A Taste for Expensive Coffee

10 Jul

The Best of Panama 2013 internet auction was held last Wednesday 7/3 and prices were overall very high and, in a number of instances, extremely so.  By way of disclosure, yours truly was one of sixteen international judges who cupped and scored these coffees in Boquete, Panama in May.  The competition and auction that followed is broken into three categories:  Geisha varietal, Traditional and  Natural process coffees.  The Geishas and Traditionals are all washed or ‘honey’ processed.  Indeed, some of the nicest coffees anywhere are being produced in Panama, though this origin does not signify magic to the American consumer.  Close to zero of the auction winners were from the United States, and this is often true of winners at Cup of Excellence auctions as well.

Almost all of this award winning, expensive coffee goes to Asia where a taste for rare and exotic foods is firmly implanted in the culture, albeit those with the wherewithal to afford them.  Witness Wagyu beef at $1,500 a pound, $1,000 a pound Matsutake mushrooms, the 1.76 million dollar bluefin tuna that was purchased in January, a mere $3,600 a pound or Fugu blowfish.  This quest for unique experiences extends throughout Asia and is also being witnessed in Australia.

At Best of Panama there were 47 coffees auctioned.  Four of them attained prices over $100 a pound and 17 more coffees achieved between $20 and $100.

CoffeePrice per poundCategoryRank in category
Esmeralda Special Natural Cañas Verdes$350.25Natural1
Kotowa Don K Geisha Nat$170.25Natural3
Los Lajones Bambu Geisha$165.75Natural2
Esmeralda Special Cañas Verdes$85.25Geisha3
Esmeralda Special Jaramillo$48.15Geisha8
Kotowa Don K Geisha$45.25Geisha14

In all, 14,550 pounds of coffee were auctioned with an average price of $19.88 per pound.  Most of these were very small lots with 100 to 150 pounds.  But the questions remain 1) who buys and can afford the most expensive of these coffees? And 2) why is the US absent from the top earners?  Americans, even the wealthy ones, seemingly do not place a value on the experience, or, perhaps the experience does not live up to the price?

A $350 pound coffee will yield 10 small Chemex pots each 36 ounces.  $350 is the price of the green, unroasted coffee, which when imported and roasted will be more like $425 per pound, so that pot of coffee has a cost of about $43.  How much would it be priced tableside – $100 or about $15 a cup.  Maybe high rollers would would pay that, maybe not, prefering to dole out the bucks for big name, rare champagnes or cognacs.  It will be interesting to see how this trend develops and whether it turns out to be good or bad for specialty coffee.  Share your thoughts.



Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.