Personal Finance 

Most Expensive Coffee: The Real Latte Factor

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Coffee CupThe Latte Factor is the idea that frequent, small dollar purchases add up quickly. We don’t notice them because the purchases are so small, like a $3 cup of coffee each morning, but over the course of the year that adds up to serious money. It’s not a novel idea, there are plenty of idioms mirror that same idea (death by a thousand cuts, tipping point), but a popular one in personal finance.

Except $3 a cup is nothing. Worry about the $10 a day or $30 mistake you’re making. Forget the latte factor, focus on bigger things. And when you really think about it, $3 for a cup ain’t bad… let’s see how really expensive it can get!

$20,000 Siphon Coffee Maker

Japanese siphon coffee makers are no joke. We use a drip coffee maker, where gravity pulls the water down into the filter. Ha. Gravity, how quaint! Siphon coffee makers, also known as vacpots, siphon brewers, and the like, trump nature with technology. Through the wonders of modern technology, the water isn’t dripped, it’s pushed up with steam, and in a manner only explained by magic, you are treated to a perfectly brewed cup of coffee.

For those not willing to invest the time and energy into learning how to use the $20,000 Japanese siphon, you can always go the budget route of getting a $11,000 Clover.

French press + Vacuum pot + team of Stanford engineers =

While they don’t say it in the movies, I’m pretty sure Skynet starts as a coffee machine.

Gold Coffee Filters

Gold Coffee FiltersWe use a paper filter, some places use a stainless steel wire mesh filter, and some others use 23K gold or gold-toned coffee filters. If you want good coffee, the experts say you want to make sure your coffee filter is made of gold. The advantages of a gold or gold toned filter (which is stainless steel coated in gold) are significant.

First, you don’t need to replace it all the time as you do with paper. Second, paper filters soak up too much of the oil, which contains complex flavors. Gold doesn’t. Finally, they’re easy to clean up and maintain while creating less waste. Overall, while I joke about this, a reusable filter is probably better than paper but do you really need gold? 🙂

Most Expensive Coffee Bean

Kopi Luwak CoffeeBy far and away the winner of this prize is the Kopi Luwak, which means civet coffee in Malay, from Sumatra. You take the beans of coffee berries, put them through the digestive system of the Asian Palm Civet (yes, they eat and then excrete the beans), wash, dry, roast, and brew. Only about 500 pounds of this stuff is produced in a year and it costs $300 a pound or more.

People love it because while the beans are in the Civet’s stomach, enzymes seep into the beans and break down the proteins. Also, while inside the stomach, the beans also begin to germinate, which contributes to less bitterness. Those enzymes help create a coffee that is more aromatic and with much less bitterness. After washing and light roasting, there are insignificant levels of harmful organisms. 🙂

In Summary…

A $3 cup of coffee seems cheap compared to one made in a $20,000 coffee maker with beans that cost $500 a pound.

I think there are bigger fish to fry… don’t you? 🙂

(Photo: Coffee mug by vizzzual-dot-com, Gold Coffee Filter by rossburton, Kopi Luwak Coffee by magisterludi)

{ 33 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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33 Responses to “Most Expensive Coffee: The Real Latte Factor”

  1. Momma says:

    I love coffee. I REALLLLY love coffee. I buy whole bean Kona and grind it myself. I use coupons and refuse to pay retail for most things, but the coffee we don’t compromise on.

    All of that to say… as much as I love amazing coffee, I would never ever drink coffee that has been “excreted” from a living being.

    Whew… brain bleach now.

  2. I’m not really seeing your point on this one Jim. Sure, it is true that a $3 cup is not nearly as expensive as some other ridiculously indulgent options. But, you can always find something that is more costly to use as comparison. I think more value is found in comparing those prices to what the average user can truly expect to spend. That is like saying that it is frugal to buy a Hummer or an Escalade, because there are other options like a Lamborghini or Ferrari that you could have bought.

    When a cup of coffee costs mere cents to make at home (with the usual equipment and beans), a $3 cup is certainly NOT frugal or something to be overlooked when trying to cut costs. While I do also agree that the $10 or $30 mistakes are simple to correct, but those are usually easily noticed. It only takes a couple mornings of the $3 a cup coffee to cost the same as one of those larger mistakes.

    As someone who does not drink coffee at all, I would much prefer to use my $3 to buy groceries for my entire dinner! I think the Latte Factor is very important to think about.

    • echidnina says:

      I agree. Certain small expenses tend to fall “under the radar”, so to speak – so while you might immediately notice your $50 gym membership when you’re trying to cut expenses, the couple bucks for coffee might escape your notice, especially if you don’t think about how cheap it would be to make yourself.

      Larger expenses are easy to notice, but anything below a certain amount – varies for everyone, could be $20, could be $10, could be $2 – just becomes so cheap as to be insignificant, when in fact it definitely adds up as a recurring expense.

  3. cdiver says:

    Amazing what people with an abundance of wealth will spend it on.

  4. cdiver says:

    I wonder what racoon infused coffee beans would go for?

  5. BTW, since we are on the topic… Starbucks is giving away free coffee TODAY. This is valid TODAY (April 15th) only, and you have to take a reusable travel mug in with you. See this page for details:

    There’s one way to cut back on that $3 a cup thing, eh?

