On Green Buying – Part Five: Expensive Coffee

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This space over the last month or two has been really focused on green buying practices. I just want to take a moment to thank-you all for bearing with me and want to conclude the series with James Hoffmann recent post on expensive coffee (available here)

He discusses how often higher prices are conflated with higher quality. Pointing out how coffee is frequently compared to wine, Hoffmann writes, “Wine is very expensive because people have been mining out the value in it for decades” and given the size and history of the industry, “the good stuff is much more expensive now because it is good”. Here lay the incongruence with coffee because “Coffee does something different when it gets very expensive. It doesn’t necessarily get better, it gets weirder”.

If you spend even a small amount of time on any current coffee news or industry site, you will see a plethora of stories on auction coffees breaking records for pricing. However, as Hoffmann points out: “The most expensive coffees aren’t the sweetest. The most expensive coffees aren’t the most complex, structured and delightful. The most expensive coffees are the most esoteric.”

A simple but brilliant observation! In all of the braggadocio dialogue around rare geishas or obscure varietals, there is a focus on the unusual. The value is in the scarcity or rarity – not in the actual quality. For Hoffmann, “this means that we don’t celebrate the straight up exceptional” and we do not properly communicate the actual value of most coffee.