The Theory Behind The Price of Coffee

Almost a year ago, I had a customer walk in with his co-workers, who all appeared to be wealthy businessmen in expensive suits. One of them loudly proclaimed his distaste in the “overpriced” coffee that we served. He exclaimed to the entire shop that he wouldn’t be caught dead paying $3 for a cup of coffee! After being annoyed and almost offended at his antics, I began giving more thought to why he may have had the mentality that he seemed to possess. 

I sat down with my friend, Josh Taves, who is a competitive barista and educator in Denver, CO. I picked his brain about what he thought regarding my encounter with the business man, and he truly opened my eyes to an entirely different idea then what was in my head. 

I worked in the coffee industry for 9 years, and I had been a part of multiple approaches to the caffeine experience. I’ve worked at a place that desperately wanted to be “better than Starbucks” with their drive-through and their appeal-to-the-masses mentality. I was a part of an opening of a craft cafe, starting up in the downtown business district where the idea of specialty coffee was still a foreign concept to the nearby consumer. I worked at a restaurant/bar/cafe where I would sometimes open serving coffee, and then close serving cocktails. More recently, where the encounter with the loud guest occurred, I worked in a specialty coffee shop for over a year.

Two Rivers Coffee

*Let's Pause Real Quick*

Let me explain what I mean when I refer to the cup of god's as "specialty coffee".

The term "specialty coffee" was first used in 1974 by Erna Knutsen, an early pioneer in high-end coffee. It was used to define a higher standard for coffee and to develop what's known as "craft coffee". In 1982, the Specialty Coffee Association was formed and defined their stance as:

"The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) is a membership-based association built on foundations of openness, inclusivity, and the power of shared knowledge. From coffee farmers to baristas and roasters, our membership spans the globe, encompassing every element of the coffee value chain. SCA acts as a unifying force within the specialty coffee industry and works to make coffee better by raising standards worldwide through a collaborative and progressive approach. Dedicated to building an industry that is fair, sustainable, and nurturing for all, SCA draws on years of insights and inspiration from the specialty coffee community."

The Specialty Coffee scene is now worldwide, hosting competitions, conferences, expo's and more. The opportunities involved with a career in craft coffee are ENDLESS and it is so exciting to be a part of it! 

However, the specialty coffee world would not exist without the help of a highly marketable concept of needing(not just wanting) your "morning cup o' Joe". 

When companies like Starbucks were introduced, it lead the way to the idea of coffee being one of the most consumed products behind water and oil. 

Mass-produced coffee began to provide thousands of jobs to thousands(+) of people. From the farmers, to the producers, to the importers, to the roasters, to the manufacturers, to the baristas, to your hands. There would be numerous amounts of people who are unemployed if this approach to coffee didn't exist. 

To efficiently support large companies, the process requires a mass amount of product in a shorter amount of time to be served at a more affordable price. To do that, it encourages a different approach to efficiency in the harvesting process(mechanical harvesters vs hand-picked, quality coffee), milling the coffee, shipping the coffee, roasting the coffee, and serving the coffee. Many times, when efficiency takes priority, it can take away the opportunity to create the kind of quality that can only be achieved when time and attention are paid to each step. When you are promised a taste, companies have to control the flavor in your cup. To do that, it requires the manipulation of coffee’s natural flavor, which is constantly changing and developing.

Because of these companies, they have the ability to offer lower prices for their product. WHICH IS GREAT. It sustains the coffee industry and the people who are involved! 

Smaller companies that are seeking out more quality products and wanting to celebrate a difference in taste, will find smaller farms that encourage attention to detail. They choose to pay for the coffee to be picked when it is ripe, and for the farmers to manually return to the plants 3-4 times a season. 1 coffee tree produces an average of 1lb of green coffee, which means you have to have a lot of trees and farmers to constantly pick coffee! 

Once it is picked, specialty coffee is carefully processed(washed, natural, honey), and then packaged with extreme care to make it from the coffee’s origin to the roaster’s hands without any compromise to the green cherries. 

Once it hits the roaster, they are in charge of “cooking” the coffee in such a way that enhances the specific coffee’s natural flavor to the best of the bean’s ability. Without diving into too much crazy detail encapsulating the meticulous process that roasters go through, I will just inform you that my husband is a bad ass and can roast a mean cup of coffee. 

After the coffee is roasted, it is now my job(and all barista’s jobs) to present a delicious coffee to the paying customer while representing the line of people who spent countless hours on developing the liquid goodness they are about to consume. 

So, after all is said and done, the money that you spend on coffee will go towards the farmer, the producer, the importer, the shop owner, the roaster, and the barista. 

 

Why am I telling you all of this? 

 

Because of the companies that offer $1 cups of coffee, we are able to serve $3 cups of coffee to others who want more from their product. It gives us the opportunity to serve to customers who have an insatiable appetite for craft coffee, like those who want to pay more for a finer wine. 

So, if you walk into a coffee shop where the coffee is anywhere from $2-$5 for a cup with no free refill, understand what you’re paying for. If you love the taste of Dunkin’ Donuts and genuinely desire it’s roasty, oily, goodness, I will not stop you!

As someone who is constantly discovering the endless possibilities with a career involving coffee, I do not want to discourage those who find that specialty coffee is just not for them. I want to encourage the consuming of coffee and the education about the thousands of people behind this product. Coffee is SO COOL you guys, and there are so many people around the world who are involved with it.