If you are into coffee, roast at home and save

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of United States  , New York
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Some advice if you like drinking coffee, but are now wary about spending so much - $20-$40 a week on coffee. That's 1,000 - 2,000 a year!

But not if you roast green beans at home - then you probably only pay $950 a year . . .

Hardly a financial advisor writing or commenting in the media today fails to suggest that cutting back on your lattes is the way to save money. Even the IRS got into the act on tax forms last year making the suggestion which, apparently, most Americans roundly ignored. Industry spokespeople and consumers do agree that coffee has been and always will be an "affordable luxury," one that brings pleasure and, in times like this, comfort but that doesn't mean one cannot cut a few corners here and there.

There are savings to be made by reducing from buying two cups per day instead of four, or five cups per week instead of 10, some $20 to $40 per week or $1,040 to $2,080 per year. However, there are more substantial ways to save money, beginning at the gas pump. Now that so many of us have curtailed errands and other not-that-necessary trips when gas topped $5, and even discovered public transportation for commuting, it's easy to stay on that course and continue saving gas and money. Saving energy costs at home and at work is a top priority for many budget-conscious people, and reviewing grocery costs to determine better pricing and better selection is an ongoing exercise. Yet, the most substantial (and realistic) savings are for our biggest and most costly purchases, for homes and cars, and those have definitely made the most impact on our economy.

That is not to say that coffee spending doesn't affect our, and the world's economy, as coffee is the second valuable commodity after oil. Some major producing countries report lower auction prices, lower sales, or ones that are flat. Most industry pundits do believe that these changes are short-term, temporary downslides.

So, how can we save money yet keep this "affordable luxury" as part of our daily lives?

The most common gesture is to buy whole beans, grind 'em fresh, and enjoy coffee at home. This not only saves the price of individual cups or lattes, it also saves gas. Miss the company of a coffee shop? Stage your own kaffe klatsch and experiment with a different type of coffee each meeting from organics to single estates to coffees from countries you've never tried before....Papua New Guinea, anyone?

The coffee shop is feeling your pinch, and the cleverest of them are reaching out for your return visit in interesting ways, especially the independents who can host bands, poetry readings, meet-your-representatives or, in these last furious weeks of the election campaign, discuss candidates, propositions, and bond issues. It's fun, fascinating, and a great way to meet your neighbors, said Suzanne Brown, an international coffee marketing expert and owner/principal of Brown Marketing Communications LLC, based in Atlanta. Some coffee shops are branding coffees by political party, certainly a temporary gimmick; others are promoting coffees by region to give a certain fun cachet to the bean, she added. This keeps people coming back as they buy more beans than cups, more accessories than prepared foods.

The Small Business Association states that in good times and bad, businesses fail for the same two basic reasons: inexperience in business management and insufficient capital to grow the business. For the coffee retailer, there is a third, and rather ironic, reason: insufficient understanding of the very product they're selling, coffee, said Andrew Hetzel, an international coffee consultant whose company, Cafemakers, LLC, is based in Hawaii.

In the U.S., it is not coffee issues that are crippling major chains for they are more affected by larger economic issues and the whimsy of Wall Street. The cutting back of employee hours or reducing staff, and closing some underperforming stores, may actually be a good thing, Hetzel added. The small chains and independents are not necessarily suffering in the same degree primarily because their efforts in promotions are geared to a smaller audience, he added.

No significant downturn in sales for independents, in particular, and coffee chains in general have been reported here in the United States, although temporary fluctuations have been recorded, said Hetzel, and European and Asian coffee retailers are experiencing healthy sales.

One boon to the consumer by independents and franchises is a renewed choice in specially reduced prices for certain coffee drinks and a plethora of add-ons to the menu that are comfortably priced. Still, most independents report a down trend in prepared coffee sales while sales of bagged coffee, ground or beans, are definitely up. Considering that a bag of fresh-roasted beans can cost between $8.99 and $14.99 depending upon origin and venue, and one can get 40 ore more very satisfying cups out of each pound, that spells a savings to consumers of about $150 (especially when your usual choice is an espresso-based drink) or about $60 for a plain cup of joe at the coffee shop. That's enough savings to pocket or to purchase a high-quality espresso machine for lattes at home.

One beneficiary of the cost-conscious coffee consumer is the supermarket. These consumers are taking a new look at what's on the shelves and are often surprised to see the increased variety in both national---and regional---brands, new grinding machines, additional accessories for coffee making, and choice, choice, choice in sources for whole beans and ground coffees.

Perhaps the hysteria about coffee shop closures is just that, for the lure of the social interaction, having someone prepare a coffee drink for you which can make you feel a little special on a stressful day, and the refreshment that can come from visiting a friendly place outside the office or home are all reasons consumers keep returning to the coffee shop even when they buy less or buy less often. In the end, consumers may become more choosy, but they're not giving up their dedication to the flavor and aroma of freshly-brewed coffee.

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