Special coffe

In this article I will discuss the idea of specialty coffee and its significance in the countries of Europe. In the first part of this article I will purvey the necessary information about the subject of specialty coffee and in general present specialty coffee in a way, that is valuable to the reader. In subsequent parts of the article I will discuss about specialty coffee specifically in Europe and compare different segments of the coffee sector in the European Union, all the while using information based on research and reliable sources. Finally, at the end of the essay I will provide my own opinion on the matter and my own assumptions on what the future holds for specialty coffee.


Specialty vs. regular coffee

Although coffee is the most popular drink in the world (excluding water) and used in Europe since the 16th century, the term specialty coffee has only been used since the 1970’s. While coffee is loosely defined as a stimulant drink prepared from roasted beans, specialty coffee refers to beans of the highest quality which are produced in special microclimates. It is necessary to point out that specialty coffee is not to be confused with "gourmet" or "premium" coffee. The latter are only marketing terms and are used to communicate that the coffee is of higher quality. What separates regular coffee from specialty coffee is that, specialty coffee beans are grown in ideal circumstances. Specialty coffee is distinct because of its unique tastes and little to no defects. The unique flavours are a result of the composition and characteristics of the soil in which the beans are produced

Specialty coffee is expected to be a bit more expensive than the regular coffee. The reason for this is in the beans. Most of the commercial coffee you drink on a daily basis is a mix between Robusta and Arabica beans, while higher quality coffee consists only of Arabica beans. Robusta beans are usually cheaper because the Robusta plant is in general not so exigent and it bears fruit earlier. Robusta is therefore cheaper to grow and harvest and is thus cheaper and used in commercial coffees. Arabica beans, on the other hand, take much longer to come to fruit. Usually it takes two years longer for an Arabica plant to bear fruit. They grow at higher altitudes, which means they usually grow in mountainous areas, which renders machine harvesting impractical and difficult. They are therefore picked by hand. Arabica plants also yield less fruit than Robusta plants. These factors all contribute to the higher price of coffee made from Arabica beans. Arabica beans have a bigger flavour potential than Robusta beans. They absorb the taste of the flowers and plants around them, are enriched by the sun, soil and the rain and have many different flavours because of these characteristics. In perfect conditions, with perfect processing and professional care, beans of excellent quality may result, which are then used for specialty coffee.

All this leads to the conclusion that specialty coffee is of higher quality. Of course, quality of beans varies depending on the microclimate and the quality of weather during the growing season. Because of this reason, there are grading systems out there, which are used to determine if the beans are good enough to be used for specialty coffee. There is an organization in the USA, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), which uses a 100-point grading system used to determine the quality of coffee. Coffee which scores above the 80-point mark is graded as specialty coffee. The grading process includes measuring the level of defects in a 300gram batch of coffee (300grams is the amount of coffee beans used for grading at one time). Unroasted coffee beans, stones or sticks found in coffee would be considered a primary defect. A broken, chipped or damaged coffee bean would be considered a secondary defect. To be considered specialty coffee, there must not be more than five full defects found in a 300gram batch of coffee beans.

Countries that grow specialty coffee beans are located in the tropical and subtropical regions of Latin America and Africa. Among the most notable specialty coffee producers are Colombia, Panama, Kenya, Brazil and Ethiopia. The specialty coffee demand is growing in many parts of the world, with USA being the biggest market, followed by Europe and then Asia. The specialty coffee market is the most rapidly growing segment of the coffee industry. According to SCAA, the specialty coffee segment in USA has reached approximately 55% value share of the coffee market


Characteristics of coffee consumption in Europe

According to the European Coffee Federation, the European Union is the biggest per capita consumer of coffee in the world. The EU consumes 2.5 million tons of coffee per year, which roughly equates to 4 kilograms of coffee per EU inhabitant per year. There is no denying the fact that coffee is indeed a big part of the European daily life. Although coffee consumption in Europe has risen significantly in the last decade, the International Coffee Organization predicts even further growth of coffee demand. The aforementioned organization estimates that the demand will rise by about 25% in the 2015-2020 period.

