A new coffee shop called “Saint Frank” opened up in my neighborhood. I ventured in while waiting for my bus to work.
The coffee bags were insanely expensive. $17.00 for a HALF pound of ground coffee! That’s more than twice what you’d pay for, say, Starbucks brand, and even more than Blue Bottle brand.
As I browsed the brown bagged beans on the wall, the young man behind the counter kindly offered to answer any questions I may have.
“Ok,” I said. “I have a question. Why is your coffee so incredibly expensive?”
He did not blink or flinch at this very direct question – undoubtedly has been trained how to answer.
“Well,” he started, filling up a espresso maker portafilter with ground coffee, “Our coffee is sourced from a variety of growers, and they use the best methods to make the best coffee, which can sometimes take longer and is more costly.”
I interrupted him – “Such as, what kind of methods?”
He seemed momentarily stumped, as he leveled off the coffee grounds in the portafilter with a special leveler. “Well, it depends on the type of coffee. Sometimes it is organic farming. Sometimes it may be a special drying process. It really depends.”
I decided to let this slide. He continued. “So, we feel that those people who are doing the work deserve to be paid fairly for their work.”
I interrupt again. The story may be true, or have a version of the truth in it, but my inner cynic was already waving red flags and she took over the conversation…. “Oh. So – to pay them fairly for the extra work, you mark up the coffee well above any other coffee out there, so that you can retain the same amount of profit as other coffee companies while passing on a little more money to growers whom you’ve asked to do extra work on the product. But you aren’t really sharing the profit, you’re just charging more to the consumer and keeping the same percentage of profit as every other coffee selling company.”
He stared at me. The espresso machine spouted steam.
It wasn’t fair, I suppose, to cast it that way to the guy behind the counter just doing his job. Why shouldn’t they make the same profit as everyone else, and pay farmers a bit more, if there are wealthy San Franciscans willing to pay $17.00 for a half a pound of coffee? And who knows – maybe they really are a kinder, better paying coffee company. But my cynic was not longer interested in hearing any more justifications for the insanely expensive coffee. All she saw through the cynic-filter was a company profiting off those coffee farmers twice – once, to make a profit selling their coffee — and again, to make a BIGGER profit by overpricing the coffee and selling the “we are more fair to the farmers” story to the consumer. Truth or fiction? No way to know in the moment.
I decided to make a quick exit. I smiled and thanked him for the explanation and left.
But, ask a stupid question – get a stupid answer.
“Why is your coffee so expensive?”
“Because we charge more.”
End of story.