Specialty Coffee vs Commercial Coffee

One coffee bean, two different coffee worlds

With the rise of the third wave of coffee, terms like specialty coffee have come into vogue in recent years. And in opposition, or perhaps to better and more fully understand and separate specialty coffee from other varieties of coffee, the term "commercial coffee" has also been coined. 

But the differences between the two are more than in just name. When you opt for specialty coffee, you are definitely paying for more than just a difference in the name! These two terms are relatively broad, and so instead of defining each one in all their nuances and subtleties, instead we will take a look at the significant differences between the two. 


How the two are packaged

Specialty coffee is an artisanal method of preparing and enjoying coffee. And so, specialty coffee will be packaged in bags or airtight containers. The beans of specialty coffee grade are meant to be ground to maintain freshness and to allow the consumer to enjoy all the nuances, hints, flavors, aromas, and notes that the natural growing, harvesting, and processing methods have marked them with. 

Meanwhile, commercial-grade coffee, which is a legacy of the first wave of coffee, does things differently. The first wave of coffee saw the rise of instant coffee, prepackaged bags, and tin cans of coffee that are preground and usually darkly roasted. Not to mention blended with little to no attention to the different regions of origin. Commercial grade is "just coffee" and so is packaged in a way conducive to mass production. 


Roasting methods

Which brings us to our next difference, which is the roasting methods employed. As mentioned, specialty coffee will usually be roasted depending on the consumer's choice or roasted in a way that synergizes with a type of bean. 

While commercial roast is generally just dark roasted so it can be mass ground more quickly. Commercial grade coffee is usually roasted and ground by big-name corporations and shipped all over. Specialty grade, however, uses artisanal and traditional roasting methods. Usually, preground specialty coffee is not a thing. Specialty grade beans are also traditionally roasted and sold at smaller factories, stores, or private roasters.


Freedom of choice

When it comes to satisfying one's particular tastes and preferences, specialty coffee once again comes out on top. Specialty beans are usually demarcated by their place of origin and are not blended, though they can be for specific reasons and intentions. The Bean roasting type is also usually more nuanced with specialty coffee. Meanwhile, commercial coffee limits a consumer's choices a great deal in comparison. One is limited by roasting type, bean type, and place of origin. Most beans are blends, too.


But what's the best for me?

In this day and age of the coffee, the best way to go is to opt for specialty when one can. Though commercial coffee may be cheaper, more readily accessible, convenient, and sold in more massive bulk, there are many drawbacks. 

Especially the ones we cannot see, like the damage it does to the coffee farmers who often do not get paid a fair or livable wage. Or the environmental damage when so much coffee is hastily prepared en masse. That is why, when one enjoys coffee, the wisest decision is to go for the specialty. The planet, the coffee farmers, and your tastebuds will all thank you!


  • “Specialty vs. Commercial Coffee.” Coffee Review, 7 Aug. 2014, www.coffeereview.com/coffee-reference/coffee-basics/introduction/specialty-vs-commercial/.
  • Velesquez, Daniel. “Specialty vs Commercial Coffee: 3 Key Processing Differences.” Perfect Daily Grind, Perfect Daily Grind, 20 Apr. 2020, perfectdailygrind.com/2015/11/specialty-vs-commercial-coffee-3-key-processing-differences/.
  • “What Is Specialty Coffee?” Specialty Coffee Association News, 9 June 2017, scanews.coffee/2017/03/17/what-is-specialty-coffee/. 

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