Specialty Coffee: Riding the Coffee Wave

Title image with a cup of black coffee

Everyone has a preference when it comes to coffee. Some like it darker than night; others would prefer a cup full of hazelnut creamer (hey, we don’t judge.) Either way, this stuff is the lifeblood of today’s workforce. From the dawn of the breakroom, coffee has been an unstoppable force of caffeine and productivity. Coffee’s power to drive work has blessed offices big and small. Unfortunately, this glorious black (or milky tan) liquid treasure often goes unappreciated, but the math is simple: boring coffee = less work done. While your usual cup of joe may not be “boring,” it’s easy to miss changing trends that your team might prefer.


Enter specialty coffee.

using a pour over coffee maker with filter
We’d understand if you think coffee is more complicated than ever; just look at how many ways you can brew it. The classic office coffee pot makes way for the future of uber-efficient single-cup machines mixing and creating anything you want. A slower approach could lead you to French presses or pour-overs. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

From the crafting technique to the beans themselves, we know it’s hard to keep up, but change isn’t necessarily bad. Supply chains are more transparent as coffee growers and roasters focus on fair trade. Plus, high-quality, craft coffee is for everyone. Sure, it seems more complicated than your old-school cup of joe, but all these new trends are positive in many ways, and we’re here to make it simple.

We’ll dive into the brief history of coffee, then bring you up to speed on today’s trends. We’ll even break down the most used coffee slang so you can stay on top of your team’s tastes and then brag about getting the best coffee around.


My diner coffee is fine. Thank you.

We hear you; it’s not broken, so why bother fixing it? All coffee is good, but younger generations are sweeping through the workplace with new preferences. Millennials (ages 23 to 38) are out of school and joining, if not already leading, the workforce. Generation Z is right behind them and already storming the job market. Now is the time to think about their tastes, and 70% of the coffee consumed by Millennials and Generation Z is craft. Craft and Specialty are designations given to high-grade coffee. A passion goes into making this coffee comparable to wine, almost an art rather than a commodity. When it comes to recruitment and retention, quality coffee deserves your attention.

Latte art being poured up close


Specialty what?

Coffee has been a global tradition since 1552, when the first Café opened in Constantinople. Some 221 years later, The Boston Tea party cemented America’s national preference for coffee over tea in riotous fashion. From there, we’ve seen four waves of adoption.

The first wave was when coffee became a mainstay in American homes. Everyone had a percolator, and you wouldn’t dare invite the neighbors over without offering a cup straight from the can.

In the 70s, corporate coffee began its sweep over consumerism. Starbucks, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, and other big recognizable names gave coffee shops a franchisable brand. In-home hospitality was no longer the main drive behind everyone’s favorite beverage. People had a new way to experience coffee, and it was on every street corner. Big marketing also introduced varying flavors and roast levels with fancy names like “City Roast.”

An angry barista
The early 2000s is when the specialty shift truly began—the third wave of coffee introduced mustaches and suspenders. Baristas brewed manually. Specialized roasters and craft offerings emerged. Sustainably sourced coffee became important. Specialty coffee found a following among purists and connoisseurs.

Today, we’re past that. Many argue we’re in the fourth wave now, where craft and specialty coffee are for everyone. High-end complex coffee is approachable. Every day people can enjoy the story of the coffee they drink, from the grower to the cup. Roasters experiment with different flavors knowing the average joe can (and will) enjoy it.


Coffee Beans laid out in Canteen's Logo
So, what makes it different?

There’s a lot to growing, roasting, and making coffee that the average person doesn’t see. First things first, there are two main bean types: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica only grows in higher altitudes, and takes years for the fruit to mature. For its sweeter taste, arabica is the preferred bean in specialty coffee. Robusta, on the other hand, has a stronger, harsher flavor but grows like a weed in lower altitudes. Robusta is often a filler in lower-grade coffees.

Ethiopian Man examining coffee berries
Coffee from the branch is a berry, with what we know as the “bean” stored inside. There are several processes used to strip the fruit, each resulting in various flavors. After the fruit is all gone, the beans are off to roasting.

Roasting refers to heating the beans to bring out and enhance the natural flavors. Darker roasts spend more time in the roaster. The bean starts greenish and slowly turns to the brown color we know and love during roasting. Roasting develops and draws out that delicious coffee flavor we all know and love. Darker beans pick up more of the burnt, roasted flavor, whereas lighter roasts intensify the natural bean. And today, different coffees can have wildly different tastes. Gone are the days of bitter coffee drowned in artificial flavors. Specialty coffees can be sweet or even fruity, as well as a whole variety of other tastes.
Coffee beans in different roasts

Craft coffee has historically been intimidating, only for the true connoisseurs. But now, getting your hands on good coffee your whole team will love is so easy. From the beans to the equipment, we’ve got you covered. And thanks to the experts at Tradecraft, we’ll get you exactly what your team wants.