In a deliberate attempt to seperate myself from the media, I will avoid citing the word that starts with an “e” and ends with an “conomy” as my motivation for writing this piece. I’ts not. I would have written this article in times of fiancial surplus and positive social malaise. This morning, a friend and I went to a bakery for breakfast and got some coffee. Just your average, run of the mill drip. The baker assured us it was “the best Rwandan coffee,” and I was skepical no doubt. Once in the car, my friend told me it tasted dark, heavily roasted, and a little burnt. Having some experience working in a bakery, I can see why people are hesitant to spend money on coffee from a non-coffee shop, even if a shop can throw down a region name or details about the purveyor, precisely because it isn’t a coffee shop.
Anyone who knows me personally knows that my father and I are good friends. Despite our close relationship, we don’t always agree. Not just about my career, but my hobbies as well, and coffee in particular. Let’s just say, he is a man who loves “good” coffee, enjoys the $5 cup, just as long as his son the barista is paying for it. Generally, he goes for the $1 McDonald’s coffee. My dad is a penny pincher, and so am I. But, he is also a man who likes to prove a point.
I am obsessed with value, it is a personality trait. I am happy to dish out money for what I want, just as long as I believe it is good quality; it has to be something I feel is “worth it.” Yes, I believe $4+$1 tip for coffee from an artisan roaster is not unreasonable; you are paying for top quality, freshness (generally), possibly a brewing method of your choice, knowledge (use your barista as a database) and the atmosphere. You can find amazing coffee at about $3 a cup or so, but my rule of thumb is, make sure you pay at least this much. Hopefully, you get what you pay for. Anything below that makes me suspicious; good things come at a premium, but how much is appropriate? What is my limit of value (monetary vs. quality)?
Then, there is this little realm of coffee that I lovingly consider the “add-on.” Basically, this is coffee that is mass brewed through a semi supervised/skilled process at eateries, bus stations, service centers, etc. It is “average” to “low” quality that ranges anywhere from $1.50-$3 a cup. We all get it if we need the caffeine or just something quick. Most people are not going to these kinds of establishments expecting good coffee.
My father LOVES this world of coffee, I am indifferent. My old man raves about how good his coffee from McDonalds is, and “it only cost me a dollar.” For him, it is the best value because he doesn’t see a big enough differentiation in quality between a $1 or a $3 or a $5 cup. We came into a conversation the other day about how much I spend on roasted coffee versus his Maxwell House. “But it’s Arabica” “The lowest quality you can get” “If I want flavor, I just put in an extra scoop” “An extra scoop of over-roasted…” It went on like that for a little while. Essentially, he doesn’t think coffee should be expensive, and he has low expectations. I want coffee to be cheap but I have exceedingly high expectations.
Over time, I have started to change my stance. This is only referring to “add-on” coffee. Honestly, it is never very good, or atleast I am yet to be wowed by things in this category. Today was no exception. The “add-on” was more expensive than a McDonalds $1 coffee, and it unfortunately tasted about the same; dark, over-roasted, and burned. Sure, we bought it because of the convenience and that cost extra. I am only talking about flavor. But I realized I am paying about $3, three times the cost, for essentially the same quality coffee.
Sometimes when I am out and I just want coffee, I have this glimmer of hope that I will find good, cheap coffee at the next “add-on” shop I go into. So far, no good. I spend two to three times more than my dad’s standard of $1, and it isn’t any better. Maybe he’s got a point, to some extent.
You win dad; whether I pay $1 or $3, it’s about the same. There seems to be a certain price-value-quality threshold one must exceed in order to enter the realm of “good coffee.” Until then, I am going to start saving my money, not pay triple the price (albiet a relatively cheap margin), and pay for the cheapest “add-on” I can get.