Pittsburgh Specialty Coffee week focuses on community

By October 9, 2018 No Comments

“It’s really about getting everybody excited about working together.”

Robert Chaffin of Commonplace Coffee (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

Pittsburgh Specialty Coffee Week returns later this month for it’s fourth year. Local coffeehouses, roasters, shops and other organizations are coming together to put on a week’s worth of special events from October 20-27. This year’s theme is “Coffee Connecting Community.”

Commonplace Coffee, a company with six locations in western Pennsylvania, has been behind Specialty Coffee Week since it started back in 2015. Their head roaster Phil Johnson hoped that the recurring event would help bring awareness to the specialty coffee available in Pittsburgh.

As the years went on, collaboration between local businesses has played a bigger role. This year’s focus on community is sure to bring that to the forefront. Robert Chaffin, Commonplace’s retail operations manager, is coordinating the events this year.

“It’s really about getting everybody excited about working together, while also giving a venue an interesting event for customers to go try a new shop or visit a shop that they’ve never been to before,” says Chaffin.

The week kicks off on Saturday, October 20 with Steel City Sip and Sweets, where more than 20 bakeries and coffee shops will be serving up their tastiest treats. The proceeds will go to Lending Hearts, an organization that provides emotional and social support to children and young adults with cancer.

Next, Colony Café will host a Coffee and Cats Appreciation Day event on Sunday, October 21. An origin matching game where guests taste coffees and guess which countries they came from takes place at Commonplace Headquarters on Monday, and Tuesday there will be a tasting and lesson at Tazza D’Oro Millvale.

While building a coffee community is a large part of specialty coffee week, Chaffin says there are other aspects of community to consider. That’s why he’s looking forward to the roundtable discussion on Wednesday, October 24 at Everyday Café in Homewood.

“The topic of the discussion is what coffee and coffee shops can mean in communities like Homewood, where the surrounding population isn’t the typical demographic of what would usually support a specialty coffee shop,” says Chaffin.  

He knows that coffee shops are, of course, businesses that need to make money to survive. But, Chaffin also believes that shops should consider how they can be a caring part of the community where they’re located.

“Ultimately I think the ones who survive and do the best are the ones who really integrate themselves into the community and hold that as just as important as making the money.”

De Fer Coffee and Tea in The Strip will be hosting a Coffee and Cocktails event on Wednesday evening. De Fer founder, Matt Marietti, sees a strong connection between coffee and community. One of the main reasons he wanted to open a cafe was to provide a space for community events and gatherings.

But, Marietti says, though Specialty Coffee Week is happening here in Pittsburgh, the impact of specialty coffee is felt in communities around the world where coffee is grown.

“I think 90 percent of coffee that is grown and sold today is still commodity coffee, so it trades and sells for around a dollar a pound and that’s not to the farmer—that’s to the people who grow it, the people who pick it, the people who mill it and export it,” Marietti says. “Most farms are still smaller family run operations, so it’s easy to see how it would be really hard to make a living selling commodity coffee.”

Specialty coffee is different because the costs are based upon quality. This means that specialty coffee ends up being sold for a price that is more fair to farmers, and explains why it tends to taste better than commodity coffee.

“I really think the more people who understand what makes specialty coffee specialty coffee—once people taste it, once people understand a little bit more about the economics behind it—they’re a lot more likely to buy specialty coffee,” Marietti says.

The events of Specialty Coffee Week continue with Artisan Café’s Latte Art Throwdown on October 25, Coffee and Cheese Pairing with Chantal’s Cheese Shop at Arriviste Coffee Bar on the 26, and finally a closing party at Commonplace Headquarters on the 27 to round out the week.

You may wonder why so many competing coffee shops want to come together for a week of collaborations to celebrate community. But when I asked Chaffin and Marietti about it separately, they both recited the same old adage: a rising tide lifts all ships.

For more information about Pittsburgh Specialty Coffee Week and a list of events, visit

Haley Frederick is a Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer. Contact her at

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