Jewish World Review Oct. 6, 2004 / 21 Tishrei, 5765

Tanya Barrientos

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Consumer Reports

Hooked into paying more dough for the same cup of joe | The news broke last week.

Right there on early morning television, between reports about Middle East bombings and the final few weeks of the presidential campaign, came the headline that would truly affect America.

The price of Starbucks coffee is going up. About 11 cents a cup. Oct. 6.

Sure, people in Haiti are clamoring for food and water. Homes and lives in Florida have been destroyed by the hurricane season from hell. But the Cappuccino Crisis is the news-you-can-use.

I don't mean to sound cranky, but that's a heck of a thing to tell a person first thing in the morning.

Politics. Traffic. A local fire. I can handle these in my bathrobe with my eyes half-closed.

But a sudden hike in Mocha Valencia?

I need a shower and a good swig of nonfat-foamed-milk double espresso with vanilla, a swirl of caramel, and a dash of ground cinnamon to digest a news bite like that.

Apparently, $3.40 for vanilla latte doesn't bring in enough cash for Starbucks to offset the rapidly rising cost of coffee beans and milk.

And that extra buck we're shelling out for a shortbread cookie isn't helping either.

Times are hard.

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I called the coffee corporation's headquarters to ask a few questions about the hike, and I got an e-mail reply from spokesman Matthew Mors. It explained that prices haven't gone up in the last four years, and the rise was due to "increased cost throughout the business," but he wasn't specific.

According to, the price of high-quality coffee beans has jumped to an all-time high. And, something I didn't know, coffee is the most actively traded physical commodity in the United States after crude oil. (Which, at $50 a barrel, might be cheaper by the cup than Starbucks.)

So, while we're taking a hit at the gas pump, we'll also be facing a smack-down at the coffeehouse.

Hey, who am I to question?

I'm no Milton Friedman.

But when I looked up Starbucks' 2003 annual report, I learned the company made $4.1 billion in revenues and $268.3 million in profit. From drinks that are essentially water, ground beans, and a splash of milk.

And crumb cake.

Still, nobody seems to be complaining. Because we're hooked. We're completely strung out, passively lining up in front of that burnished wood counter every morning like glazed-eye methadone addicts.

"I'll keep coming no matter what they charge," said Robert Vigderman, who told me he buys two double tall cappuccinos at a local outlet every day, at $3.29 a pop.

"Sometimes I think they're taking advantage of my addiction," he said as he sipped. "But I'm beyond the guilt phase."

Hieu Tran, an optometry student, said he didn't care about the price hike, either. Even though he's on a tight budget.

"What I get costs only like five dollars," he shrugged. "And I don't eat. I just drink coffee. So I don't spend on groceries."

So is this a case of naked greed, or brilliant business practice? I'll go for a nice brisk walk in my $100 Nikes and decide.

Tanya Barrientos is a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.