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Craft vs Specialty Coffee: Major Differences Explained


As a coffee drinker, you probably have already heard of craft coffee and specialty coffee. However, you probably haven’t heard about the differences between the two, or if there are any differences.

First, you’ll need to know the definitions of craft and specialty. A craft, by definition, is something that is created by hand. This makes sense since baristas create mugs of coffee with their hands.

Specialty coffee is considered to be coffee that is often referred to as the highest grade of coffee available. So how is that different from lovingly crafting a mug of coffee? Craft coffee is defined by the craftsmanship that goes into it, meaning that it is made using precise manual methods. Specialty coffee is the highest grade of coffee beans, grown at high altitudes in optimal conditions and passing exacting quality standards.

We’ll discuss these coffees and the major differences in the guide below.

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Overview of Craft Coffee

arabica coffee beans
Image Credit: Ri_Ya, Pixabay

For a brand to be considered craft coffee, it needs to be prepared using precise manual efforts performed with professional skill. This is during the growing and preparing process as well. We’ll list the fundamentals of the craft coffee-making process below.

You can brew craft coffee at home, and many Americans have made a thriving business out of making and selling this product. In short, craft coffee can be found at any grocery store.

  • The beans
  • Roasting process
  • Measuring method
  • The brewing technique
  • Presentation
  • Easy to brew at home
  • Can be turned into a business
  • Can be found at any grocery store
  • Must be manually prepared every step of the way

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Overview of Specialty Coffee

man holding freshly roasted specialty coffee
Image Credit: SerhiyHorobets, Shutterstock

While you would think that specialty coffee would also be like craft coffee, the experts say it isn’t. As we mentioned before, specialty coffee is often said to be the highest grade of coffee available. It’s supposed to have flavorful traits, a rich color, and a vibrant aroma.

The term specialty comes from the green coffee beans without defects, or at least very few, and the coffee must have a high cupping score. Specialty coffees must be rated by a certified Q grader or coffee expert before being sent to the roaster.

For excellent specialty coffee, a few things need to happen during the process. This isn’t the type of coffee that you can make at home and sell online. Most premium coffee can only be purchased from a specialty shop.

  • Need excellent growing conditions
  • Needs to be grown at high altitudes
  • Need to follow accepted farming practices
  • Need to pass the quality tests
  • Highest grade of coffee available
  • Very flavorful
  • Very aromatic
  • Can have very few defects
  • Must have a high cupping score
  • Must be graded by a Q grader

What Are the Differences Between Craft and Specialty Coffee?

There is some debate on the significant differences between craft and specialty coffee. Some experts say that craft coffee is the same as commodity coffee, which is the coffee you can find in any store. The primary differences we could find between the two were very few.

Specialty coffee is the highest grade of coffee available, while craft coffee is said to be found in almost any grocery store. There have even been a few people who have developed and sold craft coffee themselves; something you can’t do with specialty coffee.

Specialty coffee also needs to have few to no defects in the beans and must have a high cupping score given to it by an expert Q grader before it can be sent to the roasters. It has a distinct robust flavor and a fragrant aroma that a craft coffee can’t match.

While there don’t seem to be many major differences between these two coffees, there are enough to tell the difference.

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While there aren’t many differences between craft and specialty coffees, a few are worth noting. Experts and coffee drinkers debate strongly over whether craft and specialty coffees are different. Both take careful growing and preparation to produce that fragrant cup of coffee you drink every morning, and what more could you want than that?

Featured Image Credit: Left – Vietnamese_coffee, Pixabay | Right – Nong2, Shutterstock


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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