’t perfect and there isn’t uniformity across roasteries in this industry, but it is ultimately characterised by striving to do better all along the supply chain — from the taste of your final cup of coffee, to paying farmers a better price, to encouraging more eco-friendly and sustainable farming practices. 

We at Mission are proud to buy and roast specialty coffee, not just because it tastes better!



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