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  • Writer's pictureAfonso Ivens-Ferraz

Why Are Groningers Drinking More Specialty Coffee?

Updated: Feb 6

As Dutch supermarkets are lowering the price of commodity coffee, specialty coffee - notably more expensive - is increasingly popular among coffee drinkers. The Groninger investigates why.

Coffee farmers sorting coffee cherries in Kinazi, Rwanda © Afonso Ivens-Ferraz

As a result of lower production costs and sales strategies, supermarket chains such as Jumbo are reportedly lowering the price of commodity items such milk, bread, and coffee.

However, not all coffee is priced equally and not all coffee prices are lowering. According to Statista, specialty coffee - synonymous with higher quality and higher prices - has only been growing in popularity in the Netherlands.

"It's the flavors that excite people and get them interested," says Stuart Ritson, coffee consultant and director of sales at Osito Europe, a global specialty coffee company.

In technical terms, specialty coffee is "the highest grade of coffee available," explains Ingo Albrecht, founder of Roast Rebels and member of the Specialty Coffee Association. As coffee is rated in a standardised scale of up to 100 points, coffees which score 80 points or higher are, per definition, specialty coffee. In turn, if coffee falls under the 80 score, it is commonly referred to as a commodity.

Handpicked coffee cherries © Afonso Ivens-Ferraz

But there is much more to specialty coffee than a grading score. As Albrecht explains further, this high graded coffee entails a wide array of flavour profiles and "sensory experiences" which resembles the complexity of fine wine.

It was precisely this variety in taste that drew Jolien, 21, into this coffee niche. "I think it's interesting. I started to enjoy it once I started working as a barista. I found out that there's much more to coffee than just 'strong black coffee', and it's very interesting to try different beans from different places," she says.

Wouter Kroes, owner of Revista Coffee, a specialty coffee shop in Groningen, agrees. He mentions that African coffees have become particularly popular.

"I think people just like the fact that it's so expressive and so light ... it's just a real pleasure to drink. We sometimes joke that we make filter coffee here which tastes nothing like coffee," laughs Kroes.

Coffee washing station in Kinazi, Rwanda. Each barrel contains coffee undergoing fermentation. This method is known as anaerobic fermentation. It is famous for the funky flavor notes it produces © Afonso Ivens-Ferraz

Greater demand for ethically sourced products appears to be yet another reason why people in the Netherlands are switching to specialty coffee.

While quality remains the key indicator, specialty coffee also stands out for its more transparent value chain. This enables consumers to to know what they are consuming and where it comes from. The higher prices farmers earn and the better, more sustainable farming practices involved, are other compelling factors for consumers.

"I think people want to have a better product, not just in terms of taste, but also in terms of the whole chain being more responsible and more fair," says Kroes.

More generally, the coffee culture in the Netherlands remains strong and growing. This year, the national coffee market is expected to grow at a rate of 0.52%, reflecting an estimated revenue of €1.9 billion.

Revista Coffee, Groningen © Afonso Ivens-Ferraz

While our sources describe a steadily growing market for specialty coffee in Groningen and in other major Dutch cities, some also see a disparity in regions like Assen, Emmen, and Leeuwarden.

"I think what often goes wrong with specialty, especially when it began, is that it was kind of a youth-led culture that was a little bit standoffish," says Ritson. "If there's one thing people don't like, is if you come along and say: oh, that thing you like? It's not good," he adds.

Indeed, according to Albrecht, specialty coffee is particularly popular with younger people. But even in cities like Groningen, not all youngsters have adhered to this trend.

Jolien's friends are an example. She says that when it comes to coffee they tell her "It all tastes the same to me," and "As long as it's cheap and I can get it on campus, it's fine."

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