No 30

Quality and Differentiation, Key Factors in the Category of Specialty Coffees

February, 2016


Quality and Differentiation, Key Factors in the Category of Specialty Coffees

Factors such as quality, differentiation, traceability and sustainability play an important role, but the first two are determining in a category in which sophisticated consumers demand above all unique sensorial experiences, for which Café de Colombia has a great diversity of profiles to offer.

In recent years, how has the concept of specialty coffees evolved? Is flavor, sustainability, etc. the most important factor? What is the dominant trend today? Where does the specialty coffee industry go to?

“Interest in overall quality remains very high for small to medium specialty roasters, and they continue to exhibit interest in acquiring these coffees in non-traditional ways.  Direct trade or relationship coffees are compelling for many in this space,” said in an interview Ric Rhinehart, Executive Director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).

“On the consumer side, there is still a wide spread interest in quality products that have a clear connection to their place of origin,” he added, stressing the importance of traceability.

“Currently the specialty coffee market shows an interesting dynamic, where differentiation plays an increasingly important role. Market trends are more accentuated in high-value niches, where very premium or specific products are demanded depending on their quality and traceability,” says Esteban Ordóñez, Coordinator of Specialty Coffees at the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC).

“Trends are more developed from a production perspective, where a portfolio is structured based on short supply chains, with complete information, perfect traceability, transparency in the negotiation and innovative methods at the harvest and post-harvest levels through use of new varieties and controlled management of post-harvest processing. Each of these variables is a trend that gives a meaning of integrality to the new concept of specialty coffees,” Ordóñez added.

Diversity of Origins in Colombia

As a coffee-producing country, Colombia has the great advantage of having a wide range of microclimates (a combination of climates, soils, altitudes, etc.) that enable it to offer a broad portfolio of unique, differentiated specialty coffees.

Among the universe of variables that give unique attributes to Colombian coffee is altitude of coffee crops, which in different parts of the country range between 800 m and 2300 m above sea level. Because of the mountainous topography within a single region, one can find crops at different altitudes. This explains why coffees of different profiles can be found within a single region (the same occurs for the entire country).

In addition, we have weather, with temperatures ranging from 24 °C in the day and 18 °C overnight in the coffee regions, which are optimal for coffee production and vary depending on the region. Temperature contrasts help produce different attributes of sweetness in the cup of coffee.

Finally there is the wide offer of soil types: there are sandy, clayey and even rocky soils, although most are of volcanic origin, which makes the soil optimal for coffee growing due to its high content of nutrients.

In general these factors are expressed in different ways within the different coffee regions, enabling to offer specialty coffees with significantly different profiles depending on the place of origin.


Aware of this and as part of its commercial work, the FNC gives producers access to differentiated high-value markets and seeks to meet the demand, more and more specialized, for this kind of diversified coffees. Tuned with global trends, it has identified those trends and niches in which the FNC can offer its customers (including members of the 100% Colombian Coffee Program), and therefore end consumers, unique sensory experiences.

We seek to promote Colombia’s diversity and richness of cup profiles, which we know can be positioned in this type of markets. On the one hand we take advantage of the growing demand for this type of specialized coffees, matching it with the FNC’s capacity to identify them, trade them and ensure a better income to producers,” Ordóñez elaborates.

In general, customers for these differentiated, limited-production coffees are small, ensuring some exclusivity for their offer of high-quality products, explains Ordóñez. But he makes clear that large roasters are also very interested in development of this market and want to be part of it.

That’s why Colombia represents a unique opportunity for members of the industry who look for entering the specialty coffee market, as it can provide a wide range of differentiated coffees with unique attributes throughout the year.

In addition, Colombian producers are increasingly aligned with global quality and traceability trends, managing to offer an added-value product from the very place of origin.


You are invited to learn more about our coffee family and our products, visiting the BEAN & BEYOND sections on the top of this page.