The Rise of Specialty Coffee in Foodservice: What You Need to Know

The global foodservice coffee market size is experiencing a significant transformation, and businesses in the food service industry must keep up with the latest trends. In 2023, the market reached a staggering size of approximately USD 422.4 billion. Even more intriguing is the forecast for the coming years, with an estimated Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.90% predicted for the period of 2024-2032. By 2032, the foodservice coffee market is expected to surpass USD 562.8 billion. These statistics alone highlight the undeniable influence and importance of coffee in the foodservice sector.

In this comprehensive blog post, we will delve into the world of specialty coffee and explore why it has become a driving force behind the growth of the foodservice coffee market. We’ll discuss what specialty coffee is, why it matters, how to source, roast, and brew it, and the benefits and challenges of incorporating it into your foodservice business.

What Is Specialty Coffee?

To understand the rise of specialty coffee, it’s essential to grasp what makes it distinct from regular coffee. Specialty coffee is not just about caffeine; it’s a pursuit of excellence that starts with the coffee bean itself. Unlike mass-produced coffee, which often prioritizes quantity over quality, specialty coffee places a premium on the entire coffee journey, from bean to cup.

Characteristics of Specialty Coffee:

  • Exceptional Quality: Specialty coffee beans are of the highest quality, typically sourced from specific regions and farms known for their premium coffee production.
  • Unique Flavor Profiles: Specialty coffee offers a diverse range of flavors and aromas, with tasting notes that can rival the complexity of fine wines.
  • Ethical Sourcing: Many specialty coffee producers emphasize ethical and sustainable practices, which resonate with socially conscious consumers.
  • Small-Batch Roasting: Specialty coffee is often roasted in small batches to highlight the unique characteristics of each bean.
  • Traceability: You can trace the origin of specialty coffee beans, giving consumers transparency and a connection to the coffee’s story.

How It Differs from Regular Coffee: Regular coffee, on the other hand, is typically characterized by:

  • Lower-quality beans, often a blend of various origins.
  • Mass production and standardized roasting profiles.
  • Less emphasis on flavor nuances.
  • Limited transparency in sourcing.

The distinction between specialty coffee and regular coffee is not just about taste; it’s a cultural and philosophical approach to coffee production that resonates deeply with coffee enthusiasts and is gaining traction in the foodservice industry.

The Growth of Specialty Coffee

The rise of specialty coffee in the foodservice industry has been nothing short of remarkable. Consumers today are more discerning than ever, seeking quality, authenticity, and unique experiences when it comes to their coffee consumption. This shift in consumer preferences has given rise to the specialty coffee movement.

Statistics and Data:

  • According to industry reports, the specialty coffee market has been experiencing double-digit growth in recent years, far outpacing the overall coffee market.
  • In 2022, the global specialty coffee market was valued at approximately USD 37.2 billion, and it’s projected to continue its robust growth trajectory.
  • Specialty coffee consumption is not limited to traditional coffee shops; it has found its way into restaurants, cafes, hotels, and even fast-food chains.

Consumer Preferences:

  • Today’s consumers are more willing to pay a premium for high-quality coffee that offers a unique and memorable experience.
  • They appreciate the craftsmanship and care that goes into sourcing, roasting, and brewing specialty coffee.
  • The desire for a personalized coffee experience has fueled the demand for specialty coffee offerings in the foodservice sector.

Influence of Third-Wave Coffee Culture: The third-wave coffee movement has been a driving force behind the growth of specialty coffee. This movement is characterized by:

  • A focus on coffee as an artisanal product rather than a commodity.
  • An emphasis on transparency in sourcing, allowing consumers to know where their coffee comes from.
  • A commitment to sustainable and ethical practices throughout the supply chain.

As the third-wave coffee culture gains momentum, it’s reshaping the way coffee is perceived, produced, and enjoyed in the foodservice industry.

Benefits of Serving Specialty Coffee in Foodservice

The decision to incorporate specialty coffee into your foodservice business can yield numerous benefits. Let’s explore why offering specialty coffee is a strategic move that can set your establishment apart from the competition.

1. Attracting and Retaining Customers: In a highly competitive foodservice landscape, standing out is crucial. Specialty coffee not only attracts coffee aficionados but also appeals to a broader customer base. When people discover that your establishment serves exceptional coffee, they are more likely to become loyal patrons.