While coffee and its variations are deeply rooted in Italian culture, the biggest consumers in the European market are in fact to be found further up north. According to a recent 2017 study conducted by Euromonitor International, Finland tops the list of coffee consumers with an average of 9,6 kg of coffee per person per year. That equates to about an average of about 2,64 cups of coffee per day per capita. Keep in mind that the average cups of coffee consumed per day would probably skyrocket if we took children out of the equation. An average Finn would be surprised at the low number listed above. Finland is closely followed by Norway, as they consume about 7,2 kg of coffee per year per person. Netherlands fall third on the list of coffee consumers with 6,7 kg/capita per year, which is no surprise given that they were one of the first nations in the world to trade with coffee beans and coffee plants. Slovenia is right behind Netherlands when it comes to coffee drinking. Slovenians drink an average of 6,1 kg/capita per year. This translates to about 9,327,000kg, which is a lot for a nation of only two million people. Austria falls on the fifth place on the list with an average of 5,5 kg/capita of coffee consumed in a year. Following Austria, we find on the top ten list of coffee consumers, nations such as Serbia, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Brazil, respectively. An interesting take-away from this study is the fact, that nine of the ten biggest coffee consumers in the world are European countries (Brazil being the only non-European). Most of these countries are also Germanic and relatively small compared to the biggest countries in the world.

Just like in the USA, coffee in Europe is mainly drunk while having a so called coffee break. The coffee break phenomena allegedly originated in the 19th century in a small town in the state of Wisconsin. The town even celebrates coffee breaks with an annual coffee break festival, which takes place in the Wisconsin town. After the second world war, coffee break has been written into union contracts. Coffee breaks have become more popular ever since, through clever marketing by coffee companies. Coffee breaks in Europe usually last up to 20 minutes and in many cases occur at the end of the first and second third of the work shift. The coffee break has become a big part of the daily life in some European countries and a lot of medium sized and bigger companies tend to have their own cafeterias, where employees hang out and drink coffee. Coffee culture varies in European countries. In Sweden for instance, coffee culture is a big deal and an important part of Swedish culture. The coffee breaks are called Fika, and the coffee is served with a kind of bread or biscuits to go along with the coffee. The Swedes have Fika up to 4 times a day, which makes it no surprise that they are the worlds heaviest coffee drinkers, right behind the Finns.

The Italian coffee culture is the opposite from the Swedish one. Unlike the Swedes, the Italians drink their coffee very quickly and in many cases standing up. They even drink their coffee as shots. They usually drink milk based coffee or latte in the morning, but never after a meal. After the initial latte in the morning, they only drink espresso throughout the day. Italians are known for their high quality coffee and are known to prefer coffee of the highest quality.

Although known in the World as a beer drinking nation, the Germans are also among the world’s heaviest coffee drinkers. Germany is the third largest coffee market in the world (behind USA and Brazil) and statistically 86% of adults in Germany drink coffee on a daily or weekly basis. It is not unusual for an average German to drink coffee three or even four times a day. What is interesting about German coffee culture is, that they do not have any preference in coffee. They do not put much emphasis on the quality of coffee and prefer quantity over quality when it comes to coffee. This is evident in the fact that an average German drinks more than 150 litres of coffee per year, which is even more than beer, wine and mineral water. Even though most German adults do not take the quality of coffee into account, a study made by Nestlé indicates that this may indeed change in the near future. After a survey of more than a thousand coffee drinkers from Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, it is evident that the younger generation of coffee drinkers in particular prefer coffee of higher quality and variety. Similar to wine and beer, there is growing awareness of coffees taste, aroma and origin. The younger generations (18-29) also tend to experiment with different types of coffees. Another interesting finding of the survey is that almost a half of the participants believe the coffee machine to be a symbol of status. All this leads us to believe that specialty coffee may indeed have a bright future ahead of it.

