What does a great cup of coffee cost?

by on March 18, 2008

The biggest obstacle, in my experience, in getting people to switch from crappy grocery store coffee to sustainable coffee is price. Even people who profess to be bird lovers, concerned with the environment, and aware of the issues surrounding sun and technified coffee frequently default to price. This, it seems, is the American way.

Is really great coffee really that expensive?
I recently decided to splurge on some expensive coffee just for myself (while many of the Coffee & Conservation tasting panel is on spring break). I ordered a half-pound bag of the #2 coffee in the 2007 Bolivian Cup of Excellence competition, Juana Mamami Huanca’s San Ignacio farm, from Terroir Coffee Company. It was $34.95. That is high-dollar coffee. But based on two tablespoons of coffee per six-ounce cup, it still works out to less than $3 for a cup of fantastic coffee.

Most of the specialty coffee that is reviewed here costs in the range of $9.95 to $14.95 for a 12-ounce bag. That works out to $0.32 to $0.48 a cup. A pound of coffee from Caribou or Starbucks runs about $13 a pound, or $0.32 a cup. This is at least six times cheaper than a couple of shots of decent scotch or a glass of wine from a $15 bottle, not to mention less than the cost of a cup of (unsustainable) coffee at McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts.

You can do your own quick calculation in the worksheet below. Punch in the price and weight of a bag of coffee, and it will figure the price for a six-ounce cup.


It might be a little less convenient to make coffee at home, but it’s obviously economical. In fact, I think this little exercise demonstrates that the excuse that specialty coffee is too expensive is a bit far-fetched. Do the math: Folgers is about $0.25 a cup, or you can enjoy this sweet, fantastic, organic shade-grown coffee for $0.55 a cup. All things considered, drinking the grocery store coffee just doesn’t add up.

Photo by Scott Feldstein; thanks for publishing under a Creative Commons license.

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Revised on March 23, 2014

Posted in Coffee news and miscellany

Henry March 19, 2008 at 9:40 am

Good article. I mostly buy beans from Caribou and make it at home. I'd like to buy more specialty coffee from more independent vendors, but that typically requires buying online and the shipping costs are killer. Shipping costs are almost, if not more, than the cost of the actual coffee.

BirdBarista March 19, 2008 at 10:58 am

Some roasters have good deals. Terroir offers $4-5 flat rate on 3 bags or more. Old Bisbee has free shipping on 2 lbs or more. And check out our interactive roaster map and you might find a recommended roaster close to you.

Hawkeye March 19, 2008 at 6:43 pm

Nice piece. Simple and to the point. The math doesnt lie.

By the way, I like the new title bar.

BirdBarista March 19, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Thanks. There will be more design changes in the next couple of months!

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