I did something earlier today that I thought I’d never do, or at least not do after several years of unrestrained hyperinflation. I paid $3.74 (American dollars!) for a 16 oz., drip coffee. Before you cut me off and point out that just last week you paid almost that much for a café Americano in the lobby of your local Ritz-Carleton, let me emphasize that this 1) was a regular drip, 2) was only 16 oz., 3) was at an off-the street coffee shop, and 4) did not include a complementary Krugerrand. For context for those who are not addicted to caffeine, a Starbucks 20 oz. coffee costs around $1.20 less than this.
Coffee prices, unless you exclusively frequented your local Conoco gas station, have been out of hand for at least a decade. There used to be a time when coffee shops were places near college campuses you could go to have an espresso and a clove cigarette while you listened to some deadbeat insult an acoustic guitar. Today, coffee shops are big business with billions of dollars of coffee, food and music sales running through them.
As an aside, I remember a couple of years ago I stopped into a local coffee shop that had just opened in my neighborhood, and the barista (fancy name for “guy that makes your coffee”) went on and on about how much he appreciated my choice to frequent his location rather than the Evil Empire (fancy name for “Starbucks”) down the street. I casually observed that had it not been for Starbucks and their massive investment in the socialization of gourmet coffee, he would never be able to charge me $4.00 for a latte. Our relationship went downhill from there. I never went back, and he didn’t miss me for the next three months that he was still in business.
Anyway, back to my $3.74 drip. I was in the upscale Cherry Creek North neighborhood of Denver for a meeting, when I experienced one of those coffee cravings you can only probably relate to if you are a lifelong crack addict. I had about 20 minutes to kill, so I figured there was more than enough time to stroll down to the local Starbucks and spend what now seems to be an embarrassingly affordable $2.50 on a coffee. One block short of my destination, I passed a coffee shop, draped with banners, claiming it was the “top rated” coffee shop in town. How could I resist? Who knew that “top rated” was an award handed out by their accountants and was a euphemism for “most expensive”?
I’d actually been in that location before, it was previously a Peaberry Coffee, and I immediately noticed the décor improvement. A coffee shop that can afford mahogany should have been a big red flag. I shook off my intimidation, walked up to the counter, and after a completely confused glance of the day’s bean menu, asked for simply, “one large coffee.” I have to admit that after being informed of the price, I was intrigued. What was this coffee, and like a home mortgage why did it not come with some kind of estimate I needed to pre-approve? Was it brewed from some kind of special 20-year old, oak aged beans and also included a gram of cocaine and a week’s supply of high-end hookers? I needed to know more.
The secret, it turns out, to make a really expensive cup of coffee is to rely on lots of labor. The beans were ground especially for me, but not before a smaller portion of beans was used to clear the grinder of whatever blend had been previously served. The carafe which was used to collect my brewed coffee was pre-heated with what I can only assume was an organically warmed, free-range, artesian spring water. And while the Conoco coffee involves just you and a lever, this coffee involved two baristas, several specialized kitchen utensils, and over ten minutes.
To their credit, they could have charged me by the milligram of caffeine. It’s 11 PM, and I’m feeling like the coffee actually did include a gram of cocaine. But still, I feel scarred by the whole experience and might need to seek out some kind of “post traumatic purchase disorder” therapy to get me past this. I hope this is not a trend we will be seeing in our coffee shops in the future. If it is, screw Afghanistan and their oil. Invade Columbia, and let’s go to war for coffee.