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What's So Special About Specialty Coffee, Anyway?

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

coffee beans
Special, or just full of beans? Read on to find out.

Although we're steadily growing, we're still a fledgling coffee company and we're getting lots of great questions like, “What is specialty coffee, anyway? Why is it better than Folgers or Starbucks?” These questions are pretty common and, fear not, we’ve got answers! Read on for a thorough explanation.

What is Specialty Coffee (and what’s with the Waves)?

Specialty coffee is coffee that is held to a significantly higher quality standard than the mass marketed stuff (e.g. Folgers). The stuff most of our parents grew up drinking comes in a can, already ground for convenience, stocking the grocery store shelves of our childhood. It’s typically harvested by machines with little or no sorting. This is what’s known as First Wave Coffee.

Then there’s the big-chain coffee places like Starbucks. That’s Second Wave Coffee. They’re a bit more selective with the beans they use and they charge a big premium for this step-up in quality. They got us all used to paying higher prices for a cup of coffee, and helped set up a consumer demand for an even higher-quality product. Which is...

Specialty coffee is also known as Third Wave Coffee. It’s hand-picked by people who know exactly what to look for in a quality coffee cherry. Under-ripe and overripe coffee cherries are sorted out at harvest time, and all the best cherries are what make it into your cup. Specialty coffee is typically grown at higher elevations and is often partially-shaded – ideal conditions for growing the very best coffee.

Specialty coffee is typically roasted in small batches, and every roast is executed with meticulous attention to all the details that affect the final flavor in your cup. Every degree matters. Every second of the roast matters. Most importantly, every coffee is different. Single-origin coffee allows us to dial-in the exact conditions that will bring out the best in every bean in the lot.

So, what does all of this mean? It means every step of the coffee beans’ journey, from the coffee bush to your coffee cup, is handled with care and expertise. Its path is tracked and many of those details printed on its final packaging, because the details - the beans’ origin, when it’s picked, how it’s washed (or intentionally not washed), the altitude at which it’s grown, and how it’s roasted - all add up to exquisite freshness and a unique, consistent taste.

Who Says It’s “Specialty” and What Does "Single-Origin" Mean?

According to the Specialty Coffee Association, to qualify for specialty coffee status, specially trained graders (called Q graders) take and roast samples of a given coffee, grading it in several categories. Only coffees with a grade of 80 or more (out of 100 – the fewer the defects, the higher the grade) can be considered specialty coffee.

Single-origin coffee simply means that a specialty coffee’s beans came from the same farm or the same region. This matters because, when you start mixing up beans from different origins willy-nilly, there’s no telling what the end result might be. It’s usually not great and it's definitely not consistent. Single-origin coffee allows us to narrow down specific desirable flavor profiles and roast them to our exact profile with greater consistency.

What Makes it Better than Folgers or Starbucks?

Let’s be honest. If you’re a dyed -in-the-wool Eight O’Clock Coffee devotee or have been drinking Folgers since you were nine, maybe you’ll never think specialty coffee is better. And that’s OK. We can still be friends :) In the end, coffee is personal, and it’s all about what you prefer!

So there you have it. The combination of the coffee’s entire specialty journey and the roasting process creates a unique profile, and it’s what sets Westonia Coffee apart. We partnered with an expert local roaster, the fantastic 5° Degrees North team, and worked with them to roast our beans just the way we want them, every time. So, while there are lots of great specialty coffees out there, there only one like ours, roasted to our exact specifications.

Specialty coffees are kind of like snowflakes; no two are the same. It's just a matter of finding one you love - and we hope you'll love ours!

That's all for now. If you have a question we haven't answered here, just reach out to If you'd like to place an order, you can visit our online shop or give us a call.

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