At $45 a pound, coffee that’s a ripoff

Intelligentsia and Groundwork: Two local
suppliers of the real, $99-a-half-pound thing

Remember the World’s Most Expensive Coffee? And how there was an online supplier who seemed to offer it for a fraction of the price? How so, I wondered? And, voila! Answers.

Before I delve too deeply into the explanations, I should point out that Intelligentsia was only one of seven coffee suppliers who laid claim to the record-setting auction lot. (The others were the LA-based Groundwork, The Roasterie,, Zoka Coffee Roaster & Tea Co., 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters and Coffee Klatch Roasting.)

Another thing: There’s nothing surprising that this batch was declared the winner in a national competition. As Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia puts it: "It always wins. It’s like the Kenyan marathon runners."

However, that doesn’t mean the end of bragging rights. Says Alex Russan of Groundwork: "We own two bags of the standard production lot, one 50lb bag of the auction lot AND the ONLY BAG IN THE WORLD of the peaberries from this farm — this is very notable. Peaberries are cherries that developed only one instead of two beans inside and are thought to be more flavorful. Groundwork owns every peaberry of Finca Esmarelda’s geisha coffee."


Now, on to why $198-per-pound coffee could be sold for $45. Bottom line: Caveat emptor.

This comes from Intelligentsia, which launched its sale of the $99 per half-pound coffee last week. Watts, Intelligentsia’s director of coffee/green coffee purchaser writes:

Just to shed some light on the subject… the coffee being sold on the Geisha coffee website is not the same as the auction lot. It comes from the same farm — Hacienda La Esmeralda — but is a different coffee.

The farm itself produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-90 bags (perhaps 10,000 lbs total green) of Geisha coffee each harvest depending on climate and farm husbandry factors. Geisha is the name of the tree itself — a botanic cultivar that originates in Ethiopia but has been planted in rare instances in other countries. La Esmeralda produces mostly coffees of other variety–Caturra, Catuai, and others that are popular in Latin America. But they have a small amount of Geisha that is harvested separately each season over a period of a couple months.

The best coffee from this year’s harvest (as selected by the farms owners and a handful of industry tasters) was pulled aside and entered in a national quality competition. It won again (it always wins. It’s like the Kenyan marathon runners).

That’s the lot that got the high price in the auction. There were only about 500 lbs. available, and the competition to win it was very serious. Bidders from Japan, Europe and the US fought over it until the dust settled at $130.

The other Geisha lots that were sold went for much less, which is why there are other Geisha coffees out there with lower price tags.

It is important to remember that with boutique or quality-focused coffee farms things are usually done in relatively small quantities — a single day’s harvest or fermentation batch could end up as a separate lot. Throughout the course of the harvest season any given farm will produce a whole range of different qualities, and the goal becomes to isolate the best of them. Once in a while there come along individual lots where it seems as though Nature smiled especially deeply that day and the coffee just sings a little bit louder and with more grace.

That’s what we are celebrating with this particular coffee — it is the result of one of those ‘perfect storm’ moments, and a great example of what a coffee can taste like when everything goes right.

I also received this from Dan Cox of Dan Cox PR:

Hey Dana,

I have an answer for you on why you found the Geisha coffee so inexpensively online. Alex Russan was a judge at the Panama Auction that gave the value to the Esmeralda.  He is a Q Cupper for Groundwork coffees’ roastery in LA. His explanation of the difference:

"I’m sure that what they’re selling at the low price is the production lot of the Panama Esmarelda. They pick the coffees on different days (and) these "day lots" of coffee from the same farm are kept separate. They cup through all the different lots and select the best one out for the Best of Panama auction (this was the $130 green coffee); the remaining lots are blended together to create the "production lot" of this coffee.

We own two bags of the standard production lot, one 50lb bag of the auction lot AND the ONLY BAG IN THE WORLD of the peaberries from this farm — this is very notable. Peaberries are cherries that developed only one instead of two beans inside and are thought to be more flavorful. Groundwork owns every peaberry of Finca Esmarelda’s geisha coffee."



Filed under coffee, Intelligentsia

5 responses to “At $45 a pound, coffee that’s a ripoff

  1. Fran Hearst PHD

    Coffee puts the system under the strain of metabolizing a deadly acid-forming drug, depositing its insoluble cellulose, which cements the wall of the liver, causing this vital organ to swell to twice its proper size. In addition, coffee is heavily sprayed. (Ninety-two pesticides are applied to its leaves.) Diuretic properties of caffeine cause potassium and other minerals to be flushed from the body.
    All this fear went away when I quit, and it was a book that inspired me to do it called The Truth About Caffeine by Marina Kushner. There are five things I liked about this book:
    1) It details–thoroughly–the ways in which caffeine may damage your health.
    2) It reveals the damage that coffee does to the environment. Specifically, coffee was once grown in the shade, so that trees were left in place. Then sun coffee was introduced, allowing greater yields but contributing to the destruction of rain forests. I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere else.
    3) It explains how best to go off coffee. This is important. If you try cold turkey, as most people probably do, the withdrawal symptoms will likely drive you right back to coffee.
    4) Helped me find a great resource for the latest studies at
    5) Also, if you drink decaf you won’t want to miss this special free report on the dangers of decaf available at

  2. FYI Geoff Watts is the correct name of the Intelli green buyer who you are quoting.
    Also I think the above comment is likely spam as its been coming up almost identical on many coffeeblogs plugging the same URLs.
    Good coverage!

  3. T o n x — Thanks for the compliment, and the heads up on the typo! (and the damn spam.)

  4. David

    Sorry, but Jamaican Blue Mountain is the most I’ll pay for coffee ($50-$60/lb) and even then only on special occasions. I stick with Kona or Kenya for my regular drinking which is one cup a day in the morning.
    As for coffee/caffeine being bad for you, EVERYTHING is bad for you. Eating anything puts a strain on your system – cooked food, red meat, dairy, you name it. None of it matters. Other than an allergy or special condition, the human body is made to take the strain of anything it can digest. Not allowing the body to go through these cycles lessens its ability to handle shocks to the system such as dehydration and food poisoning. The trick is moderation. Too much of anything can hurt you. My eyes turned orange once because I ate too many carrots.
    Doesn’t anyone monitor these boards? How about deleting that spam watch posting?

  5. Big Bomb

    I swear the coffee-hater wasn’t me in disguise!

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