Coffee can be broadly defined as specialty or commercial grade. Most of the coffees discussed on this website are specialty coffees. From the consumer’s viewpoint, the most immediately noticeable difference between commercial and specialty coffees is packaging: Commercial coffee comes in little bottles of instant or is already ground and packed in a tin or a collapsed, plastic-encased brick. Specialty coffee is stored or delivered as whole beans, either in one-pound bags or in bulk, and needs to be ground before it is brewed.
Commercial coffee is usually roasted and packed in large plants, under nationally advertised brand names. Specialty coffee is usually roasted in small stores or factories, using traditional methods and technology, and is often sold where it has been roasted.
Specialty coffees offer considerably more choice than commercial coffees. You can buy coffee by the place where the bean originated (Kenya, Colombia), by roast (French roast, Italian roast), or by blend designed for the time of day, price, or flavor. Commercial coffees offer only a very limited selection of blend and roast, and little possibility of buying single-origin, unblended coffees.
Specialty coffees offer more opportunity for consumers to participate in the creation of their pleasure; commercial coffees are faits accomplis in tins or bags.