A $4 Cup of Coffee has me Thinking about the End of Days

Last night, my wife and I decided to split a cup of decaf while talking a walk through Old Town Alexandria. I’ve never thought of a cup of to-go coffee as a splurge but as a freelance writer living in one of America’s most expensive cities, it can be just that, if you walk into the wrong place.

We walked by a cozy little establishment called Grape and Bean on Royal Street and I walked in and I asked for a cup of decaf, to go, while my wife waited outside with our kids.

“Small or large?” she asked, holding up a cup that looked to be about 8 oz in her left hand and one that was about 16 in her right.

I asked for the large and she punched the numbers 4-0-0 on her cash register.

“That’ll be four dollars,” she said.

I froze; half-thinking she may have heard me wrong.

“I just wanted a regular cup of decaf,” I clarified, thinking she was charging me for a latte or cappuccino or God knows what.

“Yes, I heard you,” she said. “It’s four dollars.”

I half thought about cancelling the order but chose not to for two reasons. First, the place was packed with all kinds of well heeled people sipping coffee or wine and I didn’t want to bring shame on myself by causing a scene. And second, I wanted to know what the hell a $4 cup of to-go coffee with no refills tasted like. I’ve heard of people paying those kinds of prices in Tokyo or Paris, but in my 39 years on this planet, I have never paid such a sum for a regular cup of to-go coffee and I figured it must be pretty damn good stuff.

The young woman went back to get my decaf and I couldn’t tell exactly what she was doing, but I know that my coffee didn’t just come out of a thermos. It might have been a French press deal, but I’m not certain. Anyways, she handed over my drink and, I have to admit, it was a pretty good cup of coffee.

But was it earth shatteringly good? Did it change my life? Did I urinate Chimay afterwards? Not so much. The official inflation rate is now 2.93% and a pound of coffee goes for $2.04 according to Worldcrops.com. So why the hell are the good folks at Grape & Bean selling coffee for $4 a cup or $18 a pound? Oh yeah, let me guess, it’s because the coffee is organic, shade-grown, fair trade stuff harvested by artisans who drive Audis, right?

The truth is that people with money to burn are looking for the finest products that money can buy and the more you charge for something, the better people assume it must be. So these days, stuff that used to be cheap- like pizza, beer and coffee- can sometimes be pretty damn expensive. A few years ago, my wife and I went to a place in D.C. called 2 Amy’s Pizza that specializes in Neapolitan style pies. The same kind of pizzas that go for 5-6 Euros in most parts of Italy are $13-15 at this place and are only about 80% as good. We each had a pizza and a beer and we split a green salad. With tip, I think our meal came to about $65. Way too damn much.

Last year, Jimmy McMillan ran for governor of the state of New York representing his own Rent is Too Damn High Party. I’m wondering if it’s too late to start my own political party- The Price of Gourmet Coffee, Pizza and Beer is Too Damn High- in time for the upcoming election. Seriously, these are essential items we all need, and we aren’t about to get the shitty stuff over at 7-Eleven or Dominos.