Last Updated on June 27, 2023 by Barry Gray
I’ve been asked various times whether or not expensive coffee beans are worth the money. I think it’s a reasonable question to ask as we are effectively trained to believe that something is better if it costs more money. So, is that the case with coffee?
The price of coffee beans can be determined by their rarity and how they are prepared. Those two areas do not deal with taste and flavor, so buying expensive coffee beans does not always translate into a better cup of coffee. Instead, I suggest focusing on understanding your specific tastes and finding beans to suit rather than dealing with the price.
I know that may surprise some people, but as I said right at the start, we are tuned to think certain ways regarding price. Honestly, it’s just not an accurate representation when it comes to coffee.
But, I get some people will still be thinking along the lines of believing expensive is best.
So, to counteract that belief, let me walk you through what’s going on with coffee and why you need to think beyond price to get your ideal taste experience.
What Determines the Cost of Coffee Beans?
I get that it’s easy to think that something that costs a lot of money must be better quality. However, I don’t see that as the only determining factor for coffee beans.
Instead, so many aspects must be considered when dealing with coffee beans, and each part can play a role in the cost.
I think the main things you should know regarding those items that contribute to the cost include:
- The type of coffee bean
- The country where it’s grown
- The crop yield
- How much coffee they can grow at the one time
- How it’s roasted
- How rare the coffee bean also plays a role.
As you can see, a number of things certainly contribute to the end price you end up paying for coffee beans.
But here’s something I find cool: some of the best beans out there somehow manage to get their beans on the market without charging the earth.
But sadly, it takes time to uncover those beans, but I will help you out with trying to find the perfect coffee beans specifically for your taste.
Also, let me explain why some of those points mentioned above can really change the cost of the bean.
It’s not just the country the bean is grown in that makes a difference. It’s also the location in that country that can make exporting a coffee bean cost more than expected.
A number of coffee growers are located in remote areas. Take Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee as a prime example.
It’s grown in a difficult location on the side of mountains at certain heights. Harvesting the bean takes time and effort, and the location limits how much it can be grown.
I think some people would be surprised at how some coffee is grown. We get this idea of these vast plantations with rows of coffee plants being grown, but that will often not be the case.
The climate determines how a coffee bean will taste, and while coffee is often grown in areas with a stable environment, meaning they know what to expect, there are years when the climate can be slightly different.
That will affect the yield making certain beans even rarer than before.
However, the demand for the bean didn’t drop just because they had a poor yield. So, if you ever see your favorite coffee bean jumping up in price, this could be the reason why.
Does Supply and Demand Change the Cost of Coffee?
According to coffee associations, approximately two billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide daily. That’s a lot of coffee, and I’m not solely responsible for those two billion cups.
But this figure does throw up another important point that determines the cost of coffee, its potential expense, and supply and demand.
The demand for coffee growing yearly puts more pressure on coffee growers to produce more coffee beans than ever before. Yet, there’s a problem, and it’s limited space.
Due to the demand outstripping supply, it means even the basic price for average coffee will be higher than it would have been had suppliers been able to deliver as much coffee as the world wants.
So, why am I telling you this?
It’s because the supply problems do push up prices across the entire market. Ultimately, it means even poor quality beans that may not go through the same checks can come with a hefty price tag.
As you can see, it also goes against the concept that expensive beans will be better quality.
It’s more likely they are just more popular, so the suppliers and growers know they can put a premium on the beans and still manage to sell them.
Does Price Ever Indicate Quality of Coffee?
I understand that so far I’ve told you that expensive coffee beans will not always mean you are 100% guaranteed.
However, I feel there’s one situation where you are pretty much guaranteed that price indicates different quality: the grocery store.
Now, I’ve tasted a vast array of coffee from a collection of grocery stores. Seriously, the quality differs so much that it’s tough to put it into words.
From coffee that looked, and tasted, I’m sure, the same as some water you had washed filthy dishes in.
On the other end, I’ve also had the wonderful experience of purchasing some coffee beans from Peru that had a noticeable chocolate undertone to the bean and produced an above-average espresso.
But here’s the important point.
In the case of a grocery store, I’d say the more expensive coffee is better quality. The lower the price, the lower the quality is a general rule of thumb here, and it’s certainly something I’ve encountered repeatedly over the years.
But even here, it all comes down to your individual tastes as to whether or not even cheap coffee at the grocery store represents value.
Does Certification Increase the Price of Coffee?
One area often not discussed is the way certification manages to increase the price of coffee, and this is certainly one area where it has no impact on the flavor.
Take coffee that’s certified as “Fair Trade” as a perfect example.
Beans with this label will always cost more, and it’s because they seek to give the growers a better price. This is all about improving their lives, and as a result, we pay more for the beans.
Sometimes Expensive Coffee Beans are Worth the Money
If I can move away from the grocery store coffee for a second and focus on the general coffee bean that you would purchase from specialist retailers.
After all, if you love coffee, then this is the area where you will tend to uncover those gems that sparkle and dance in your coffee mug.
Here, things can change, and there are times when there’s a correlation between the price of coffee and how good it is.
However, even here, there’s no guarantee you will get the best coffee for the highest price.
Better Checking May Mean Better Coffee
There are undoubtedly times when expensive coffee beans have undergone more extensive checks regarding the quality of the bean that is then put on the market.
This is due to some brands checking the beans harvested using manual methods rather than by machine.
I think this does make a difference to the overall quality simply because you do not get any bad beans screwing things up for you in your coffee.
But this manual checking does mean it takes longer to process the beans resulting in lower amounts appearing on the market.
That does lead to higher prices, but I do feel it makes a difference to the end result, at least on occasion.
The Key to Coffee is in the Taste
But no matter the price, the main point regarding coffee is to understand what you like regarding the taste and flavor. That is the most important thing of all, and our tastes are all slightly different from one another.
Take the coffee widely regarded as the most expensive in the world: Black Ivory.
This coffee is the rarest coffee in the world. Coming from Thailand, the beans are digested by elephants before being processed, and most of those beans cannot be recovered, which adds to the rarity.
But Black Ivory coffee comes with the taste of chocolate and spice while there’s no bitterness at all.
So, even though it’s the most expensive out there, at more than $2500 per kg, if you prefer more of a bitter taste to your coffee, then it’s not worth splashing the cash.
On the flip side, you may find coffee with a bitter taste that costs less than $100, and it just grabs your taste buds.
That’s a massive difference in price, and yet the taste experience can be vastly different.
What to Look For When Buying Coffee Beans
So, what’s my suggestion regarding purchasing coffee beans? I have a few key points I’d like to mention.
- Don’t be blinded by the price. It doesn’t always equate to the quality
- Understand what you like from your coffee to narrow down the beans
- Often it’s the rarity that determines a higher price, and not quality
- Certification can increase prices yet doesn’t change the flavor
- Cheap grocery store coffee is mass-produced, so often poorer quality
- Try different beans and focus on flavor rather than price
I think the most important thing is to venture out and sample coffee from different locations, climates, and flavor profiles.
I’ll let you into a secret, I have coffee here in my home that is relatively inexpensive, and yet the different flavors that burst through from a caramel undertone to fruit in the one drink makes it priceless for me. I’m sure the same will happen with you.
If you do buy expensive coffee beans, don’t be surprised if they fail to meet your expectations. Cost does not change the quality of the bean, apart from perhaps on a few occasions. Instead, it’s all about personal preference regarding coffee and its flavor.
I’d suggest you focus on understanding your own tastes rather than the cost. That’s the only way you will enjoy coffee rather than worrying about the price.