  6. cubiclegeoff says:

    “After washing and light roasting, there are insignificant levels of harmful organisms.”

    That’s great. I still wouldn’t touch it.

  7. To avoid those expensive costs and even just that $3 a cup per day, I just don’t drink coffee 🙂 I would much rather not have a caffeine addiction while save myself some money and just drink water instead.

  8. zapeta says:

    I’m glad I don’t drink coffee, seems like an expensive habit. I’ve cut way back on soda and mostly drink water now.

  9. billsnider says:

    Did you ever notice that the biggest coffee drinkers at work also complain about money/

    Bill Snider

  10. Chuck says:

    The bit about steam making a better brew is not fiction. I have one of these, and it’s excellent:

  11. javi says:

    Wow, what people would do for their coffee. Glad I’m not a coffee drinker.

  12. fairydust says:

    LOL! Those excreted beans sound waaaay too exotic for this coffee drinker. I’m happy buying my Starbucks Joe Blend with coupons, and I’ve even tried roasting my own beans in the oven, which was fun, fairly inexpensive, and tasted very good when ground and brewed. I do have a reusable drip filter, too, but I doubt very much that it’s gold. 🙂

  13. Diane says:

    Is it April Fool’s Day? I don’t see the point of this article. Sure, I’m not buying a $20K coffee maker. But that doesn’t mean I’ve “saved” $20K. I am better off economizing on not buying $3 coffees and using that money to buy good beans than anything else.

    I don’t buy coffee out, and making it at home only costs me $10 or so a month, so I cannot see it’s a huge budget buster.

  14. Jessica says:

    I actually think you should pay attention to the latte factor. If you figure that a latte at Starbucks is $4, and you get one everyday on your way to work, over the course of the year you are spending about $1000 on coffee. I’d rather put the $1000 to something else– probably my kids…

  15. BrianC says:

    I’m really glad I don’t drink coffee–this is one expense I can altogther avoid!

  16. jsbrendog says:

    this is great. the fact that these things really exist makes me lose just a little more faith in humanity. free kcup coffee machine at work FTW!

    also the capital one bank by me has it too in their office. good times.

  17. Diana says:

    Ok, so I agree with most of the article. Except, um, I have one of those gold plated coffee filters. I think it was under $20 ($14?) and I bought it close to 20 years ago when I bought my first coffee maker. I’m still using it today. I’ve never had to buy coffee filters and it has survived all kinds of neglect and abuse that I’m not sure nonplated would have. Put that together with reusable coffee and travel mugs, well, this end of the coffee lifecycle is cheap and eviro friendly.

    As for the civet beans, I am not eating anything that’s been excreted. And $20k for a coffee maker, I could live on that for a year. That is where crazy comes into play.

    • cdiver says:

      What is crazier, drinking coffee that came out out of an animal or $20k for a cofee maker? As much as I hate to say it, I think $20K is just retarded.

  18. cdiver says:

    How do you cleen the reusable coffee filters? Do you just rinse them off in the sink? I thought you werent supposed to wash coffee grains down the drain.

    • Diana says:

      Once you dump the grounds out there is very little left in the filter (it’s smooth so it all kinda slids out) and then I rinse in the sink. It occasionally goes throught the dishwasher as well (although I don’t think it’s recommended).

  19. ziglet19 says:

    Wow! So glad coffee isn’t my thing…

  20. Daniel says:

    Timely post! Starbucks is offering a tax day promotion of free coffee today. You may need to bring in your own cup.

  21. eric says:

    Well now I’m even more happy I’m not a coffee addict 🙂

  22. Guess I’m the coffee peasant in this group. I drink and love Folger’s instant decaffeinated coffee. For me, the big treat at Starbucks is their double chocolate brownie.

    • Diana says:

      On the Folger’s wagon myself! To many calories and to much money for the other stuff to be more than a treat.

  23. This is an interesting article that made me think. Being a consumer miser, I am opposed to paying for coffee at a restaurant. Instead, I have coffee at home or at work, where it is free to employees. Buying $3 coffee everyday can add up to big bucks. Buying a cup everyday for 365 days a year adds up to $1,095 bucks. Do that for 20 years and you have $21,900 and that’s without investing.

  24. Guy G. says:

    I would have to say that the most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever had was at my sister in law’s.
    She bought a $500 expresso maker to save money! She thought she’d go to the specialty coffee houses less often this way.

    Her plan would have worked but the homemade coffees don’t taste the same and she still craves and buys the specialty coffees.

    So, I’d say that people should treat specialty coffees as a once a week treat


  25. Marilyn says:

    Oh my, the comments on this article are very interesting.

    A cup of black coffee without cream or sugar has 2 calories, give or take.

    All this anti-coffee rancor in the comments makes me think the “ban it” crowd is coming after us next. But I’ve thought that for a long time. You can pry my ceramic mug out of my cold, dead hands.

    I do buy a cuppa joe from time to time at coffee shops but it’s not a regular habit. I drink Eight O’clock coffee at home because Maxwell House and especially Folgers taste like dirty swill. Also the unit price of Eight O’Clock is usually lower than many other coffees.

    And I love my Moka pots. I bought my first one from a street vendor in Rome. Now I lose the filters all of the time so perhaps I need to get a gold plated one to keep better track!

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