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One of the year's biggest coffee stories is brewing under our noses, but very few Seattleites seem to have woken up to it.

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Seattle's Access to $7 Coffee Makes a Nation of Starbucks Fans Jealous

sbregister.JPG
One of the year's biggest coffee stories is brewing under our noses, but very few Seattleites seem to have woken up to it.

Starbucks this week released the most expensive beans it's ever sold, offering a grande cup of Costa Rica Finca Palmilera Geisha for $7. There hasn't yet been a local rush on the coffee -- when I asked a staffer at the Fourth and Seneca store whether a price was only listed for the tall size because of rationing, she said she'd just forgotten to fill in the board -- but java lovers who don't live near one of Starbucks' "reserve locations" in Seattle and Portland are enormously envious of drinkers who can order up the pricy brew, the Washington Post's Tim Carman says.

The coffee is now available in only 48 of the chain's 11,000 locations. Carman, who covers food for the paper, says the rarity of the $7 cup accounts for his hometown's obsession with it.

"Washington is fascinated with access and exclusivity," he explains. "It's a hallmark of the power hungry: You want access to those who have influence and authority, or you want to be the one with influence and authority."

According to the Los Angeles Times, Starbucks earlier this month sold out its online stock of a similarly priced Costa Rican coffee in fewer than 24 hours.

The chain defends the price as reflective of the difficulties associated with cultivating Geisha plants, which made their way from Ethiopia to Central America in the 1950s. But tales of low yields aren't likely to sway the many coffee drinkers who still mourn the one-buck cup of joe: Jimmy Kimmel this week arranged a fake taste test in which participants were given two cups of the same coffee, but told one of the cups contained the vaunted Finca Palmilera.

"I feel like this is a test to find out just how stupid we are," Kimmel said.

At Carman's request, we conducted a real taste test in the Weekly's offices yesterday. The tasting wasn't blind: The care with which I meted out the high-priced drink -- which, at nearly 50 cents an ounce, is 16 times as valuable as gasoline -- probably would have been a giveaway. The consensus was that the coffee's good, but not appreciably better than Starbucks' standard drip.

According to a Starbucks green coffee specialist quoted by the Huffington Post, Finca Palmilera is lush and tropical, with "hints of white, not yellow, peach." Our tasters picked up a mellow chocolate nuttiness, and commented that the coffee leaned sour where most coffees lean bitter. None of them wanted to pay $7 for it.

That reticence is apparently unimaginable in D.C.

"I suspect some Congressional staff members have already made inquiries to stores in Seattle to obtain a bag or five of the Geisha bean," Carman says. "Those legislators would suddenly become the envy of all coffee drinkers on Capitol Hill."

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