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Coffee is Draining Your Wallet. This Year is the Year to Change.

Coffee shops have exploded in popularity, and the cost of a cup varies widely. Carefully made specialty brews, drive-thru cups, and gas station drips offer a range of quality.

With so many options, what’s a good cup of joe worth?

Today we’ll break down everything you need to know to avoid getting ripped off without giving up your favorite beverage.

Let’s get brewing!

What Is Coffee?

Coffee is a drink made from roasted, ground seeds of the coffee plant brewed in water. The plant is originally from the Horn of Africa. But the earliest form of the drink we know and love first appeared in Sufi shrines in Yemen in the fifteenth century.

The brew spread first to the rest of the Middle East and Africa over the next hundred years. By the sixteenth century, it had found its way to Europe. By the 1900s, it was a worldwide commodity.

It’s now one of the most important crops globally. Farmers grow it in 70 countries throughout the world. People enjoy the stimulating effect, and many use it as a way to start the day. In fact, they’re drinking around two billion cups a day.

As much as we think of American or Italian cafes, Finland has the highest per capita consumption, and they famously get two ten-minute coffee breaks a day. 

Cost and the Coffee Market

The complex production process has a significant effect on the cost of coffee. Firstly, most coffee is grown in remote mountain regions, and many farms export the beans to a roaster through a transportation company. 

Once there, they cook the coffee to give it more flavor, but it loses between 15% and 22% of its weight. Once the beans are ready, roasters generally sell to distributors who resell the product to either grocers or cafes. 

Each person in the chain expects a cut of the profit, so by the time consumers see it, they’re covering many costs.

Of course, not every product goes through this whole process. And many specialty roasters deal in small batches that sell at a higher premium. 

Woman drinking coffee
Coffee addicts who crunched the numbers will know it is cheaper to make your coffee at home.

Breaking Down the Cost for a Cup of Coffee

Businesses have to set prices to make a profit. While a basic cup of coffee is only water and grounds, cafes have a lot more overhead than the cost of coffee beans. The money has to help cover payroll, utilities, and taxes as well. 

To-go cups, milk, sugar, and flavorings are other factors that add to the price. Shops serving complex drinks also require specialized machines that cost thousands of dollars and require regular maintenance. Many shops also use water filters to protect the device from calcium buildup and ensure a better-tasting brew.

Coffee shops also have to account for the competition. Even if they make the best cup in town, sales will hurt if another nearby cafe has it for much cheaper.

Are There Big Cost Differences Across the States?

The average cost of a cup of coffee varies widely from state to state. A 2021 study showed that people in Washington averaged nearly twice as much per cup as locals in Iowa, and Louisiana is also generally more expensive than neighboring states.

Of course, you can see a big difference between shops. Gas station brews are relatively cheap, but small shops charge more for a better product. 

In general, Starbucks has lower prices than small, locally-owned businesses. You’ll get predictable quality at a reasonable price when you’re on the road. They also usually have free WiFi and clean restrooms, and you can often find them right off the highway. They make a good place for a break when you’re on the road. 

But either way, it’s not as cheap as making your own. If you’re traveling in an RV, you’ll save money with your own setup. 

Pro Tip: We spilled the coffee beans on these 7 Secrets of Starbucks.

Woman enjoying drinking a cup of coffee at home
The cost of coffee is steadily rising nationwide.

So How Much Does a Cup of Coffee Cost?

It’s not just your imagination. Prices for your morning brew went up around 25% nationwide between 2021 and 2023. Customers pay an average of nearly $5 for their favorite way to start the day. 

Real estate site Clever released a study in early 2023 showing the average cost of a cappuccino across the US. They focused on 50 cities. The cheapest was in Riverside, California, at $3.88, while the most expensive was in Virginia Beach, Virginia, at $5.75.

Demand for coffee has increased recently, but that’s not the only thing affecting the cost. The rise is partly due to issues affecting the supply. In Brazil, the largest producer of beans in the world, drought and frost damaged as much as half the crop. On top of that, general inflation is driving up prices. 

The Cost if You Brew at Home 

You don’t need thousands of dollars worth of equipment to get a good brew. In fact, coffee costs a lot less if you make it at home, and it can be just as good with a bit of practice.

The coffee beans themselves will be the biggest part of your investment. A budget grind can cost as little as eight cents a cup. More expensive roasts may add up to nearly a dollar a cup. This estimate doesn’t account for milk and sugar, though. Either way, it’s cheaper than getting yours from a shop, and you have more control over the taste.

For the best flavor, you should buy whole beans and a grinder. Some people are happy with an auto drip, while others prefer a French press. If you want more caffeine for your bean, a good DIY cold brew setup is cheap. 

Pro Tip: Save some money by making your coffee at home in one of these 5 Best RV Coffee Makers.

Brew your own Beans for a Better Deal

If you swing by a local coffee shop every day, the cost will add up quickly, and it’s a lot of extra money for convenience. But making your own at home doesn’t have to take long, and it’ll reduce waste from disposable cups. 

Of course, cafes have long been social hangouts and safe spaces to meet on a first date. If saying hi to your favorite barista is a significant part of your routine, you don’t have to skip it altogether. Just remember, it’s taking a big bite out of your budget.

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