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What is Specialty Coffee and why is it so exciting in Maine?

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

Image of a coffee roaster dumping hot, steaming beans into its cooling drum.

Did you know that there have been three “waves” of the coffee industry? This article explains what those waves are and how Specialty Coffee has played such a big role in the most recent wave.

Coffee saw its “first wave” when it started being mass produced at scale for a thirsty public. It was being harvested and sold as a commodity in bulk methods and means. The beans were often processed and roasted together from different regions and farms and the quality of the beans were not seen as important at that time. When the beans were roasted, they were being roasted quite dark to often mask imperfections in the beans*. Many coffee drinkers even equate many of their fond childhood memories of coffee to this commodity style coffee. For many, this is still what they think about when they think of how coffee tastes.

However, as companies started to see the value of quality over quantity there was a shift in how coffee was reaching most people. This shift has been called the “second wave” in the coffee industry. Consumer coffee shops were starting to look for creating a quality experience. Espresso-based drinks were becoming popular in shops and good quality coffee was starting to be seen as a luxury item.

In the early 2000’s a “third wave” movement was beginning to happen in some areas of the country and quality was being put in the forefront. Single-origin coffees grew in popularity as they were being seen as having significant character and roasters began developing their roasts to best accentuate these flavors. With all of this excitement around the flavors of coffee, the culture of coffee was exploding! Small-batch roasters and independent coffee shops were becoming more popular and prevalent with popular TV shows being set in coffee shops. Coffee shops and roasters were beginning to put an emphasis on the sensory experience of coffee much like wine tasting. The overall expertise in the field of coffee was becoming more prevalent at all levels with baristas becoming excellent in their craft of making coffee. The Barista World Championships was born in 2000 and the excitement around what could be done with coffee has been growing year after year.

We’re still seeing the excitement of the third wave to this day and Maine has become one of the up and coming hubs of small-batch, and even larger scale, roaster states with a focus on quality. With there being over 60 Maine roasters as of mid-2023 we are seeing a blooming of great coffee being made by great people. The coffee culture and community in Maine is growing and we hope you get out there and enjoy it!

*It should be noted that not all darkly roasted beans are lower in quality. Coffee roasters intentionally roast quality beans to accentuate some of the darker chocolatey, tobacco-like, and other earthy flavors that can come from a darker roast style.

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