Why Fancy Coffee Costs So Much More

Sometimes it’s bitter rocket fuel, chugged down to wake us up in the morning. Other times, it’s a sugary confection enjoyed in a cozy shop. Any way you drink your joe, the culture around coffee has changed drastically over the years, and specialty brews have refined our tastes, demanding increasingly more money from consumers.

But what makes specialty coffee so “special,” anyway?

To understand what we mean by the term specialty coffee, here’s some quick background on what coffee experts call the three coffee waves.

For first-wave coffee, think of brands like Folgers and Maxwell House. Coffee in the first wave was “just” coffee: cheap, generic and accessible. Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks head up the second wave, with confection-like concoctions featuring flavours and customizations that add value. Bells and whistles aside, the coffee itself is mostly a blend with a consistent flavour. Third-wave coffee, which is where we are now, is made by niche brands like Intelligentsia, Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Counter Culture Coffee. Consistency has gone out the window in favour of high-quality beans that reflect a specific origin with unique flavour notes.

Here, we’re exclusively dealing with specialty coffee, and for third-wave coffee roasters, the term “specialty coffee” increasingly goes beyond the quality of the bean.

Specialty coffee demands success at all levels of the supply chain

The sad fact for the coffee industry is that global coffee prices are dropping (falling below $1 a pound for the first time in 12 years). That’s a blow to the industry as a whole ― but especially to the coffee farmers whose livelihoods are threatened by this crisis.

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