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The real latte factor

If you're brewing your morning cup with a $20,000 coffee maker, that's a pretty expensive jolt.

By Karen Datko May 4, 2010 8:49AM

This post comes from Jim Wang at partner blog Bargaineering.


The "latte factor" is the idea that frequent, small-dollar purchases add up quickly. We don’t notice them because the purchases are so small, like a $3 cup of coffee each morning, but over the course of a year that adds up to serious money. It’s not a novel idea. There are plenty of idioms that mirror that same idea (death by a thousand cuts, tipping point), but it's a popular one in personal finance.


Except $3 a cup is nothing. Worry about the $10-a-day or $30 mistake you’re making. Forget the latte factor; focus on bigger things. And when you really think about it, $3 for a cup ain’t bad. Let’s see how really expensive it can get.

$20,000 siphon coffee maker

Japanese siphon coffee makers are no joke. We use a drip coffee maker, where gravity pulls the water down into the filter. Ha. Gravity, how quaint. Siphon coffee makers, also known as vacpots, siphon brewers and the like, trump nature with technology. Through the wonders of modern technology, the water isn’t dripped, it’s pushed up with steam and, in a manner explained only by magic, you are treated to a perfectly brewed cup of coffee.


For those not willing to invest the time and energy into learning how to use the $20,000 Japanese siphon, you can always go the budget route of getting an $11,000 Clover.

While they don’t say it in the movies, I’m pretty sure Skynet starts as a coffee machine.


Gold coffee filters

We use a paper filter, some places use a stainless steel wire mesh filter, and some others use 23-karat gold or gold-toned coffee filters. If you want good coffee, the experts say you want to make sure your coffee filter is made of gold. The advantages of a gold or gold-toned filter (which is stainless steel coated in gold) are significant.


First, you don’t need to replace it all the time as you do with paper. Second, paper filters soak up too much of the oil, which contains complex flavors. Gold doesn’t. Finally, they’re easy to clean up and maintain while creating less waste. Overall, while I joke about this, a reusable filter is probably better than paper -- but do you really need gold?


Most expensive coffee bean

By far and away the winner of this prize is kopi luwak, which means civet coffee in Malay, from Sumatra. You take the beans of coffee berries, put them through the digestive system of the Asian palm civet (yes, they eat and then excrete the beans), wash, dry, roast, and brew. Only about 500 pounds of this stuff is produced in a year and it costs $300 a pound or more.

People love it because while the beans are in the civet’s stomach, enzymes seep into the beans and break down the proteins. Also, while inside the stomach, the beans also begin to germinate, which contributes to less bitterness. Those enzymes help create a coffee that is more aromatic and with much less bitterness. After the beans are washed and lightly roasted, there are insignificant levels of harmful organisms. 

A $3 cup of coffee seems cheap compared with one made in a $20,000 coffee maker with beans that cost $300 a pound.


I think there are bigger fish to fry. Don’t you? 


Related reading at Bargaineering:

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