Why is Coffee so Expensive?


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I wonder why some kinds of coffee are more expensive than others. Isn’t that all coffees are the same no matter how they were prepared?

What makes those coffee drinkers so willing to spend that extra money in a pursuit of having a drink? Is it worth it?

In this article, we’ll delve more into the things behind those expensive coffees out there. We’ll try to understand the reasons that make a specific coffee cost that much. 

But Why are some Coffee really so Expensive?

  • Some coffee are expensive due to several factors. Aside form the taste, some coffees are unique and rare that only a few individuals can experience. Also, because the coffee came from a special process.
  • The supply and demand relationship creates a higher price that only a few people can afford. This makes some coffee shops around the world bidding for a chance to serve them.
  • It’s a matter of taste and quality. You’re not just paying for the coffee alone, but you’re paying for the experience you’re getting in. That qualifies the phrase “you get what you pay for.”

Moving on, here are the several factors that make a certain coffee expensive!

The Type of Coffee Bean is High Quality

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Expensive coffee comes from a great cup experience. But that vast experience starts with great coffee beans.

Let’s start by knowing which type of bean is the most expensive. If you’re fun buying coffee, you are aware that not all coffee beans available tastes and costs the same.

Although there are four types of coffee beans in the market, Arabica and Robusta are the only varieties that meet the global demand for coffee.

Most of the cups you brew at home probably made up of either Arabica or Robusta beans. However, that doesn’t mean they are the same in terms of quality and price. 

Arabica is more expensive, selling for $2.93 per kilogram in 2018 in the U.S market. But the price is statistically projected to increase to $3.37 in 2025. On the other hand, Robusta is sold for $1.87 in 2018, projected to sell at $1.73 per kilogram in 2025.

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Data Obtained From Statista.com

Sure, But What Makes Arabica Beans Expensive?

  • Flavor Profile

The Specialty Coffee Industry indeed considers Arabica the best world’s coffee due to its superior taste and aromatics. That’s why it’s more popular and more consumed than the other varieties of coffee beans.

What makes a coffee expensive is not the bean itself, but the taste preference that devotes to your best-desired coffee. Of course, who on earth would serve you a pricy cup of joe that tastes crap. So, with that being said, Arabica bean is valued for its sweet, smooth, and superior flavor.

  • Arabica Beans are High Quality than Robusta 

The growing condition, coffee production, processing, and preparation are the factors that contribute to the coffee’s overall quality. But let’s focus on the growing situation.

Aside from proper shade and appropriate climate, Arabica grows in much higher altitudes, about 6,300 ft above sea level, which gives the coffee a better flavor. Arabica beans are much more challenging and sensitive to grow than other types of varieties. Therefore, it must be raised with enough care and keep healthy to produce the perfect coffee. 

On the other hand, Robusta can grow at a wider range of altitudes and temperatures, affecting the coffee plants’ quality and growth. This coffee is known to have a strong and robust flavor and is often associated with a bitter and rubbery taste due to the high amount of caffeine.

And since Robusta varieties usually grow in the lower altitudes, which is vulnerable to pests and bad weather conditions. The increased amount of caffeine helps the beans be more resilient and tolerant of their environment and can protect themselves from the disease. That’s why Robusta bean is prized for its inferior quality in terms of taste and aroma.

In conclusion, Arabica beans are expensive and high quality because they’re grown in an environment that provides enough care, nutrient, and improved water for the coffee to flower, yield, and have vital crops.

Also Read: How Does Altitude Affect the Taste of Coffee in a Cup?

The Coffee Goes Through High-Quality Grading System

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Another reason for your coffee being fancy is because experts graded the coffee beans before making them to the roaster. Most coffee beans are graded in altitude to where they were grown, visual inspection, and cupping.

This quality grading system aims to identify lower-quality and high-quality coffees easily. It’s usually an alternative approach to describe your coffee or product that’s only better or more expensive than others. In terms of specialty coffee status, the beans measured as high-grade are expected to be more expensive, whereas low-grade ones are then considered low-priced. 

Let’s take a look at these terms that classify a coffee quality:

  • Gourmet coffee
  • Premium coffee
  • Specialty coffee

The bags of coffee beans that have been labeled with these qualifications are more expensive in the supermarket than standard Arabica or Commercial coffee.

