Coffee

I have owned an espresso machine for about 25 years. When I moved to Rapid City, I commend to someone that although I enjoy going out with my wife for a cup of coffee, the best coffee in town was what I made in my own kitchen. I discovered premium coffees more than a decade earlier when we purchased a small grinder and learned to purchase coffee from an importer/roaster. The freshly-roasted coffee not only yields a better flavor, it also goes a bit farther than canned coffee. It doesn’t take quite as much coffee per cup when using freshly roasted and ground coffee. And, if you enjoy coffee, the smell of the beans in the grinder adds to the pleasure.

There were very few commercial espresso machines in Rapid City back when we moved here. The coffee shop explosion had begun in Boise, Idaho, where we moved from and there were a lot of coffee shops in town, though Starbucks was just moving into the Boise market at the time we moved. Things have really changed in the past couple of decades. Coffee shops are springing up all over town and there are $10,000 espresso machines in grocery stores and in small kiosks in parking lots all over town.

Yesterday, I was thinking about coffee as I drove to the office from the hospital. There was a line of 3 or 4 customers at the espresso stand in the hospital lobby. I went down 5th street where the builders are putting the finishing touches on a new drive-through coffee shop on a busy corner. Three blocks to 8th street where the parking lot of another coffee shop was so full it was backing up traffic into the street. It takes about 10 minutes to drive from the hospital to the church and I passed three coffee shops. If I were walking, I wouldn’t be able to finish a cup of coffee before reaching the next coffee shop.

Clearly the coffee business is booming.

At home, when I buy premium coffee, I might pay as much as $12 per pound. That yields somewhere around 40 cups of coffee, making my cost around 30 cents per cup. Of course I have the costs of the grinder and the coffee machine, but an espresso machine lasts at least 25 years, so when you amortize it over the time, the cost per cup is pretty small. Then I sometimes add milk to my coffee and occasionally even honey. So lets say the actual cost is around 50 cents per cup, though I’m sure it is less than that. An Americano, which is espresso and water, runs about $3 in a coffee shop, giving the operator of the shop $2.50 for overhead and profit. And a prudent coffee shop operator could certainly command a lower price for the coffee than I pay. There is a stiff markup in coffee. Raw coffee is selling for around $1.23 a pound. Roasting and bagging and shipping the coffee then selling it through a retail market makes the cost about 10 times the cost of the raw coffee.

All I am saying is that there are a lot of people who are earning their living off of the coffee business. A cup of coffee in a coffee shop is paying a lot of people along the way, and still producing a respectable profit for the owner of the shop.

And, in my case, it isn’t the result of a physical addiction. I gave up caffeine, except for small doses in an occasional cup of tea, a couple of years ago upon the advice of a doctor. I only drink decaffeinated coffee and teas these days. Of course removing the caffeine from coffee adds to the price.

Coffee shops are a cultural phenomenon, not unlike bars and taverns that sell more than the beverages that are consumed. They sell a meeting place, an ambiance, an escape from daily life.

And, at least here in Rapid City, we seem to have an appetite for whatever it is that they sell.

I guess I should add that making a premium cup of coffee at home isn’t a difficult task. We have a pod coffee maker in our office at work. The convenience and easy clean-up of that system comes at a healthy price, but it is still a lot less expensive than a cup purchased in a coffee shop. Although I think coffee shop workers deserve fair wages, they are doing work that one can easily do for oneself.

We don’t seem to be intimidated by the price of coffee.

One year our church was doing a “second effort” pledge drive and I gave up purchasing coffee in coffee shops and instead gave the money to the pledge drive. It was a generous donation. Another time, I wanted a large number of clamps for a boat building project. I allowed my self one clamp for each day that I did not purchase any brewed coffee. I had the needed clamps in less than a month. I seem to go back to purchasing coffee in coffee shops even though I am aware of the savings, however.

It would be easy for me to criticize the foolishness of those who go to coffee shops every day, but it would also be hypocritical. I’ve dropped more of our family’s financial resources in coffee shops than makes sense.

If someone on the street asks you for a dollar for a cup of coffee, you should probably give him the dollar and then follow him to find out where he’s getting coffee for $1 a cup. Actually, I think fast food restraints and convenience stores are still selling coffee at around $1 a cup and some of those places make pretty good coffee. They are not, however, experiencing the growth in numbers or profits that is occurring in high end coffee shops.

We humans are really rather strange beings. I’m not sure that i understand why we do what we do. Watching us, however, is great entertainment.

It will be interesting to see how many coffee shops there will be in town a decade from now.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!