Today, coffee enthusiasts have more options than ever before when deciding how to get their daily caffeine fix. Yet in a landscape dominated by 16 ounce cups stuffed with whipped cream covered, caramel striped double chocolatey chip frappucinos (that’s a real drink by the way.) More and more folks are moving to simple mugs filled to the brim with nothing but specialty coffee.

Only 9% of U.S. adults were drinking specialty coffee daily in 1999. According to a report by the National Coffee Association, that number hit 41% in 2017. That same study showed that 59% of the coffee consumed outside of the home in the United States was specialty. So why are so many people making the switch to this emerging market in droves? And what makes specialty coffee so special, anyway?

To begin to answer this question, we need to understand what coffee connoisseurs are looking for to begin with. More than anything, fans love quality brews. Beyond that though, specialty coffee drinkers tend to seek out sustainable sources more than their big coffee chain counterparts.


Sustainability in Coffee

In 2017, a global study showed 81% of participants felt strongly that companies should help improve the environment. In the United States, 9% of adults consider the environment to be a top factor when deciding whether or not to buy a product. For all of this demand for ethically conscious production, there is a surprising lack of transparency in many industries regarding sustainable practices. Fortunately, higher standards are generally seen in the arena of specialty coffee.

Fair Trade

Fair Trade is a movement created to provide decent pay and ethical treatment for farmers in developing countries who produce for the rest of the world. It’s usually meant for farmers who work for conventional, mass market coffee companies. Fair Trade provides a baseline of pay to ensure every worker is getting a fair share and decent working conditions. It’s a great and necessary first step in protecting farmers, but Atlas goes beyond. While much of the coffee that Atlas buys is Fair Trade certified, all of the prices paid to every farmer is above Fair Trade standards (more on this below). This ensures we can keep providing quality coffee each year, but more importantly, it’s just the right thing to do.

As awareness of the importance of sustainable practices grows, so too does the popularity of specialty coffee. Turns out people love being able to enjoy great coffee guilt free!

Direct Trade

Direct trade coffee cuts out the middleman. Curators using direct trade practices are sourcing often straight from farmers. It can be a lot of work – Atlas’s roasting team is constantly connecting and building partnerships with different small farms and cooperatives all over the world to ensure their coffee is being ethically produced; but it’s so worth it. Direct Trade benefits farmers, roasters, and consumers alike. Farmers are able to make more money, Roasters are able to better ensure the quality of the crops, and coffee lovers can enjoy better brews knowing they’re helping improve the conditions for workers in developing countries. A win, win, win.

Ethical production really does increase the quality, too. When farmers have the workforce, knowledge, and resources to perfect their craft, they’re able to produce coffee that’s truly special.



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Putting the “Special” in Specialty

At the end of the day, people switch to specialty coffee because they truly love a good cup of joe. More and more are prioritizing quality over price and it’s easy to understand why once you taste the difference. Specialty coffee prioritizes flavor over caffeine content and brews a higher quality cup than most conventional coffee companies can provide. Newer roasters like Atlas are able to consistently provide that quality by sourcing only the best beans possible.


Robusta Coffee Bean_Coffee And Espresso Difference


Robusta first became popularized in the years following World War ll, as a response to the brutal financial devastation Europe found itself in. People didn’t have as much money to spend, and the coffee market found a novel solution to the average drinker’s lack of funds in Robusta beans. Robusta beans are generally half the price of the then standard Arabica beans, and are more caffeinated. The crop’s caffeination is not only useful in waking you up in the morning, it also helps keep the plant protected from pests. That means larger crops and stronger cups for everyone. The only real drawback to the Robust bean is its taste. Robusta beans are mostly used in blends with Arabica beans because many coffee drinkers don’t care for them on their own. Blends are a good way to get more caffeine, but they’ll never be able to match the taste of pure Arabica.


Arabica beans originally come from the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia and have been brewed as coffee since the 15th century. 60% of all the coffee in the world is Arabica, and all specialty coffee is exclusively made with Arabica beans. While Robusta is more caffeinated, Arabica actually has more naturally occurring sugar in the coffee cherry. That sugar, coupled with 60% more lipids, gives Arabica a far superior flavor to most Robustas. That’s not to say all Arabica beans are great! They’re rated on a strict scale, and specialty coffee only comes from crops that fall in the top 5%. Some roasters, like Atlas, have even higher standards when curating.


Making the Delicious Switch

As word of how good specialty coffee is spreads, more and more people are making the switch. With the industry skyrocketing as fast as it is, it’s becoming apparent that the world of specialty coffee has something exciting to offer. Better taste and lower environmental impact seems to resonate with many of the folks stuck in line waiting for their typical orders. It’s easy to see why after just one cup!



Atlas Coffee Club curates the world’s best single origin, specialty grade coffee and deliver it to your doorstep every month. Travel the world with us—one cup at a time.