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Food / April 25, 2022

Rip off Republic: how much is too much for a coffee?

Food / April 25, 2022

Rip off Republic: how much is too much for a coffee?

Last week Marcus O’Laoire got a coffee for €5.50 in Dublin but how much is too much for a coffee? ⁠

It’s a staggering number, especially when you consider that there was nothing extraordinary about this flat white. It didn’t contain premium ingredients. It didn’t come from a hipster coffee shop. A man-bunned barista didn’t artfully craft it with an international Instagram following. There wasn’t even latte art to be had.

The only thing decadent about the coffee was the price. Alongside fifteen euro burgers and chicken fillet rolls that hit six quid, coffee drinks that inexplicably hover around a fiver have become standard. You might even be drinking one right now. But is the fiver justified? The Irish coffee market is worth over €400 million per year. But will people stop buying coffee if it costs more than a pint?

Coffee used to cap out at three quid. So how did we get to the fiver mark if the coffee itself remains at a relatively constant cost? An espresso typically comes out at no more than fifty cents. But the price of a flatty is about more than just the sum of its parts. You’re paying for things like rent, utilities, employee wages, and insurance for the business.

Flat whites actually take the same amount of milk to make. Baristas know that steaming jugs are latte size as standard so if they underfill it the milk won’t steam correctly. So realistically, a flat white lands at the same price as a latte.

A great-tasting cup of coffee isn’t just about the right beans and the right equipment. It’s also about knowing the process correctly. But training and retaining skilled workers who can make great coffee is more expensive than not worrying about it. So all that being said, can a coffee shop justify charging more for a flat white than a pint of Guinness?

If ‘value’ is a coffee well worth the money spent on it, where do we draw the line? What is worth the extra few bob, and what is outrageously too much. As a group, we know it when we see it. We surveyed our Instagram base, and people pretty unilaterally said their cap for an oat latte – one of the more expensive coffees- is four euros.

Below is a graph made by the Irish Times using data from 3fe that accurately breaks down the cost of a milky coffee in Ireland in 2019. Rounded up and adjusted for inflation, it would make a milky coffee come out at around three eighty. If you factor in the extra expense of oat milk that lands around the four euro mark. So Irish people know how much things cost to produce and understand when they are being ripped off.

Sure, inflation can be blamed for expensive coffee, but there is a difference between upping your prices to keep pace with rising costs and extorting customers. No cafe should be charging a fiver for a regular flat white. The coming coffee cup levy should start to push up the price over a fiver. That will add another twenty-cent to your cup, making you impulsive sans keep cup jolt hit the four euro mark without sustainable milk. Yet even then, it should not cost a fiver.

The public reaction to Marcus’s overly inflated coffee price was one of outrage. It shows that we instinctively know when we are being ripped off, even if we can’t articulate the hows and whys.

If you have to charge a fiver for a standard coffee, you are probably not getting enough customers. Your waste is probably really high, or your rent is too much. Or maybe the investors want a higher return than the typical coffee shop can yield. Either way, it is too much, and Ireland knows it. We are an increasingly discerning consumer base, and we won’t be ripped off.

Elsewhere on Char: Guide to Dublin 7