Are Expensive Coffees Worth It?

Coffee prices have been climbing for decades, but extremely high costs are beginning to pop up around the world. Some shops will charge as much as $10 for a specialty brew, while others may sell $20-$30 flights consisting of four to five cups of coffee. But what role do these crazy expensive coffees play in the specialty coffee scene? Are they important, or do they simply impose barriers? Are they worth the fuss?


There are two primary influences on the cost per cup of coffee: staff labor and the cost of the beans. Labor costs are generally the same no matter what coffee you’re preparing (aside from the several laborious manual brew methods). So, the biggest influencer in those hyper-expensive coffees are the beans themselves.


Most coffees you’ll drink in your local shop only vary by a few dollars per bag. For the sake of consistency, the price is often absorbed by the roaster or the café owner. However, some prices will spike significantly, such as during auction, which may allow the cost to jump to well over 10 times the normal price. Some shops will have “MP,” or “market price,” listed next to certain pour-over options—this is where that number and variation come from.


However, most coffees, even those auctioned, won’t reach crazy heights; generally, a menu will have options ranging from $4 to $7 per cup. There are a number of factors which will influence this additional variance: the coffee is rare; it’s of exceptional quality; it’s from a famous farm; it’s from a low-yielding farm; it’s a delicious varietal &c. Additionally, fair trade and good labor conditions may impact the cost of a coffee. Top-end coffees may work to produce a more sustainable economic model in its community of origin, leading to a greater market price.


So, is that $10 coffee worth it? The answer is tricky: talk to your barista. Ask them, point-blank, why the coffee is so expensive. If it’s rare, it may be worth the $10. If it supports sustainable business models, try it out. If, however, the mark-up is for exceptional taste, non-snobs might want to opt for a cheaper option. It’ll likely taste excellent, but the difference between a $6 and a $10 cup of coffee won’t be too extreme.

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