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Coffee initiative could mean mere pennies to you

Mark Tarses
Thursday September 26, 2002

To the Editor: 

There has been a lot of unfair criticism of the coffee law that will be on the Berkeley ballot in November. One of the often-heard arguments against this law is that it will raise the price of coffee to the point that it will be a luxury for rich people only. 

“PC Coffee,” as it is being called in the press, is expensive. It costs around $10 a pound at local stores compared to $2.50 a pound for mass-market coffee, like Maxwell House and Folger's. There is no denying that this is a big price difference, and on the surface, appears to be a powerful argument against this law. 

However, people don't drink coffee by the pound, but by the cup, and this law does not apply to coffee you make at home, only to coffee that you buy already brewed. 

What does a cup of coffee cost to make? 

A pound of coffee beans makes a lot of brewed coffee. The average American gets about 100 cups from a pound of coffee. Starbucks, which makes stronger coffee, gets 60 - 8 ounce cups of brewed coffee from one pound of beans. 

Of course, chain coffee shops, like Starbucks and Peet's, don't buy their coffee beans at retail stores. They buy “green coffee” directly from growers and importers. The international average price for “green” (unroasted raw coffee) has been on the decline in recent years. The average was 86 cents a pound in 1999, and currently is down to 76 cents per pound. 

That means that the cost of the beans required to make a 12 ounce cup of coffee at Starbucks is around 2 cents. Even if that cost were to double to 4 cents because of this new law, it should have very little, if any, effect on the price of a cup of coffee. 


Mark Tarses