Are Espressos A Bargain?

by Ron

Coffee Review evaluates and rates coffees that are intended for both espresso and non-espresso brewing.  We are agnostic on brewing method from the point of view of rating a coffee.  So, it’s reassuring to see that the average posted score for espressos (92.10) by American roasters in the first half of 2013 is nearly identical to that for non-espressos (92.14).

However, the average price of coffees intended for espresso brewing was dramatically less than than that for other coffees.  The average price for espressos, most of which were single origins, was $18.99 per pound.  The non-espressos averaged $24.32 per pound.  That’s a difference of $5.33, or more than 20%!

Yes, we’re dealing with only 6 months of reviews so it’s possible that it is just a statistical anomaly.  However, looking at the data in more detail, it appears that high-end outliers drive much of the higher cost of non-espressos.  For example, we see a handful of outstanding Hawaiian coffees that cost upward of $50 per pound that we just don’t see as espressos.  We see expensive luwak or civet coffees that typically aren’t intended for espresso brewing.  High quality, more expensive Cup of Excellence coffees seem to appear more frequently as non-espressos than as espressos.

However, even normalizing for these outliers, espressos are still almost $2 per pound less expensive than non-espressos.  Why is that?  Is it a conscious effort?  Do American roasters as a whole focus their resources on non-espressos?  Do they put their best and most expensive beans in non-espressos?  Or can they simply charge more for non-espressos?

What are your thoughts?


This entry was written by:Ron and posted on Tuesday, June 18th, 2013 at 7:13 am and is filed under Espresso. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Are Espressos A Bargain?”

  1. Ron says:

    I think you’re right that this is the prevailing trend, at least for the mainstream. I had thought that the growing popularity of barista competitions and the hyper-attention to espresso brewing might have had a greater influence. Seemingly this is still a small slice of the espresso market. It also occurs to me that CR hasn’t yet reviewed many of these competition espressos and if we had, we wouldn’t have customized the brewing to optimize the shot. If we were to do so, we might see some more expensive espressos.

  2. Patrick says:

    Espresso isn’t as often a forum for the complex, subtle, nuanced coffees that come at a premium price as green coffee. In an espresso extraction, it’s difficult to translate these subtle notes and dense acidity into clear and pleasant characteristics. If a roaster is using an “espresso roast”, it’s likely slower and more developed compared to a roast for drip coffee, and will have traded subtle notes and complex brightness for simplicity, sweetness, body, and roast development. I don’t think this represents a large scale compromise by roasters for their espresso programs but rather a recognition of what seems to be working for the majority of baristas, consumers, and equipment.

    At least this seems to be the prevailing trend, if not the direction roasters are turning.

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