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Sure, but what’s the difference?

There should be an official process for measuring quality to have confidence in buying the best coffee. Choosing the right coffee beans that suit your preference has to do with how the coffee is classified. Whereas the beans are evaluated in terms of defects, moisture content, and cupping notes. 

Have you ever heard of specialty grade and commercial grade beans?

Cheap and readily available beans are easy to mass-produce at similarly low prices. But they are sometimes the result of poorly handled quality control. It’s is often overlooked and thus proceeds to trade coffee beans with hundreds of defects.

Defective beans are being disqualified in the specialty coffee status. If not, it’s always associated with a low cup quality.

On the other hand, specialty and premium coffee is described to be a significantly more prominent cup to enjoy. The term “specialty coffee” describes green coffee beans having few or no primary defects (broken, cut, quaker, or unripened beans) and receiving a high cupping score. It exhibits flavorful traits such as a frothy mouthfeel and vibrant aroma. In that case, specialty coffees cost way higher than commercial or commodity ones.

But there’s more to that. If we say “specialty coffee,” it goes beyond the quality of the bean. Paying an exceptional price for specialty green beans encourages farmers and producers to continue producing high-quality coffee. Besides, they should make a profit as well.

When better coffee brings higher prices, be thankful as farmers invested their time, knowledge, and money to produce the best coffee crop possible.

To conclude, all of these factors create a significantly more expensive type of coffee. And you’re paying for that amount of money because it’s a specialty grade coffee.

The Coffee Beans are Rare Varieties

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These are the coffees that are very rare but popular globally, having such an extensive and expensive experience to delve into. Despite paying too much for a taste, these coffee varieties are so exclusive and beloved by the specialty coffee industry.

Geisha coffee

Let’s start with one of the world’s most expensive coffee variety, the Geisha coffee. It comes particularly from Hacienda la Esmeralda, located in Boquete, Panama.

It can cost up to $600 per pound nowadays. Geisha coffee sells for different (but expensive) prices per cup in other parts of the world. Dubai, for example, sells it for about $68 per cup, while it cost about $18 per cup in New York City.

Moreover, what makes this coffee so expensive is its high cupping score, particularly in flavor and aroma. It often provides a very complex and more diverse taste, such as a fruity and floral flavor, with a tea-like body and jasmine-like spice. From the international coffee tasting competition held in Boquete Chiriquí, the Geisha varietal is the best coffee in the world and dominates it by getting 94.1 points out of 100.

But then again, there’s a continuous increase in price because of two reasons: 

  1. This coffee is a product of a rare coffee variety, whereas the global demand for it has been growing consistently for some time now.
  2. Secondly, it requires particular growing conditions and is exceptionally demanding in growth, harvesting practices, and production. In that case, it has become an exclusive and revered commodity that leads to increasing prices.

Finca El Injerto Coffee

Another one is Finca El Injerto Coffee. An award-winning variety and exotic coffees available directly from the farm. It is known as being expensive because it is made from rare, rich, and small beans. The beans are grown on the farm with an exceptional climate and adequate conditions, having clean water that springs directly from the mountains. 

It sells for about $500/pound and is considered one of the most popular drinks favored by coffee aficionados around the globe. It offers an excellent creamy body, well balanced, clean sweetness, and fruity flavors in terms of the taste profile.

One of the reasons for this coffee to be expensive is the quality itself. El Injerto produces the best-roasted coffee from Guatemala, which guarantees satisfaction for all of the customers. These coffee producers are focused on quality over quantity since these varieties have a lower yield and are more susceptible to weather conditions and other factors.

Exotic Coffee Experience

The exotic and strange coffee experience meet a lot of demand at the time. However, producers can’t fully fulfill that demand due to the limited availability of these rare coffees. And this is one of the reasons for a coffee to be expensive.

But what are those coffees we’re talking about?

There are many exotic coffees out there that you might haven’t encountered yet. Have you ever heard of those coffees that are made from elephant or cat poop?

They have been processed in strange ways to produce distinctive tastes and aromas. But what’s interesting is, these coffee beans go for hundreds of dollars per pound than the normal ones you often buy.

