For many businesses in the food and beverage industry, their menu is the most important decision that they will ever have to make. 

Although coffee shops and cafes aren’t the first types of businesses that usually come to mind when we think about the food and beverage industry as a whole, their menu-based decisions are just as important as those of a bistro or a fast-food restaurant. In fact, these menu-based choices that coffee shops and cafes are often faced with have the potential to be far more intricate than anything that a traditional restaurant would have to deal with.

For a successful menu, creating it is never going to be as simple as just including your favorite caffeinated beverages. Instead, there is a wide range of factors and influences that café owners have to take into consideration. One primary example is the choice between traditional Italian coffee and specialty coffee. 

Is there a clear cut difference between these two choices? 

Specialty Coffee

The Specialty Coffee Association of America defines “specialty coffee” as coffee beans that have been grown in specific geographic microclimates in order to produce unique flavor profiles. The classification of “specialty coffee” also extends to how the coffee is meticulously prepared, freshly roasted, and properly brewed. For example, Guerilla Coffee offers a range of specialty coffee.

Italian Coffee

Meanwhile, Italian coffee beans are defined by their roast. Italians tend to go for a medium-dark roast because it delivers all the qualities usually favoured in an espresso or a ristretto. Coffee beans roasted in Italy usually offer a bit more bitterness but little acidity with more body and length on the palate compared to lighter roasts. There are many brands of Italian coffees beans out there, and one we recommend is Caffè Cagliari.

Does The Distinction Begin At The Beans? 

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz surrounding this emerging subcategory of beans that is being referred to as “specialty coffee beans.” In contrast to this, the conventional coffee beans (i.e. the “non-specialty” coffee beans) are now often referred to as either “traditional”, “commercial”, or “standard” – depending on who you ask. 

 

So, what really is the difference here?

As the name suggests, specialty coffees tend to be more specific and are normally single-origin unblended coffees. Manufacturers will generally select specific beans that are ideal for specific brewing methods and then consequently market them with those specific purposes in mind. This means that if a coffee shop wants to go all-in on specialty coffee beans, they are going to need a diverse selection to accommodate their menu.

On the other hand, traditional coffees are now viewed as the jack-of-all-trades. What is meant by this is that these traditional coffees are seen as being suited for a wider variety of brewing methods and beverage types. 

However, with that being said, this does not mean that they are going to be a “one size fits all” solution for any coffee shop’s needs. There are other factors to consider, such as the type of coffee machine that you own, roast level, blend, flavors, and even origin. Read more on 6 Tips To Start A Cafe

 

Does Roast Level Matter?

Traditional and specialty coffees can both have roasts that range from light to dark. 

The stereotype that many people are used to is that traditional coffees are supposed to fall into the medium roast category – that is, either true medium roast or medium-dark roast as medium roasts are viewed as having the most flexibility and usefulness in cafes. However, this is not the case.

Here are some examples of the different types of brewing that usually work best with the different roast levels:

  • Light Roast – Pour-Over
  • Medium Roast – Cold Brew
  • Medium-Dark Roast – Espresso, French Press
  • Dark Roast – Espresso, French Press

These roast levels also have several subcategories or aliases – which can also vary based on location – here are some examples:

  • Light roasts – Half City, Light City, Cinnamon
  • Medium/Medium-Dark roasts – American, City, Breakfast, Full City
  • Dark roasts – Continental, French, Italian, High

 

The Rise Of The Third Wave Coffee Movement

As mentioned above, specialty coffee also takes into account “proper” brewing. So, what does this mean? Are the beverages that are created from these so-called specialty coffees better than their traditional counterparts? 

Where does traditional Italian coffee fit into all of this?

Traditional Italian coffee has its roots in the first wave and the second wave of coffee. The first wave was focused on providing consumers with affordable and accessible cups of coffee. The second wave was in full swing during the 1970s and was centered around the exemplification of global flavor profiles, particularly the competition between Brazilian and Colombian coffee producers. 

Today the third wave is being led equally by manufacturers and consumers, with the primary focus being high-quality, specialty coffee. Many advocates of the third wave coffee movement have a desire for coffee to be treated as an artisanal food (like wine or cheese).

In this context, when people talk about “traditional Italian” coffee, they are talking about the espressos, moka pot, and more, that are brewed the “traditional” way. There is a noticeable focus on simplicity while still brewing a high-quality beverage.

 

So Does This Mean That Speciality Is Better?

All things considered, there is no clear cut response as to which is better, traditional Italian or specialty. The fact of the matter is that the answer will differ on a case by case basis. Here are some of the primary ways that they are different:

  1. Traditional is more forgiving; Speciality is more particular.
  2. Traditional is generally more affordable; Speciality has the potential to be higher-priced.
  3. Traditional is still viewed as being commonplace; Speciality is considered to be artisan or luxury.

In addition to this, it is also worth noting that there is still a large and consistent market for traditional Italian coffee – regardless of where your cafe is located. On the other hand, the demand for specialty coffee can vary based on location but cafe owners can expect to see a higher reactive demand for this type of coffee in metropolitan areas.

So what do I go for?

 

Come chat with us

The reality is that finding the right coffee fit for your cafe can indeed be a long process. Our Quality Assurance team is available to guide you along this process to make it as painless as possible. If you are thinking of starting a new cafe, in the middle of running one, or about to open your next amazing concept, there will be a need to tap on our knowledge and abilities. The earlier we can help, the more impact we can create for your coffee programme. 

Every solution is unique. Come have a chat with us today.

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