|How much are these beans worth? Photo: Erin Meister.
Kobe beef, aged single-malt Scotch, a $1,000 pizza -- there's seemingly no limit on how much a foodie will spend on the ultimate taste experience.
So how about a nice, steaming hot cup of coffee ... for $10, or more?
Not unlike its more respected buddy made from fermented grapes, exceptional, rare and just plain wacky coffees have begun to fetch higher prices all over the world. Panama's now-famous farm Hacienda la Esmeralda, for instance, has been commanding record prices for its green beans, setting world records for auction sales in 2004 ($21/pound), 2006 ($50.25/pound) and 2007 (a whopping $130/pound).
But is it a matter of simply being impressed by the price tag, or is there something to these top-shelf beans? Read on to find out. The Esmeralda coffee, which is of an Ethiopian variety called Geisha, is expensive namely because it's unlike just about any other cuppa joe in the Western Hemisphere, instead reminding the drinker of some of the finest brews out of the cultivar's native soil. Floral, tea-like and delicate, Esmeralda Special (as the bread-winning coffee is known) has inspired a cult following among bean heads, who wait all year to savor the stuff -- for a price. One of the many roasters featuring the Special this year, for example, is PT's Coffee, a great specialty-coffee purveyor out of Kansas that's selling 10 ounces of the coveted crop for $55.95. That works out to about 10 cups, putting each mug in the ballpark of $5.60 -- a relative steal, actually, when you consider how much one normally spends on a Venti caramel extra-shot whatever. But is it really worth it?
In this coffee professional's opinion, the answer is a resounding yes -- if only because I've seen no other coffee so challenge the average consumer's concept of getting a quick jolt and bolting out the door. This isn't just wake-me-up coffee -- this is palate-changing (if not slightly life-changing) stuff. If a brew house near you is offering Esmeralda Special, I highly encourage you to try it, even once. (You can find a retailer here.)
One coffee whose price tag might be a little less highbrow, shall we say, is the other most expensive type of bean in the world -- Kopi Luwak. These coffees, which are eaten in cherry form by native Indonesian civet cats and passed whole through their digestive tracts, command prices as high as $40 for 2 ounces. (If you're looking for a deal, you can get the same beans raw and "uncleaned" -- meaning that yes, you have to take them out of the civet's feces yourself -- for $60 per half pound. Mind you, some of that amount is, ahem, undrinkable.)
Exotic, yes. But delicious? You'll have to find that one out on your own, dear reader.
What do you think is the most you would pay for an exceptional or unique cup of coffee? And what would make you consider a particular cup worth it? Tell us in the comments.