So, what’s behind these expensive and exotic coffees that make some individuals accustomed to them? Let’s delve in and learn more about the things that contribute to their costs.

Kopi luwak

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Let’s start with this coffee. I bet you’re already aware of kopi luwak as being the most expensive coffee in the world. But today, that’s not the case anymore. Luwak coffee is Not the no. 1.

Kopi Luwak is an Indonesian coffee made from halfway digested coffee beans eaten and defecated by an Asian palm civet. Those coffee beans are collected, washed, sun-dried, and roasted to produce one of the most lavish coffee available. A cup of kopi luwak can sell for as much as $80 and about $500 for a kilogram in the West.

Here are several factors that make this coffee expensive.

  • Rarity – As mentioned, one of the reasons why this coffee demands a high price is due to its rarity and fascinating appeal. Some people would really love to try some of these different kinds of coffee regardless of being expensive. And even it’s rare; it sells very well. 
  • Popularity– Another reason is due to its popularity but can’t sustain the global demand for coffee. Many professionals believe that kopi luwak is just priced as premium because of its popular story, not because of the bean’s superiority. The coffee bean that’s been eaten and pooped out by a small animal as an absorb coffee trend leads to the popularity of coffee.
  • Demand and Supply – As mentioned again, the supply of this coffee cannot keep up with the growing demand, which leads to an increase in prices. 
  • Taste Profile – You may think it’s disgusting, but this coffee creates complex, artful, and incomparable flavors than the frequently consumed cups. This coffee’s unique and delicious taste is due to the enzymes secured by the civet during digestion.
  • Processing – Just like any other type of coffee, the beans are valued by the processing technique. It all starts with the best and ripest coffee fruits to produce the coffee that is said to be good. And speaking of the process, the fermentation happens in the cat’s stomach once the coffee cherries have been eaten. The cat’s digestive system creates a reaction that alters the coffee bean’s acidity and develops the unique and different flavors of coffee.

While on the contrary, Kopi luwak is criticized by the coffee industry due to inhumane and abuse demand for the product, as well as some ethical concerns.

Sure, it is said that kopi luwak is still undeniably a unique type of coffee. Having a unique but straightforward production process delivers superior qualities seldom found in just an average brew. But in return, it creates an inhumane way of treating a small animal. Caged Civets are almost exclusively used and force-fed any coffee cherries that hamper the careful selection process.

However, while there are farms that feed any mediocre coffee berries to their animals, some growers still do it righteously. Aside from letting nature take its course, the animals are free, whereas natural feeding patterns are implemented to furnish a quality coffee.

Black Ivory Coffee

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The Black Ivory Coffee is an exclusive and exotic coffee from Thailand (Company Ltd in northern Thailand). One of the world’s most unusual and very expensive coffees. It is made from Arabica beans consumed and defecated by elephants, similar to civet coffee.  

Once the Arabica coffee beans are consumed, the same process happens during digestion. The acid within the elephant’s stomach breaks down the bean’s enzymes and creates a unique coffee taste. 

Like the kopi luwak, this coffee is rare and expensive due to the limited availability of enough beans. Only a small quantity of coffee beans is produced at any time. A cup of black ivory coffee can sell for about $50 and $1,100 per kilogram, making it one of the world’s most expensive coffee.

Besides, it’s also a matter of taste. This coffee has too faced a lot of demands as of being high quality. It features a bold earthy flavor and unique acidity without bitterness due to the elephant’s stomach’s natural fermentation process. And since it takes time to digest the coffee beans, fermentation is infused with other ingredients in the elephant’s diet that contribute to the flavors you wouldn’t get from different coffees.

Harvest Practice Employs Workforce

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In the harvesting operation, the two primary systems usually implemented nowadays are manual picking and mechanized system. Both methods have different ways of operating, but one of them impacts the price of the cups you order from cafes.

Let’s compare hand-picked with mechanized coffee harvesting. You can already tell that manually picking the coffee cherries requires labor and a lot of time to complete.

Selective picking is more expensive than you think due to the intensive work involved. But to attain productivity, producers need to employ many workers on their farms, which means it will increase the harvest cost. In that case, it will reflect in the price of their produced beans, just like a domino effect.

