Emerging Industry Overview: Specialty Coffee

Industry Snapshot

Contrary to popular belief, coffee did not originate in Brazil or Columbia; rather, it originated in Ethiopia. In the early 2000s, it was the world's second most traded commodity after oil. Specialty coffee has been defined as "a coffee that has no defects and has a distinctive flavor in the cup." The premium variety is Arabica coffee, which accounts for 70 percent of the world's coffee production. Specialty coffee remains one of the fastest-growing food service markets globally, due to the explosion of cafées and gourmet coffee retailers.

Organization and Structure

After growing in any of roughly 20 countries, coffee beans pass through many intermediaries and brokers before coming to industry firms in the United States. Usually, the beans arrive green, or un-roasted, whereupon industry firms buy and roast them in small batches. From that point, the beans reach consumers through several channels, including supermarkets, gourmet delis, fancy food stores, housewares/gift stores, mail order, mass merchandisers, the Internet, specialty coffee stores, and coffee cafées. In non-proprietary retail stores such as supermarkets, specialty coffee is prepackaged or in bulk, depending on the individual retailer's store format.