Coffee consumption in the Netherlands is very similar to Germany. The Dutch too drink a lot of coffee during the day: they start the day with a boost, with a cup of coffee early in the morning, between 10:00 and 12:00 they have a so called “koffietijd” (coffee break in dutch) and later in the day a third cup of coffee for a burst of energy to finish of their work day. The Dutch usually drink long coffees and oftentimes they indulge in cafelattes

England is, similar to Germany, not a stereotypical coffee-drinking nation. England is almost synonymous with tea, but coffee has a long tradition in England nevertheless. The first cafés opened their doors in the 16th century, but popularity of coffee did not take off at first. Coffee became popular in England only after the tea-taxation that caused the lower and middle class to prefer coffee over tea. Tea is these days still the number one go-to beverage for the English, but similarly as with the Germans, a recent study may suggest that coffee consumption is on the rise in England and may take-over tea from the number one spot in the years to come.

As we can see, the heaviest coffee drinkers in Europe and consequentially in the World are Germanic and Scandinavian countries. Germany and Scandinavia are the largest coffee markets in the world and newer surveys and research indicate that the trend of coffee culture in those countries may shift to a dominant coffee market, that is characterised by higher quality of beans and preference of variety and other characteristics, that were in the past deemed luxurious


Specialty coffee in European countries

At this point we have already established that coffee is a very popular drink in Europe, in fact the European Union is the biggest consumer of coffee in the world and the demand is also expected to rise. At this point though, we must ask ourselves about specialty coffee and its role in the European coffee market.

Consumption of specialty coffee in Europe is on the rise. In recent years, the coffee sector has transformed from a mainly bulk market, characterised by few tastes and demands, to a market increasingly characterised by claims of quality and flavour. Aside from the progressively higher demands for quality, one of the main driving forces of this trend is also the boost in awareness regarding climate change. This movement involving the production of high-quality and sustainable coffee and its promotion as a luxury product is commonly referred to as the third wave of coffee. According to the CBI (centre for promotion of imports), people across Europe are still mainly buying coffee in bulk, but the number of people who would be willing to pay higher prices for a coffee of higher quality is increasing. This means that the role of the origin and the exceptional qualities of coffee are more important to European consumers than ever before. The increasing interest in specialty coffee is also reflected in the rising numbers of micro roasters, specialty coffee bars, small local coffee brands and baristas, all of which are characteristic of the third wave of coffee movement. The sophistication of coffee bars and baristas is now higher than ever before, which has led to a higher demand for more sophisticated and signature blends of coffee. A significant part of this third wave of coffee is also trade and consumption of green coffee beans. This market indeed represents only a small fraction of the current market, but it is in fact growing steadily and following a trend towards home, consumer-level roasting. The green coffee segment of the market is positively correlated to the general specialty coffee market. Most of the green coffee beans are sold through the internet and it is usually sold in smaller quantities.



People are nowadays more sensitive to quality than ever before and coffee is no exception. As I have already pointed out, there is an increasing number of European consumers that are willing to pay a higher price for a high quality coffee. The increasing number of coffee bars, baristas and local coffee brands is also a powerful testament to the ever growing popularity of specialty coffee. One of the reasons for the occurrence of the third wave of coffee and its supposed continuity is I believe, the ever increasing number of innovations in the field of agronomy. These small and incremental innovations in agronomic technology, combined with better farm and crop management will increase coffee productions or yields and at the same time enhance the quality of the coffee beans.

Regular coffee will most likely still stay the dominant segment of the coffee market in the years to come, but given the information above, I believe there indeed is increasing demand for specialty coffee and green coffee beans in Europe. It is only a matter of time before the specialty coffee market in Europe catches up with the USA and becomes the dominant segment. Therefore, I believe there is a lot of potential for growth and success in the specialty coffee market in Europe.

Jakob Ivanusic