Another reason is the coffee quality again. The step of selecting the best coffee variety and picking only the ripe coffee cherries ensures that only the best cup is obtained. We’ve mentioned that the specialty coffee industry prefers beans evaluated in terms of taste and physical profile.

Whereas if farmers aim for higher quality and target the specialty market, they will implement selective harvesting to select the best coffee possible. And we know that high-quality coffees can sell at higher prices, while the low-quality ones are the opposite.

Sure, more jobs are provided on the farm, but producers are the ones to suffer in return. Post-harvest production requires workforce, topography, and equipment. So, in the end, producers have been invested too much time, money, etc., just to produce valuable coffee.

The Coffee is Processed in an Expensive Way

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What determines the value of coffee is not the type of beans but the process. The processing method is the most crucial operation in the journey of your cup. It influences a distinct development in the succeeding phases.

So, how this thing affects the price of your coffee?

Choosing the right approach can be a binding decision for coffee farmers as it requires investment, resources, and time, all in the pursuit of producing the best coffee.

For example, if you want your art to sell at a great price in the market, you need to choose your masterpiece’s best paints to ensure that quality is obtained. 

The same thing applies to coffee. Specially nowadays that the traditional ways of processing the coffee have equipped with advanced and scientific approach. Many producers implement extraordinary ways of processing their crops to give the coffee a nice flavor and frothy mouthfeel that is not frequently sampled. However, that part will reflect to the coffee’s price.

But regardless of what technique to execute, the goal is to produce unique and exceptional quality coffees that resonate with buyers’ and consumers’ intent.

The Coffee Comes From a Labor Intensive Process

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Expensive coffees exist because of how the beans are processed and handled, which is sometimes very costly. After the processing, it doesn’t stop there. The beans are sorted by size and weight and any defective beans are removed from the batch to sell at higher prices in the market.

If there’s no control over the processing, drying, warehousing, and handling by the producers, this will result in the degradation of coffee beans’ quality and price. Sometimes, some coffees have been perceived by the specialty coffee industry as low quality because of producers’ lack of care.

Poorly handled product will always revert to the quality and price. 

Have you ever encountered a standard coffee drink that costs higher than a premium one? That is because carefully handled common beans will still produce a better cup than poorly handled superior ones. 

So, having that said, if the beans were processed, sorted, and prepared to produce zero defects in specialty grade coffee, that will increase price and demand.

It all starts with careful separation or sorting such that only the best of the best is selected for roasting and brewing.

However, that goes through time consuming and labor-intensive process. And if it’s labor-intensive, the cost is higher, and then the price is also higher.

Coffee Shops Need Profit

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One of the reasons some coffees are so expensive is that coffee shops also need to earn money.

When you buy coffee from cafes, you’re not only paying for the drink, but you’re paying for the time and energy that goes into creating that beloved coffee.

Consider the rent, gear, taxes, and labor to manage; all those factors reflect the coffee shops’ expensive coffee prices. And even before the green beans reach your cup, prices would have increased because of numerous middle persons. 

In the end, there are so many factors that go into the price of a bag of coffee beans and coffee drinks you consume every day. If you think that coffee is so expensive, maybe you’re not the target market.

When something looks less costly, we seem to be easily thought that it’s all about marketing. Perhaps it’s a yes and no, though we have to remember that our cost expectations aren’t universal. 

Conclusion

There’s no wrong with coffee being expensive as long as it’s ethical. In fact, it’s an excellent thing as it will help liberate farmers from economic and systematic oppression. So, as producers, feasible farming methods should be implemented for high-yield coffee-production without exploiting farmers because of the high price that coffee earns both locally and abroad.

And for us consumers, we should be thankful if coffee is an affordable luxury for us. Coffee is more than just a drink for farmers. It’s a livelihood for them. With that being said, we shouldn’t abuse our place in the industry by extorting coffee farmers for lower prices. 

But after all, coffee doesn’t typically cost much to make. Sure, there are those expensive coffees that are fascinating to try. Still, it doesn’t mean you can’t taste an equally delicious, exponentially cheaper coffee that satisfies your desire just the same.

Like the Article? You Might Also Want to Read: How Much Caffeine is in a Cup of Coffee?