Mugged by the High Price of Coffee

The exciting new Kenya from Giakanja Factory flourishes with floral and honey on the nose with just a hint of cocoa, succeeding into the cup with a bright clean citrus, green apple acidity and creamy mouthfeel. Flavors of ruby red grapefruit, green apples, and hints of cherry fruit loom, creating a sweet finish and lingering aftertaste that leaves a smile on your face.

Ooh… sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Like a fine varietal wine, or an incredible hit of pot. And yet, this is a description of a cup of coffee – Klatch Coffee’s Kenya Giakanja. And they ought to make it sound great… because at $30.50/lb, it costs more than a filet mignon  from Whole Foods Market ($27.99/lb).

I don’t know how many of you are feeling the pinch of today’s economy, but Tawny certainly is, and oh, how the mighty have fallen when it comes to my own coffee consumption. I used to cheerfully scoop up bags of beans at Whole Foods, feeling comforted by the thought that my expenditure was contributing to a global sustainable collective of hard-working coffee growers.

However, finding it difficult to justify paying the likes of $14.99/lb, I downgraded by finding what was on sale at Ralph’s, Stater Brothers and Vons. Seeing the prices there also continue to rise week by week, I began to search for deeper and deeper bargains until one day last week I found myself brewing… wellswill. I had sunk to the level of this hapless woman of yesteryear:



Realizing that my economizing had gone too far, I asked myself, “What is the happy medium for the discerning coffee drinker who wants to hold on to the indulgences from the ‘days of excess’ while still not breaking the bank?”

I began the hunt for my answer and found a jungle of prices out there. What size bag of beans are you looking at? 8 oz, 8.8 oz, 10 oz, 11 oz, 12 oz, 13 oz, 14 oz, 16 oz, 24 oz, 27.8 oz, 28 oz or shall we make it 32? Hmph! I didn’t realize I was supposed to bring along my friend, Professor Braniac. Of course, some stores break down the price per ounce and display it discreetly in tiny mice type so as not to startle the elderly or anyone else of a frail nature who needs glasses to read. And this is helpful only if you’re comparison shopping in just that store. But how does it break down in the market as a whole?

Last weekend, I jotted down notes on coffee prices from everything from Chock Full o’ Nuts to Illy in the following stores: Klatch Coffee, Starbucks, Peets, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Vons, Cost Plus World Market, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market. I did some math (ugh!!), and found the following results. I hope you will find this useful, and that you, the readers, will contribute your own observations and tips for helping us all enjoy the best cup of coffee possible at whatever price we can afford. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.


Okay, I know that there must be a universe of people who drink this sort of coffee, but this article is for those of us who like to buy bags of freshly roasted beans. I have yet to stoop to this level, but for the sake of telling it like it is, one can always buy the basic, mainstream fare, which appears to come in the same kind of container as laundry soap. You really can save quite a bit of money, and this is what our parents drank for years and probably still do, right? …Right, Mr. and Ms. Uppitypants?!

Perhaps, at some point, I’ll give it a try. But as for now, I’d rather spend my $9.99 on something really splurgy, like a can of tomatoes.

$0.42/oz -$0.44/oz

Before you say, “I give up! Pass the Folgers”, I found that there are other options practically at the same price point. Cost Plus World Market has 24 oz bags of Sumatra, Italian Roast, French Roast, Mocha Java, Peruvian and more for $9.99 ($0.42/oz). I tried their Mocha Java and it did not combine green apple acidity with a creamy mouthfeel, but quite decent nonetheless.

At Trader Joe’s you can get their 13 oz Joe’s Dark for $4.99 ($0.46/oz), which I am drinking right now. It’s pretty basic, but tastes like real coffee, and is not significantly more expensive than the really bad generic store coffee I had tasted and thrown away.

$0.45/oz -$0.75/oz

Spend a little more, and you now enter the world of the house blend. Peets, Starbucks, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf… all their house blends ring in at $0.75/oz. Trader Joe’s House Blend is less expensive, at $0.66/oz, and their Bay Blend is even a little less spendy at $0.58/oz. You can get Whole Foods’ Organic Italian Roast for the same price as the house blends at $0.75/oz.

You can also buy coffee in those bins at the grocery stores for $0.56/oz. Not much of a cost difference. So if you prefer to have your house blend come from a “name” place, don’t worry about it: it won’t cost you very much extra.

$0.77/oz -$1.00/oz

If, to you, “house blend” rhymes with “how bland”, then prepare to pay more. If you’re craving some higher-end Sumatra, you can get it for $0.94/oz at Whole Foods, $0.93/oz at Starbucks or $0.87/oz at Peets and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Have a yen for Kenya from Whole Foods or the Klatch’s Bob-o-Link? $1.00/oz.

Almost inexplicably, Dunkin’ Donuts Dunkin’ Dark at Vons is close to the same price at $0.86/oz and the Don Francisco French Roast is $0.85/oz.  Whole Foods’ Breakfast Blend comes in a little lower at $0.81/oz.

$1.04/oz -$8.75/oz

This price range is a little wide, I know, but it really is time to wrap up this article, isn’t it? If you’re willing to chip in $1.04/oz, you can now get the Klatch’s Breakfast Blend or their Sumatra Bodhi Leaf. Start tossing money willy nilly, and you can buy Illy at $1.82/oz. Alternatively, buy a filet mignon and save a few cents.

After this, you start to enter the realm of coffee for the elite, and, hey, I’m not knocking it… I’m all for spending my money on something good if I have money to spend. But 100% Kona at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf will cost you $3.12/oz. Starbucks’ Reserve Guatemala de Flor goes for $1.88, so that’s a little better. But if you really want to splurge, reach for the Klatch’s Panama Don Pachi Natural Geisha at $8.75/oz, or $140.00/lb. Wow!

In conclusion, it all comes down to a combination of what you prefer and what you can afford. The lesson I have learned is that I can still get a decent cup of coffee at $6.66/lb instead of my previous spending of $14.99/lb. I would probably prefer the $14.99 coffee, but until the storm clouds of this bad economy pass, I’ll be happy knowing that I can weather it out with the bargains that can still be found.

Readers, any hot tips on how to satisfy that coffee urge on a budget?

Tawny Tubetop

About Tawny Tubetop

Tawny was born in Pasadena, the City of Roses, and has been soaking up the fun and sun of the Los Angeles area her entire life. Tawny’s motto is: “Why live anywhere else?” A daughter of Angeleno culture, Tawny has a passion for strange movies and music, gets a chuckle out of vintage men’s magazines, finds inspiration in a perfect cocktail, pines for the days of whimsical architecture, wonders if it would really ruin the diet to have one Thai iced tea and whispers secrets to her dog before going to sleep at night.
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2 Responses to Mugged by the High Price of Coffee

  1. I vote for Peet’s! If I really had to rough it, I got used to Yuban at my old job.

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