2. Higher Profit Margins: While the upfront cost of sourcing specialty coffee may be higher than traditional coffee, the potential for higher profit margins is substantial. Consumers are willing to pay more for quality, and specialty coffee commands a premium price.

3. Enhancing the Overall Dining Experience: Coffee is often the last impression your customers have of their meal, making it a critical part of the overall dining experience. Serving specialty coffee can elevate your restaurant’s reputation and leave a lasting positive impression on diners.

4. Meeting Consumer Demands: Consumer preferences are evolving, and more people are seeking unique and premium coffee experiences. By offering specialty coffee, you cater to these evolving tastes and preferences.

5. Differentiation and Brand Identity: Specialty coffee can help define your brand identity and set you apart from competitors. It communicates that your establishment values quality and craftsmanship.

6. Social Media Buzz: In the age of social media, visually appealing and unique coffee offerings can become Instagram sensations. Encourage customers to share their specialty coffee experiences online, which can lead to free publicity and word-of-mouth marketing.

7. Diverse Revenue Streams: Specialty coffee can serve as a revenue stream beyond traditional meal services. Consider offering coffee-centric events, tastings, and merchandise to further boost your income.

By integrating specialty coffee into your foodservice business, you can tap into these advantages and create a memorable coffee experience for your customers. However, to fully embrace the world of specialty coffee, you’ll need to understand the entire journey of a coffee bean, from sourcing to presentation.

Sourcing and Roasting Specialty Coffee

Sourcing and roasting are fundamental steps in the specialty coffee production process. The quality of the coffee beans and the roasting process significantly influence the flavors and characteristics of the final cup.

Selecting Reputable Coffee Bean Suppliers:

  • When sourcing specialty coffee beans, it’s crucial to partner with reputable suppliers who share your commitment to quality and ethics.
  • Look for suppliers who provide detailed information about the coffee’s origin, variety, and processing methods.
  • Direct relationships with coffee producers and cooperatives can offer more transparency and traceability.

Importance of Ethical and Sustainable Sourcing:

  • Ethical sourcing practices ensure that coffee producers receive fair compensation for their work.
  • Sustainability initiatives in coffee farming can have a positive impact on the environment and the livelihoods of coffee-growing communities.
  • Many consumers are increasingly conscious of ethical and sustainable sourcing and are more likely to support businesses that prioritize these values.

The Art of Coffee Bean Roasting:

  • Roasting is a critical step in bringing out the unique flavors and aromas of coffee beans.
  • Specialty coffee roasters carefully craft roast profiles to highlight the specific qualities of each coffee variety.
  • Small-batch roasting allows for more precise control over the roasting process and consistency in flavor.

Incorporating specialty coffee into your foodservice business requires a commitment to sourcing high-quality beans and understanding the importance of ethical and sustainable practices. The choices you make in this phase will have a profound impact on the coffee you serve to your customers.

Brewing and Presentation

Brewing specialty coffee requires a different approach compared to standard coffee preparation. To showcase the nuances of each bean and create a memorable coffee experience, consider the following tips:

Proper Brewing Methods for Specialty Coffee:

  • Invest in high-quality coffee brewing equipment, such as pour-over drippers, espresso machines, and grinders.
  • Understand the ideal brewing parameters for different coffee varieties, including water temperature, brew time, and grind size.
  • Train your staff to be proficient in brewing methods specific to specialty coffee.

Presentation Tips to Elevate the Coffee Experience:

  • Consider the vessel in which you serve coffee. Specialty coffee is often served in unique and aesthetically pleasing cups and mugs.
  • Pay attention to the details, such as latte art and garnishes, to enhance the visual appeal of each coffee creation.
  • Create a dedicated coffee presentation area that allows customers to watch the coffee-making process.

Remember that the specialty coffee experience extends beyond the taste of the coffee itself. It encompasses the visual presentation, aroma, and overall ambiance of your establishment.

Specialty Coffee Menu Ideas

Incorporating specialty coffee into your foodservice menu can be a creative and lucrative endeavor. Here are some menu ideas to inspire your offerings:

1. Signature Coffee Blends: Create your unique coffee blends by combining different specialty coffee beans. Give them creative names and descriptions to entice customers.

