I tweeted today something that seemed to become a popular retweet:
A lot of people don’t see coffee this way. Old folks (like my Dad’s age) still think of coffee as something for $0.25 a cup. With bottomless refills. People my age think of coffee as something for a buck retail by the 12oz cup or $9.95 a pound at the grocery store “for the good stuff”.
Truth is, everything’s costing more these days, and the last time I bought a can of (diet) coke at the corner store, it was $1.50. The bigger 500ml plastic bottles were $2.25. But in my home, with coffee costing $20 a lb, a nice full cup (8oz, 240ml) costs me $1.06 in coffee bean cost.
Here’s the math, but let’s switch to metric here. a pound of coffee is 454g. My own usual ratio of coffee is using 8g per 100ml of water, but considering grinder waste, let’s call it 10g per 100ml. At that ratio, you can brew 4.54 litres of coffee per “pound” using non-espresso methods.
In the world of coffee, a “cup” is 4 or 5oz of coffee brewed (or 120-150ml). Don’t ask me why. But lets go with the standard US cup of 8fl.oz (240ml) as the standard here. A pound of coffee will give you almost 19 cups of 240ml brews of coffee. 18.75 “cups” to be exact.
So if a pound of coffee is $10, each cup costs $0.53. At $15 a lb, coffee costs $0.80. At $20/lb, it is $1.06. And at $25/lb, each cup is $1.33. Affordable luxury.
Now a side note. Coffee is an affordable luxury, but I think it stops becoming “affordable” as soon as it costs more than a premium soda does.
I’ve seen a lot of rockstar baristas and coffee evangelists talk about how cheap coffee is compared to artisan cocktails or great wines. To me these comparisons are not only unfair, but really are a cheat. The reason is simple: taxes. Alcohol has many layers of taxation involved in their cost that coffee does not have.
When I see roaster / retailers comparing their $8 or $9 siphon brewed cup of coffee to a $10 or $12 super premium crafted cocktail and claim coffee is cheap, I cringe. A $12 cocktail at Vancouver’s top bars are the result of a) a well trained, well paid bartender, b) lots of product waste from the bartenders chucking less than perfect drinks and from training, c) the cost of running said bar (which is a LOT higher than the cost of running a cafe) d) the cost of all the taxes involved e) the cost of the ingredients. Coffee via siphon is labour intensive, but it does not have the same operation costs or taxation costs (or waste costs) that cocktails do.
I think this comparison is much more fair: Premium sodas. Compare the price of a cup of coffee in a cafe to a bottle of Boylans soda or Q Tonic Water, To my mind, this is a much more fair comparison and one consumers can agree with eventually and accept. This is why I think $4 to $5 is the maximum price you can charge for a cup of coffee (espresso based or not) before you lose any kind of cache regarding “affordable luxury”. And don’t forget, that $5 coffee drink becomes $7 or more once you factor in sales taxes and tip. People tend to tip a bit more on labour intensive drinks vs opening the cap on a soda bottle. Regardless, $7 is a lot of money to many people.
In the home, I think the comparison should be the same - coffee still can remain an affordable luxury at least until it approaches the price of a premium soda. I can buy a four pack of Boylans or Fentimans’ sodas for around $7, making it about $1.33 per bottle - the same price as an 8oz cup of coffee from a $25/lb bag of coffee. Once coffee gets over $25, it ceases to be an affordable luxury, IMO of course, and becomes a luxury.
Another thing on my mind: many roasters and retailers have been migrating from 16oz (1lb) bags to 12oz bags in recent years. While many have also dropped the price by as much as 15% or more with the weight shift (though I have yet to see any drop it the full 25% the weight change suggests), it is an unfortunate fact that some have kept the prices similar to their previous 16oz variants.
It’s pretty obvious that this move to 12oz is as much to disguise the increasing price in true specialty coffee as it is to give consumers a cheaper option for smaller amounts of coffee to take home. The problem is, once you calculate by the cup, there is no savings - there are price increases. Coffee that costs $1.03 in a $20lb of coffee will cost the consumer $1.26 in a 12oz bag sold for $18.
Also, roasters, retailers and coffee evangelists often fail to take into account the investment in time and equipment the consumer has to make to finish off the process of turning that bean into a drink. In reality, for some that $1.33/cup, $25/lb coffee actually costs the consumer maybe another $1 in labour, electricity, and equipment costs to make the beverage. Buying a bottle of Fentimans’ soda doesn’t incur those additional costs.
I still think a $25lb of coffee is in fact an affordable luxury, but it also at the limit of that term. $20 is a lot more affordable, and of course, $15/lb is downright cheap. But be wary of coffees costing $20 or $22 per 12oz. Those aren’t “affordable luxuries” any longer. They are just “luxuries”.