Specialty Roaster Camaraderie

Written by Sam Mirto, Director of Coffee


The specialty coffee industry continues to gain market share against the macro roasters of the world. Whether this is a result of a shift in ethos among the masses and representative of the food and beverage industry as a whole, or a movement that is specific to the coffee industry is up for debate, but no one can deny that people are more willing to pay for quality and sustainability these days.

The validity of this movement is even evidenced by “macro” producers putting out ad campaigns that claim prowess for their macro status, a move that only indicates that this shift in ethos is on their radar to a point that they now feel threatened. So what is fueling this movement, and what can we do to sustain it?

In the coffee industry specifically, I see incredible potential for specialty to gain an even stronger presence of the market share, and this can be accomplished in part through the camaraderie among those of us who stand for a similar cause.

I’m lucky to be in a city with an ever growing specialty coffee scene. There are roasters here that have national recognition already for their sourcing, roasting, and dedication to service and training. With the incredible craft beer and food scene, I see an ever increasing demand for quality, sustainability, social responsibility, creativity, and all things that define specialty coffee.

If you haven’t been to Grand Rapids, make a point to visit at some point in your life. I’d be willing to bet that there are people reading this that would say the same things about the area they live in as well. As I mentioned before, this is a country-wide movement that I believe will continue for a long time to come. However, even with all of the momentum, and all of the progress that has been made already, true specialty coffee is still a small part of the market share of the coffee industry as a whole.

Multiple reports show us that the cheap, gimmicky, well-marketed, large coffee roasters still reign supreme. These are the companies that have commoditized coffee, reducing it to nothing more than a caffeine high while claiming quality is what defines their brands. I can name some of the defining characteristics of these companies, but we all know who they are, and I think what defines them the most are the characteristics they don’t have. I’m talking about those things that this generation is now demanding from food and beverages. The companies that have the majority of the market do not have these key defining characteristics that people today relate to or care about!So here is where the need for camaraderie in the specialty coffee industry comes into play. This movement can’t be just song and dance, there has to be action. If we really believe in things like social responsibility, sustainability, quality, and the people in coffee then it’s our responsibility to capture more of this market from the big guys. If we really believe in what we’re telling people, then we have to raise people’s expectations of what coffee is all about. Collaborations, joint cuppings, latte art throw-downs, public events featuring multiple roasters, these all serve the purpose of furthering our cause and showing people that we’re committed to the things that we profess.

We recently went in on a coffee with another roaster in town, and we’re encouraging our customers to go to their café and try their roast profile of the same coffee to demonstrate how complex coffee really is. Hopefully, our customers will begin to ask questions about roast profiling while in some big coffee chain café, get disappointed with the answers they get back, and begin to realize that they also identify with the things that define specialty coffee.Let’s show people why they need to look at coffee differently. Bashing the big roasters won’t help, we need to share our passion through action. There still needs to be competition among specialty roasters, I think we all need to challenge each other to continue to get better at our craft, so I’m not suggesting some type of collusion by any means. But let’s find ways to work together so that the masses start questioning their coffee choices even more so than they do now.