What Does Specialty Coffee Mean To Different Specialty Coffee Around The World

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter
Specialty coffee around the world

Specialty coffee around the world: Specialty coffee popularity is rising globally, with steady growth beyond major markets like the US and Europe. Consumption is increasing significantly in Asia-Pacific and steadily in Latin America and Africa.

The Specialty Coffee Association objectively defines specialty coffee by a score of 80+ on its 100-point scale. Specialty is also characterized by sustainability, traceability, and transparency.

However, with worldwide growth, the meaning of “specialty” is evolving, shaped by social and cultural factors. Industry professionals and consumers are developing personal relationships with specialty coffee.

To explore diverse global perspectives, I interviewed three industry professionals. Continue reading for their insights on what specialty coffee means in different international contexts.

This article builds on our previous exploration of innovation among Nordic specialty coffee roasters. As the specialty coffee market expands globally, subjective definitions are emerging locally alongside objective standards.


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While still a smaller share of the total market, the global specialty coffee sector is clearly expanding, especially in the US, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

In the US, 2022 research found domestic coffee consumption at a 20-year high, with 43% of consumers drinking specialty coffee in the past day – a 20% increase since 2021. North America’s specialty market is predicted to grow 20% annually through 2030, becoming the world’s fastest growing.

The Asia-Pacific specialty sector will see a 15.3% yearly growth rate through 2030, driven by premiumization.

Europe, holding about 46.2% of the global specialty market, is a major consuming region expected to grow 9% over 3 years.

In summary, specialty coffee is rapidly gaining popularity, led by significant growth in the US, Asia-Pacific, and established European markets. With specialty consumption rising, premiumization driving demand, and future projections optimistic, the global specialty coffee sector is poised for continued expansion.

Breaking down regional specialty coffee consumption

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Specialty coffee popularity in Europe is complex to generalize across dozens of culturally diverse countries. However, Scandinavia pioneered global specialty coffee as an influential market.

Nordic professionals in the 1990s/early 2000s popularised light roast single origins worldwide. Nordic countries also routinely rank among the highest per capita coffee consumption, like Norway – with over 80 roasteries for 5.4 million people, specialty coffee is ingrained in Norwegian culture.

Joanne Berry, Head of Procurement at Norway’s Tropiq, notes: “Few places drink coffee like Norwegians – at family/social events, brewed black coffee is always served. Drinking black coffee is so normal that you taste more inherent characteristics.”

In summary, while Europe defies easy generalisation, Scandinavia helped pioneer specialty coffee globally. High per capita consumption and prevalence in everyday Norwegian culture exemplifies how integral specialty coffee is in certain Nordic markets, shaping global tastes through black coffee brewing.

What about in producing countries? 

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Historically, specialty coffee consumption has been lower in producing countries compared to consuming countries, due to the structure of the global coffee trade and targeted marketing. However, domestic specialty coffee cultures are emerging in some key producing nations.

For example, Brazil’s specialty coffee market share doubled from 6% to 12% between 2016 and 2018. This growth likely continued following Boram Um’s 2023 World Barista Championship win. Similarly, the estimated value of Colombia’s specialty coffee market reached $1.52 billion in 2018 and has likely grown since Diego Campos became the first Colombian World Barista Champion in 2021.

According to the International Coffee Organization, Uganda’s domestic coffee consumption increased 2.4% from 2018-2021. With growing representation of African baristas at competitions, specialty coffee consumption will likely continue rising in Uganda and other major producing countries.

As Patrick O’Malley, founder of the International Barista and Coffee Academy, observed through travels to Latin America, “You now find more and more high-end specialty coffee shops in countries like Honduras, Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico.”

Fabrizio Sención, owner of Mexico’s PalReal coffee shop, explains that to meet increasing domestic demand, roasters are purchasing more locally-grown specialty coffees rather than strictly exporting them. The specialty coffee cultures originating in producing countries continue to develop.


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The specialty coffee industry is often defined by countries like Norway, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. However, with rising global popularity, definitions evolve across cultures.

For example, many North American and Asian consumers prefer medium or darker roasts, seeking a more “traditional strong coffee taste,” as Joanne notes. As a major importer, Japan tends to roast slightly darker and favors filter coffee in kissaten shops over espresso. In the US, specialty coffee drinkers still often add milk and sweeteners, says Patrick.

So while specialty coffee branding appears similar worldwide, local preferences still influence consumer behavior.

At the same time, Specialty Coffee Association standards shape definitions, like recently updated cupping procedures for assessing green coffee quality more objectively. As Joanne explains, “Objective scoring communicates quality to producers, roasters, and consumers.”

However, applying global standards across varying specialty coffee cultures can be difficult. The SCA Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel has faced criticism for its Western focus. As a result, local professionals in Taiwan and Indonesia have developed their own flavor wheels.

In summary, while the specialty industry has global standards, local perspectives continue to inform evolving definitions and practices worldwide. A balance of consistent protocols and cultural flexibility is needed.


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While objective definitions remain important, traders and roasters weigh many additional factors when purchasing specialty coffee, according to Joanne.

“It’s about the existing relationship with the producer, interesting coffees, and partnerships that provide mutual value,” she explains.

Specialty coffee around the world

Patrick points out some quantifiable specialty coffee characteristics don’t benefit producing countries as much.

“The term ‘specialty’ can be skewed in many ways,” he says. “It’s difficult to find greens with zero defects per SCA standards. And there are no concrete SCA guidelines for roasting or brewing.”

Cultural preferences for different roast profiles also affect personal definitions. “If you roast coffee darker, is it still specialty? I’d argue not,” Patrick says, since darker roasts may not highlight a coffee’s inherent qualities.

In summary, while objective standards are important, the specialty coffee industry considers qualitative factors and local perspectives when buying, roasting, and defining specialty coffee. Global collaboration and cultural flexibility help ensure sustainable, ethical, and mutually beneficial specialty coffee practices.

New ways to define specialty coffee

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Balancing objective and subjective standards presents opportunities to redefine specialty coffee inclusively.

Patrick proposes a Michelin star guide system to consistently designate specialty coffee businesses and ensure supply chain quality. However, this could further specialty coffee’s exclusivity and alienate some consumers.

As Joanne cautions, “We must leave room for varied market preferences and palates to also define specialty coffee meaningfully.”

While industry-wide quantifiable, verifiable standards are vital for specialty coffee roast and expectations, rising global popularity necessitates flexible definitions. Standards are shifting as specialty coffee spreads worldwide. Embracing diverse subjective perspectives on specialty coffee’s meaning allows for an evolving, inclusive understanding.

Ultimately, consistent standards and local contexts can coexist through compromise. Diverse subjective viewpoints are integral to specialty coffee’s identity and culture worldwide. A balanced approach enables specialty coffee to keep growing while retaining its core values.