A little while ago I noted (along with the rest of the coffee world) that Starbucks was rolling out instant coffee. This development prompted a thoughtful post over at Hungry Magazine, by Michael Nagrant. Nagrant makes an argument for cutting costs in tough economic times by forgoing fine coffee. It is, as I say, a thoughtful post, if a little shaky on his coffee knowledge (he confuses roasting with extraction, for example).
Even more interesting, the post prompted a lennnnnnngthy reply from Geoff Watts. Money quotes:
Meanwhile, the mainstream first-world consumer has held stubbornly to the idea that coffee is a cheap luxury, that the $1.00 bottomless mug is somehow a right or a deserved privilege. It is this very attitude that will continue to ensure that the modern smallholder coffee farmer has little hope of escaping a life of extreme poverty. Cheap coffee (and by “cheap” I mean low cost, which typically equates to low quality) is one of the many forces shackling the developing world and suppressing opportunity for advancement for a huge chunk of the planet’s population who depend on coffee to make a living.
We are after the best coffee we can possibly develop, that is the purpose that drives us. To achieve that means paying higher prices to growers and giving them the resources (and the reason!) to produce better tasting coffees. While we certainly feel the impact of the depressed economy here in the States, that impact is not limited to us. The farmers that Intelligentsia works with around the world are feeling the same kinds of pressure—it’s a global phenomenon. And while of course it makes sense to be thrifty in difficult economic times, we still need to realize that the decisions we make will have an impact further down the line. For a consumer the choice to purchase cheaper coffee has ramifications that extend far beyond the personal sacrifice of taste in favor of lower cost. It impacts the way coffee is produced, the way it will be produced in the future, and the ability of those who produce it to earn a living wage from their efforts.
Watts drops some history along with his science, too. Read the whole thing here.
Incidentally, that instant coffee goes for about a dollar a pop. If you really want to save money, you could buy a pound of gorgeous beans from Rwanda or Bolivia, lovingly sourced and roasted by a specialty coffee company, and make yourself a much, much, much better cup of coffee with hot water and a french press. Average cost per large cup? Depending on how strong you like your coffee, about 75 cents.