Speciality Coffee, Direct Trade, etc. What does it All Mean?

Nowadays coffee is marketed with an often overwhelming number of terms, as you walk down the street you can see signs on your local coffee places advertising Independent, Speciality, Fair Trade, Direct Trade and all the rest. But when it comes down to it what does it all mean and honestly does it really matter?

A lot of confusion can arise in understanding which terms are relevant to which aspects of your beloved cup of coffee. I’m going to try to simplify as best as I can.

What is Independent or Speciality Coffee?

Ok so these are the two terms you will most often find in the new age of coffee, and they can get very confused and sadly at times can be poorly explained.

Independent Coffee shops are venues owned and operated by smaller independent proprietors or companies, they usually source their coffee from equally independent roasters or even roast their own beans. As a general rule these are people who are passionate about coffee, and about the ethics and quality of the product, odds are they are a lot like you in fact.

Now on to Speciality, this one is both simple and complex at the same time, so bear with me. At its core Speciality Coffee as defined by the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA) is a coffee that cups (is taste tested in a particular fashion) with a score of 70 or more out of 100. Simple right? It is indeed but the term often also gets used to refer to smaller batch roasts, little coffee producers or the community around this type of coffee in general, so it can be a matter of context.

All this tends to boil down to Independent coffee venues supplying Speciality coffees being the places to go to if you love your coffees.

Why is my Independent Coffee Place so Pricey?

Firstly don’t assume that it is, if you compare a small coffee shop’s prices with some high street giants you may find the difference is smaller than you think. If the price is a little higher there is a good reason, actually several.

Coffee is a hard thing to grow, requiring a very specific climate and subject to many external problems, from plant disease to sensitivity to weather, a farmer’s crop can be ruined all too easily. It’s also important to be aware that coffee is grown in places where life is hard and that earning a living from their crop can be a monumental challenge for farmers, the price can be driven down by major buyers looking for a better margin and circumstances can force people well below the poverty line, the way your coffee is traded can change lives, not just the amount you pay. Social responsibility should, and is growing to be crucial in the trade of this crop, we as consumers need to be willing to pay a fair price for our beloved drink. A number of ways of ensuring a decent balance exist today but they haven’t always been there. The coffee trade has a long and sadly checkered history when it comes to the lives of those who grow our favourite bean. Over the years of our love affair with this drink, the industry that surrounds it has been guilty of some pretty awful levels of exploitation. However, I won’t diverge into a coffee history lesson! Nowadays the most important terms you can get to grips with are probably Fair Trade and Direct Trade, both of which mean the grower is being better looked after, but in different ways. So what’s the difference?

At it’s most basic it comes down to intent, Fair Trade sets out to ensure fair prices for peoples goods and work, and it does it well as a rule, but the focus is on the person not the product, so the ensuring of quality in the process is subject to debate. Direct Trade means what it says really, that the coffee beans are bought direct from the farmers, this allows for a clearer and more sustainable relationship between buyer and farmer, and therefore for pricing to be fairly discussed, but also for a lot of attention to be focused on the production of a superior product. So is one better or more important than the other? Well, that would be where it gets a little complicated, I could get into the detail and balance the pros and cons for hours, but I honestly would say the key is that both work and as long as you are happy with your coffee and you know its been traded ethically you are on to a winner.

My best advice? Wherever you go for your cup, ask. No really its always the best way, just chat to the people in your coffee place and ask them about who the roaster they use is and where their coffees come from. You may be surprised at how much you learn.

About Bear Essentials CoffeeIf you have enjoyed this or any of my writing please check out my Homepage to find out more about me and my work. Follow the blog and if you feel you can, drop a donation to support this project. Thanks, – Bear

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