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A $12 cup of coffee? Not so crazy

Who knew all a coffee shop needed to do to make national news is offer a $12 cup of coffee? Crazy!

Over the last couple of days, Cafe Grumpy in New York City has gone viral for offering a $12 cup of coffee. This featured brew is a cup of Ethiopian Nekisse from the Neji locality in the country known as the birthplace of coffee. The website for Cafe Grumpy describes this coffee as “Very clean, sweet, complex cup with tropical fruit notes of pineapple, kiwi and key lime. Floral notes of jasmine, lemongrass and rosemary.”

But why the price? According to the Huffington Post, this coffee is made from handpicked Ethiopian beans and its cost is high due to the long development and processing time. Steve Holt, vice president of the company distributing the beans, Ninety Plus Coffee, told the New York Post, “There are flavors you would expect in a really nice glass of wine — it’s a cacophony of nuances. You detect flavors of apricot, pineapple, bergamot, kiwi and lime. The deeper tones are levels of chocolate, and the finish is super clean.” But isn’t this wine-like flavor profile that most high-end, single-origin coffee drinkers have come to expect from every cup?

The New York Times story goes into a little more detail. It further quotes Holt as saying, “It is a higher-end coffee, and you have to take a lot of time developing and processing it. Once the coffee is harvested, it is dried on a raised African drying bed — the actual coffee cherries never sit on the ground.” Thereafter, the beans are roasted on site at Cafe Grumpy, which is partially where the My Fox New York story attributes the additional cost. One of the Cafe Grumpy baristas noted to the New York Post that in comparison to a cup from Starbucks, it is a “far more complex coffee that should only be taken black.”  Again, most coffee aficiandos say, “Well, duh.”  To some of us this is not news, but it’s amazing how it captivated the media this week.

But is a $12 cup of coffee so unheard of? A little more digging shows that as far back as 2007, Caffe Artigiano and 49th Parallel Roasters in Vancouver, British Columbia sold cups of brewed Hacienda la Esmeralda Especial from Panama for $15 a cup. Hacienda la Esmeralda Especial back then was named the “world’s best coffee” at the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Roasters Guild Cupping Pavilion Competition. At the time, it wholesaled for $130 US per pound. Ironically, just this week before the Cafe Grumpy story hit the media wire, I was in conversation with Tom Billionis from The Coffee Ethic on Springfield, Missouri’s downtown Park Central Square about the current Esmeralda Especial bean and how they would have to charge double digits to brew it by the cup.  Also the CBS News story (while unfortunately calling the this Cafe Grumpy single origin coffee a “blend”) notes that in Baltimore you can buy a cup of Aida’s Grand Reserve for $13.  I guess that cafe doesn’t do good enough PR work like the Cafe Grumpy crowd.

Below is a video of the Early Show anchors of CBS morning television testing out the Cafe Grumpy Ethiopian Nekisse.  As you can see, their anchor team comprises an even spread of the different types of coffee personalities: