Opinion

Coffee Hits $15 at the Pump

How far will they push addicts like me?

By Steve Burgess, 20 Aug 2007, TheTyee.ca

Latte at Caffe Artigiano

Peak bean? Latte at Caffe Artigiano

A guy like me gets pretty smug when gas prices rise. Yes, I have a car, but that's mostly so I can park it at the curb and pay the occasional fine. Living downtown it's easier to walk or cycle, so my periodic petrol purchases don't put much of a dent in my wallet. Mere financial fender-benders. The bitter tears of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd are mother's milk to me.

But today I'm scared. Because now the price of fuel is really going up. The $15 cup of coffee has arrived.

Addicted in Vancouver

It was probably inevitable that someone would figure out it's possible to charge 15 bucks for a cup of coffee and make it stick. In Vancouver, Caffe Artigiano and 49th Parallel Roasters are those people. Amid much media fanfare, they recently introduced Hacienda la Esmeralda Especial, a Panamanian bean named "world's best coffee" at the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Roasters Guild Cupping Pavilion Competition. At wholesale it went for $130 US per pound. Not quite as expensive as the Kopi Luwak coffee beans that are plucked from the feces of civet cats and sold for about $600 per pound. But pricey enough that a little pot brewed from the Panamanian beans retails for 15 smacks. If Panamanians swallowed them whole and then harvested them later, who knows how much they'd fetch?

As it turns out, the price seems to have been right. Inside of a week, the initial consignment of 80 pounds was almost sold out. Add in the huge media coverage, and a modest financial gamble has paid off handsomely for Caffe Artigiano and 49th Parallel. And for some of us, Gabriel's trumpet has sounded. Armageddon looms.

I tasted the Panamanian brew. It didn't do much for me, but that means nothing -- as an espresso fiend, drip coffee of any sort will always be piss water to me. The important thing is that a barrier has been breached. Like a future serial killer who tastes blood for the first time, a coffee retailer has taken the first step down a dark (if aromatic) path. Fifteen dollar coffee, and it sold. Fast. Now that the sellers know what the buyers will put up with, there will be no end. My fellow caffeine slaves: they're onto us. Prepare to steal television sets and sell your body to strangers.

First they hook you...

I have long known that my tidy, respectable life was poised on a knife edge. As soon as the suppliers figured out the quiet desperation of my dependence, they would begin turning the screws. Now the process has begun.

Coffee addiction is so widespread that it provided the answer to a mysterious medical syndrome. For years, doctors wondered about the phenomenon known as "post-surgical headache," the common tendency for most patients to wake up in the recovery room with a pounding head. Eventually the truth dawned -- it was simple caffeine withdrawal, aggravated by the pre-surgical injunction against fluids. Caffeine addiction is so pervasive that doctors had assumed the condition was the result of surgery itself.

So they've got us by the short hairs. Luckily, dealers have been slow to realize it. Thus far the rise of expensive coffee drinks has been a matter of adding chocolate and caramel and foam and frou-frou touches completely unrelated to the actual addiction. This meant that addicts could escape with cheaper, more potent drinks, thick little globs of espresso to be sipped or gulped or sucked into a syringe and injected between one's toes. Not me. Not yet. But I'm close.

It happens that Caffe Artigiano is where I choose to spend my time and money, even schmoozing with staff and management. These people I took to be my friends have in fact been studying me and making plans. They saw me furtively licking the edge of my empty espresso cup. And they knew. They laughed, I know, as the realization dawned. $15 coffee -- what's the poor bastard going to do? You've got to pay the price at the pump.

There must be another way -- something cheaper. What does gas taste like? Maybe with sugar?

Addicted to caffeine? How much would you pay for coffee before the price got so high you'd quit? Please add your comment below.

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