Why don't more people drink specialty coffee?

It can be difficult to find reliable data on specialty coffee’s market share because of specialty coffee’s loose definition: “Coffee scoring over 80 points by a Q-grader.” Instead of using that definition, the NCDT (National Coffee Data Trends Reports) asks its’ survey takers to list whether they drink “gourmet” coffee, which is defined by the NCA as “coffee drunk hot or iced that is brewed from premium whole bean or ground varieties. This includes espresso-based beverages, iced/frozen blended coffee, cold brew, and iced coffee infused with nitrogen.” In other words, survey takers will likely consider 3 month-old Illy coffee specialty, which for the sake of this conversation is misleading.

With that in mind, I believe it’s safe to say that specialty coffee does not capture the majority of US coffee sales, why? Why is it that a better product at a reasonable price doesn’t outperform the stale tasteless product of our grandparents’ coffee companies?  After some brief anecdotal research via Reddit (great way to get anecdotal data by the way) here are the top five reasons people DON’T drink specialty (from most cited to least cited):

  1. Specialty coffee is intimidating, snobby and unapproachable
  2. Too expensive, don’t see the value
  3. It’s more convenient to make traditional coffee
  4. Good coffee just isn’t important to some people
  5. The supply chain of specialty makes it tough for consumers to buy

I wouldn’t disagree with any of these reasons. Specialty coffee can be intimidating, expensive, inconvenient, and difficult to buy. It seems that the specialty coffee industry has room to grow but it’s being constrained with the issues above. I think these are solvable problems and here’s why.

  1. Specialty coffee is intimidating, snobby and unapproachable

This is a culture decision. There’s no reason why specialty coffee needs to be snobby. It doesn’t add to the cup, it doesn’t bring more value to the farmers, and it stifles specialty coffee’s natural inclination to spread. Culture has a way of growing organically and can embody the best and worst intentions of our egos. Let’s make a conscious decision to lead with empathy. This is a choice any specialty company can make.

  • Too expensive, don’t see the value

There are two ways to prepare coffee; you can make it or someone else can make it. If someone else is making it then you have to pay them, this is expensive, and it seems to be getting more expensive. There’s no way around this and that person deserves a living wage. Café coffee is going to be expensive, there’s no way around it. Cafés are tough businesses to run with overhead to pay for. Or, you can make it yourself. Specialty coffee purchased online has much less cost of goods sold associated with it. We can buy good green, roast it and ship it out at a fair price with fair margins. Sure it won’t be as cheap as Maxwell House but trade-offs people.

  • It’s more convenient to make traditional coffee

Nothing will beat the ease of throwing in a K-cup to your Keurig. It’s also much easier to microwave Kobe beef than it is to prepare it thoughtfully. Some people will never make the leap into preparing coffee manually or even through a drip machine. I say great! Nothing is for everybody. That being said, I think there are plenty of people perfectly capable of buying a grinder and a Mr. Coffee that haven’t. And yes, I am suggesting that you can make amazing specialty coffee with a grinder and a Mr. Coffee.

  • Good coffee just isn’t important to some people

I don’t think this is true. “Good” is subjective and I can’t think of anyone that would proudly state that they prefer “bad” coffee. I think it’s all a matter of education and the Joneses. Keeping up with the Joneses has a negative connotation but, in this case, I encourage it. Once people see others drinking specialty, a new “good” can be supplanted in their mind. The same way technology upgrades and our current solutions become obsolete I think traditional coffee should become obsolete – to an extent. Everyone wants to drink “good” coffee, it’s just a matter of leading people to what specialty coffee can offer them.

  • The supply chain of specialty makes it tough for customers to buy

It really does. The best way (in my opinion) to buy great specialty coffee is to visit your local roaster. This is a special trip that you might’ve otherwise not have made. As opposed to walking down the coffee aisle at the grocery store that you’re already at and throwing a box of k-cups in your cart. Coffee is an amazing food but it goes stale and needs to be consumed fairly quickly after roasting. This once again shows me how great online ecommerce can be at solving this problem. Roast, ship immediately, drink.

In conclusion, specialty coffee has problems, but not insurmountable ones. I’ve created a new type of online roaster called http://www.GrippsCoffee.com. We’re set to launch soon and I really hope to solve these problems with it. Like you all, I LOVE specialty coffee and want more people to experience it. My first cup of specialty changed the way I look at coffee and I think there’s more people out there that need that experience.

To better coffee, 

Alex Garrett

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