An $80 Bag of Beans…Just Why? I’ll Tell You…


Hi. I’m on vacation this week so I was planning to phone-in this week’s blog post, but then I was checking out George Howell Coffee in Boston’s new Godfrey Hotel, and I found this:

La Esmeralda Mario Carnaval Panama beans. 12oz. $80.
La Esmeralda Mario Carnaval Panama beans. 12oz. $80.


Yes, that is a G.D. $80 bag of coffee beans. So this post is going to be about the La Esmeralda Mario Carnaval Panama beans because they are $80/bag, which seems crazy to me, so I wanted to know why. I mean, I’m sure this coffee is amazing – transformative even – but unless it literally makes itself and brings it to me… in bed… there is no coffee in the world I’m paying $100+ pound for. I don’t mean to offend anyone, least of all George, but that’s just the truth.

I asked Michael Bullock, head barista at George Howell Coffee, why $80? Why why why?! And Michael started to give me such a detailed, smart, legit-sounding answer that I asked him to start over so I could record it. This is what he said (yes I typed dictation for you): “The La Esmeralda from Mario Carnaval is from the La Esmeralda Farm down in Panama. In 2004, it blew up the coffee industry at the Cup of Excellence Competition because it had the character traits of an Ethiopian, but it was from Panama. It’s the Geisha variety, which has such a small yield; it does not yield nearly as much as the Bourbon variety does and such. It is so much more prized because of that and because of its subtleties and floral aspects. So because of its success at The Cup of Excellence, we have to buy it via auction, which drives up the price. And, because we pay so much for it and we have more at stake, we fly it in instead of having it shipped to us like most roasters do with their coffees. This gives us more control over the quality and allows us to process it more quickly, but, of course, both of these things add to the overall cost.”

So that’s why. Thanks, Michael. 🙂 I didn’t think to ask him why people wouldn’t just buy the Ethiopian-tasting beans from Ethiopia. Next time.


Who’s George Howell: According to my favorite source of factually accurate information – Wikipedia – “George Howell was one of the pioneers of the specialty-coffee movement in the United States in the early 1970s. He was the founder of The Coffee Connection, a high-end coffee retailer based in Boston, Massachusetts which was acquired by the Starbucks Corporation in 1994.” Since you asked, the reason that matters to me is because I moved to Boston from Los Angeles in 1995. This was the pre-Starbucks Boston… or there was one Starbucks, but it was in the suburbs so I never went. Because I really was into dark roast at the time, I did not like The Coffee Connection’s coffee… too light! I remember complaining about this to someone who knew coffee from both companies, and he told me “George Howell calls it ‘Charbucks.'” I remember rolling my eyes and thinking What a pretentious jerk… dark roast is the best!

Now I know better. Sorry, George. 😉

By the way, would you ever pay $80 for a bag of coffee beans?



Photo of coffee bar at George Howell Coffee
The coffee bar.


Photo of floor at George Howell Coffee
Just because people on Instagram love pictures of floors and feet.


About The Author

Anne Stericker

City-dweller, designer, writer and lifestyle consultant practicing the art of living well in the 21st Century. Fixated with good coffee, great design, and any little thing that makes life better.


  1. gryffud | 3rd Aug 16

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stomach $80/bag, although if you were to tell me ten years ago that I’d be trained to not blink at $20/bag, I’d have laughed at you. It reminds me of the Kopi Lowak coffee from Indonesia, the previous winner of the most expensive coffee story, before the specialty coffee auctions and cupping competitions over the last decade.

    The Kopi Lowak ( gained its notoriety because it has to pass THROUGH a civet! The wild cat-like animals eat the raw beans, and excrete them. Then the beans are collected (and washed I hope) and then roasted, It’s supposed to impart a wonderful flavor. The general word is it’s mostly hype. Mixed in with outright fraud and mistreatment of animals now. Poop coffee with an extra helping of animal cruelty? No thanks!

    At least with the coffee auctions and Cup of Excellence competitions, the best coffee is rewarded, and the people who actually grow the beans benefit. It can really change lives.

    So, I can conceivably imagine paying $12 – $15 for one expertly brewed pour-over of the La Esmeralda, just to try it, but the $80 bag is still beyond my reach.

    • Anne Stericker | 3rd Aug 16

      Once again, knocking it out of the park with your comment, Larry! Thank you! I was thinking of the kopi lowak beans when I saw this $80 bag, but I had no idea the back story with those beans in terms of the treatment of the animals who participate in the “processing.”
      Thanks for adding some great info to this post!

  2. smalrus | 12th Sep 16

    At ~25g coffee per cup, a 12oz bag would yield approximately 13 cups. A pourover cup of Esmeralda in the cafe usually goes for $12*13 cups = $156 (vs $80 at home). Or, doing the math in reverse for a cup at home, $80/13 cups = $6.15/cup (vs $12 in cafe). Given the quality of the coffee and its demand, $80/bag is entirely reasonable if you’re a specialty coffee geek who wants to brew it at home.

    By all accounts, kopi luwak derives its high price more from rarity in processing “novelty” than from being a quality coffee. Better off paying more for a *good* cup, rather than a gimmicky cup (not to mention, captive civets not only contribute to cruelty issues, but also produce an inferior product relative to natural, wild civets).

    • Anne Stericker | 12th Sep 16

      Very cool information. Thank you so much for sharing!

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