Small Coffee is Big Business

More of us dig in to our java's origin and type

That cup of specialty coffee you’re drinking has become very, very big business.

The java market has expanded by an average of 5.6 percent each year for the past few years, according to research by ISISWorld. In 2013, coffee was a $27.9 billion market; it is expected to grow to $33.7 billion by 2018.

Accompanying that rise is a growing interest in craft coffees. Numbers from the Speciality Coffee Association in 2012 claimed that specialty coffee accounted for 37 percent of all coffee sold in the U.S.

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It’s a trend that Melanee Meegan, director of marketing for Peace Coffee in Minneapolis, Minnesota, attributes to rise of the farm-to-table movement. That this is happening in the coffee sphere isn’t particularly surprising. It’s certainly happening in other markets as well, such as beer and wine. 

“There is a huge curiosity about coffee right now,” Meegan told LifeZette. “Consumers are looking for not only exciting new drinks, but are also interested in knowing who grew the beans and how they were roasted.”

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Related: A Cup of Crazy

Meredith Singer, director of marketing for Revelator, a craft coffee shop that has locations in Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia, agreed.

“There is a huge drive toward ‘local’ — craft beer, farm-to-table restaurants, artisans and makers,” she told LifeZette. “Big box retailers across the board are fighting to stay personal and to stay connected to the communities they serve. Local coffee shops do these two things better than most any other business.”

It makes sense, especially during a time when people flock toward coffee shops rather than bars.

In fact, Renee Blanchard, owner of Church Alley Coffee in New Orleans, Louisiana, said she “often feels like bartender.”

“I ask a lot of questions about the lives of my customers and I get to hear a lot about what is happening around the city,” Blanchard told LifeZette. “I think that is an essential role of the coffee shop.”

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And she, like Meegan and Singer, has seen a heightened customer awareness in specialty coffee.

“More people understand what a pour-over is, and that single-origin coffee is generally of better quality than blend,” Blanchard told LifeZette, as an example.

For many, the barrier of entry to specialty coffee is substantial. After all, while craft beers or wines have distinctly different tastes (and even colors) from one another, coffee tends to feel overwhelmingly similar, even though it isn’t.

The best advice shop owners offered for learning about the blends is simply to ask the experts. Two common terms you’ll hear are “blend” and “single-origin.”

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Singer explained the difference: “A blend simply means we use coffees from multiple regions. These are different from the ‘single-origin’ coffees that’s you’ll see tied to a very specific place.”

Meegan said the flavors vary widely and can actually affect taste preferences.

At Peace Coffees, she said, “Our Mexican Dark roast pairs great with sweet pastries like cinnamon doughnuts, while our Sumatran Full City is more savory tasting, which goes great with quiche or a breakfast burrito.”

The best way to learn your own tastes is by trying as much as possible. As Meegan put it, “There is no wrong or right answer.”

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