Does Coffee Have to Be Expensive to Be Great?

Does coffee have to be expensive to be great? Why does the price of one roaster’s coffee vary from that of another roaster’s, for the exact same coffee? My coffee-loving friends and I have debated these questions over many a cup of expensive and inexpensive coffee alilke. I have had expensive coffee that was absolutely terrible, inexpensive coffee that made me want to weep because it was so flavorful, and vice-versa.

Why does one roaster sell a pound of coffee for $12, and another roaster sell the exact same coffee for $18? Is it due to the initial market price for green coffee, exceptional coffee quality, company overhead, or just that some roasters take a “whatever the market will bear” attitude to selling their product? Far too many times it is the latter.

Many of us know by now that green coffee prices have increased over the past several months. This directly affects which beans roasters are buying and roasting, and at what price they will ultimately sell their finished product. Of course, many other things factor into what the final price of the coffee will eventually be, the world’s supply and demand for coffee being one of them. A large roaster buys coffee in greater quantities and thus receives better pricing on their purchases of green, unroasted beans. Smaller roasters, who cannot afford to buy thousands of pounds at a time, have to pay more for their green beans initially. Company overhead such as equipment, payroll, utilities, shipping costs, etc., all factor into what the final price will be as well. Obviously, the quality of the coffee affects price. Was it properly tended to in the fields? Was it picked at the peak of ripeness? Was it processed, packaged and shipped properly? Are the beans being sold in full-pound quantity or in a smaller quantity just to make it “appear” more affordable? Just do the math to know for sure. Is the coffee “blended” with a lesser-grade coffee, to make it more affordable, while sacrificing flavor and quality? Lastly, profit margin, as determined by each individual roaster, plays a major role in what you, the consumer, will eventually pay. Is the coffee priced fairly or are some companies just being greedy?

With all this in mind, does coffee have to be expensive to be great? I say, no, not overall. A few coffees are very expensive, and rightly so. Many times though, such as with Jamaican Blue Mountain, companies go way overboard with their pricing or they blend it with inferior beans, to make it appear that you are getting more for your money than you really are. Yet, there are many treasures out there in the vast world of specialty coffee staring us right in the face. Simply do a little research. Go to various websites that rate coffee. One of my favorites is Coffee Review. Look at what professionals, aficionados, regular “Joes,” and your own friends and family, are saying about the coffee market, origin (i.e. country), roaster and each individual coffee. Then, make an informed decision as to what will give you the most “bang” for your hard-earned buck.

Papua New Guinea

Certainly, what you eventually purchase will depend on what you can afford and that is up to each individual person. People are always telling me “You get what you pay for.” But I believe that oftentimes you can get far more for what you are willing to pay. There are truly great coffees on the market at affordable prices. Knowing your particular tastes, understanding what it takes to bring coffee beans from the farm to your cup and doing some simple research will help you to find them.

Nuance Coffee’s Co-op coffee for the week of Feb. 26 is a Papua New Guinea Peaberry, with cupping notes: full, rich body, with excellent balance. Sweet and clean in the cup, and the aroma is of a mango-like fruitiness.


About the Author

Sean Hand is the Roast Master and Tea Specialist for Nuance Coffee & Tea, a small-batch, artisan roaster of specialty-grade coffees, and purveyor of luxury loose-leaf teas, located in Murfreesboro, TN. Nuance products can be purchased through the Stones River Market, or by joining its Coffee Co-op; Coffee Co-op members receive a different full pound or a half pound of coffee each week. For more information, contact Sean at nuancecoffeeandtea@gmail.com.

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