March 9, 2023

Should coffee shops charge US $150 for a cup of coffee?


For some coffee enthusiasts and professionals, spending anywhere up to US $10 on a cup of filter coffee might not be unthinkable. But what about US $150?

In late January earlier this year, Australian and US roaster Proud Mary Coffee announced it would sell a natural processed Panamanian Gesha for US $150 per cup. To add to its already high level of exclusivity, only 22 cups of the coffee were available between the roaster’s Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas locations.

There’s no denying that coffees like these draw plenty of interest from industry professionals and consumers alike. Moreover, they also help to drive innovation and highlight excellence in the specialty coffee sector. Essentially, they make the coffee industry more exciting.

However, we also have to question the value that these exclusive, high-end coffees add to the supply chain. Although a very small handful of individuals may be able to spend US $150 per cup, does anyone truly benefit from spending this much money on one cup of coffee?

You may also like our article on whether coffee competitions are moving away from Gesha.

A coffee farmer holds ripe coffee cherries in his hands.

What makes this Gesha coffee so unique?

Since the early 2000s, the highly-prized Gesha (or Geisha) variety has caused a stir in specialty coffee. 

Boasting complex floral-heavy flavour profiles and a tea-like body, Gesha coffees often fetch high prices at auctions:

Grown at 1,750 m.a.s.l. on the Hartmann-owned Guarumo Coffee Farm in Santa Clara, Renacimiento, the “Black Jaguar” Gesha was processed using a “classic” natural process method. However, the drying phase was extended for “about 20 days in [a] dark room”, which most likely helped to enhance its unique sensory profile.

Only 100lbs of the coffee were available to purchase. And among the bidders for this coffee was Proud Mary. The roaster publicly stated it paid US $2,000/lb, which it says is the highest price it has ever paid for one coffee – leading it to charge US $150 for one cup of this coffee.

While Proud Mary is known for selling more exclusive and high-end coffees – including two other Geshas from Hartmann Estates on its current offerings – the roaster also has more affordable options from a range of origins.

A green coffee buyer samples coffee at a coffee cupping.

What is the market for these coffees?

For many years, Gesha has been one of the most sought-after varieties in the specialty coffee sector. Generally speaking, Gesha plants only yield small quantities of coffee, which contributes to the variety’s exclusivity.

As Gesha became more and more revered, it was only natural that more World Coffee Championship competitors started to use the variety as part of their routines. Of the nine World Brewers Cup (WBrC) champions from 2011 to 2019, seven of them used Gesha – almost making it the norm. Undoubtedly, this helped to spur its popularity in the specialty coffee industry.

The variety has become somewhat of a unique selling point over the past two decades, with more high-end roasters and coffee shops stocking it more frequently than ever before. In the case of more prestigious brands like Proud Mary, for example, it’s not uncommon for the roaster to have several Geshas from a number of different origins on its menu at one time – notably at a range of price points.

However, in recent years, we have also seen the rise of other more exclusive varieties, and even lesser-known coffee species. 

At the 2021 World Barista Championship, the top three competitors all used Coffea eugenioides: a parent species of arabica with a distinctively sweet flavour profile. At last year’s World Barista Championship, winner Anthony Douglas used the Sidra variety, which some industry professionals compare with Gesha in terms of its physical characteristics and cup quality.

And while Gesha is still used by some World Coffee Championship competitors, its presence has certainly dwindled at these high-level competitions over the past few years. Ultimately, this leads us to question whether the variety is still as attention-grabbing as it once was.

What’s the value of serving US $150 cups of coffee?

Although there were only 22 cups of the natural processed Hartmann Gesha available in the US, very few people can actually afford these kinds of coffee in the first place.

In most specialty coffee shops in the US, consumers pay around US $4 for a cup of filter coffee. To the average consumer, paying US $150 for one coffee is not only absurd, but also far beyond their budget.

However, that’s not to say that these kinds of exclusive coffees don’t serve an important purpose. Whether people can afford them or not, they are exciting and unique selling points for coffee shops and roasters. Moreover, they also encourage more people to talk about specialty coffee – especially those who are new to or still learning about the industry.

Perspectives from the industry

Spencer Turer is the Vice President of Coffee Enterprises.

“This is a very exciting time for the specialty coffee industry,” he says. “We’re expanding into super-premium categories, similar to other craft beverage industries like wine, bourbon and whiskey, and other spirits.

“For Proud Mary Coffee, selling the Black Jaguar Gesha coffee for US $150 per cup takes courage and confidence,” he adds. “I hope the 22 lucky consumers of this special coffee found value [in experiencing] its aroma and complex and sweet fruity floral flavours.”

Making pour over coffee with dripper and carafe.

There’s no denying that paying US $150 for one cup of coffee is beyond excessive. But that’s the point – these aren’t the kinds of coffee you should be drinking on a regular basis. They are unique and exclusive, and thereby come with a hefty price tag.

Whether or not these coffees are worth this amount of money is a matter of opinion. However, it’s clear that these ultra-high quality lots do have an important part to play in specialty coffee. 

Since the early 21st century, we’ve seen trends at BoP and other auctions trickle down to the WBC stage – and ultimately influence the future of the industry.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how we can make specialty coffee more accessible.

Photo credits: Proud Mary Coffee Roasters

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