2. Seasonal Coffee Specials: Introduce seasonal coffee creations inspired by holidays, seasons, or local events. Consider incorporating seasonal flavors and ingredients.

3. Coffee-Infused Desserts: Explore the world of coffee-infused desserts, such as coffee-flavored ice creams, cakes, and pastries. These pair perfectly with a cup of specialty coffee.

4. Coffee Cocktails: Expand your beverage menu with coffee-based cocktails and mocktails. Experiment with coffee liqueurs, spices, and garnishes to create unique flavor profiles.

5. Coffee Flights: Offer coffee flights that allow customers to sample different coffee varieties side by side. Provide tasting notes to guide their experience.

6. Coffee and Food Pairings: Curate a menu that pairs specialty coffee with specific food items. For example, offer a tasting menu that combines coffee with appetizers, entrees, and desserts.

7. Coffee Tastings and Workshops: Host coffee tastings and educational workshops to engage customers and deepen their appreciation for specialty coffee.

8. Customization Options: Allow customers to customize their coffee orders, including choosing the type of beans, brewing method, and milk alternatives.

By incorporating these menu ideas, you can create a diverse and enticing selection of specialty coffee offerings that cater to a wide range of tastes and preferences.

Training Your Staff

To deliver a consistently exceptional specialty coffee experience to your customers, it’s essential to invest in training your staff. Here’s why it matters:

Importance of Barista Training for Specialty Coffee:

  • Baristas play a pivotal role in the coffee preparation process. They should be well-versed in brewing techniques, equipment, and customer service.
  • Training ensures that your staff can confidently interact with customers, answer questions, and provide recommendations based on individual preferences.

Customer Education and Engagement:

  • Educated baristas can engage with customers, sharing insights about the coffee’s origin, flavor profile, and brewing methods.
  • Customer education fosters a deeper appreciation for specialty coffee and encourages repeat visits.

Consistency in Coffee Preparation:

  • Consistency is key in the foodservice industry. Proper training ensures that each cup of specialty coffee meets the same high standards, regardless of who prepares it.

Consider partnering with experienced coffee trainers or enrolling your staff in barista training programs to equip them with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in the world of specialty coffee.

Challenges and Considerations

While the benefits of serving specialty coffee are substantial, it’s essential to be aware of the challenges and considerations that come with it.

Dealing with Higher Coffee Costs:

  • Specialty coffee beans often come at a premium price. Balancing the cost of high-quality beans with maintaining profitability is a challenge that requires careful pricing strategies.

Managing Equipment and Maintenance:

  • Specialty coffee often requires specialized equipment, such as espresso machines and grinders. These machines must be well-maintained to ensure consistent quality.

Educating Customers:

  • Some customers may be unfamiliar with specialty coffee and its pricing. It’s essential to communicate the value and quality of your coffee offerings to avoid sticker shock.

Supply Chain Considerations:

  • Disruptions in the coffee supply chain, such as adverse weather conditions or geopolitical factors, can impact the availability of specialty coffee beans.

Competitive Landscape:

  • As more foodservice establishments embrace specialty coffee, competition in this space increases. To stand out, you’ll need to continuously innovate and provide exceptional experiences.

Incorporating specialty coffee into your foodservice business requires a strategic approach and a willingness to address these challenges proactively. However, the rewards in terms of customer loyalty and revenue potential can make it a worthwhile endeavor.


In conclusion, the rise of specialty coffee in the foodservice industry is not just a trend; it’s a fundamental shift in consumer preferences and expectations. As the global foodservice coffee market continues to grow, embracing specialty coffee can be a game-changer for your business.

Specialty coffee is not merely a beverage; it’s an experience that combines craftsmanship, quality, and culture. By sourcing high-quality beans, mastering the art of roasting and brewing, and training your staff to deliver exceptional service, you can create a coffee program that sets your establishment apart.

As the specialty coffee movement continues to gain momentum, it’s crucial to be proactive in understanding and embracing this shift. By doing so, you can position your foodservice business at the forefront of the specialty coffee revolution and delight your customers with memorable coffee experiences that keep them coming back for more.

So, are you ready to take your foodservice coffee offerings to the next level? The future of specialty coffee in the foodservice industry is bright, and it’s time to be a part of this exciting journey.

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