Like with most commodities, the prices of coffee beans are all over the place.
In the grocery store, it’s common to find coffee beans going for $7 and $10 per 12 oz bag.
If you check in your local roaster, the same $12 oz bag will be retailing between $15 and $50.
On the other hand:
Coffee farmers are getting less than $3 for a pound of green beans. That’s why almost half of the 12 million coffee farmers live below the poverty line, with a third of these farmers earning less than $100 a year.
All this is happening while the coffee industry is making more than $450 billion yearly.
Why the big variation?
That’s what this article is about. This post goes deep into how coffee beans are priced.
We will trace the price changes from coffee-producing nations such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Brazil, and Colombia to the major coffee-consuming nations such as the US, the UK, Germany, Belgium, and Italy.
Before getting into the price of coffee beans cost, let’s cover factors that affect the price of coffee beans.
Factors That Determine Coffee Bean Prices
There is a reason why coffee aficionados are very specific about the source of their coffee beans.
The first determinant of the price of coffee beans is the source. Coffee beans are priced differently, depending on the country, region, and farm where they were grown.
Because altitude, weather conditions, and soil type are different from one coffee-producing country to another, some countries produce better quality beans than others.
In the coffee beans market, the higher the quality, the higher the price tag.
The best coffee beans in terms of quality come from countries that have similar weather, soil type, and altitude like Ethiopia, which is regarded as the birthplace of coffee.
Despite the coffee production industry being dominated by Brazil, Colombia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, the best arabica coffee beans come from African countries, such as Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi.
Below is a table of countries that produce the best coffee beans in different regions.
|Africa||Asia||South America||Central America||Pacific|
Costa Rica 🇨🇷
|Papua New Guinea 🇵🇬|
2. Variety – Arabica, Robusta
Did you know that there are more than 124 species of coffee?
However, only arabica and robusta species are grown for commercial application.
The most popular and highly preferred variety is the arabica variety, which is native to Ethiopia.
However, cultivating arabica is harder and costlier because of the sensitivity to climate change. The production per tree is also lower for arabica than with robusta.
All these factors combined and the fact that it is of higher quality, make arabica more expensive than robusta.
The higher market prices and high demand make it the most preferred variety by farmers.
You will pay more for the same amount of arabica as robusta. However, the specific price will depend on the source and the other factors we will discuss below.
On the other hand:
Robusta is majorly used in making instant coffee, decaf coffee, and as a filler for ground coffee. Unlike arabica, robusta is caffeine heavy and more resistant to pests and diseases.
Apart from arabica and robusta, other coffee varieties that you can find on the market include
- Liberica from the Philippines, Liberia, and Indonesia
- Excelsa from South East Asia
3. Specialty Coffee
While there are many definitions of specialty coffee, Specialty Coffee Association defines it as a coffee or coffee experience recognized for its distinctive attributes, and because of these attributes, it has significantly extra value in the marketplace.
Basically, specialty coffee is special coffee that scores the highest points during grading and cupping tests. For coffee to qualify as specialty coffee it must score above 80 points from a certified coffee taster or a licensed Q Grader.
The table below shows the three classes of specialty coffee. The higher the score the higher the price.
|85-90||Very good||Specialty coffee|
|80-84||Very good||Specialty coffee|
|Less than 80||Below Specialty standard||Regular coffee|
There are two stages of grading coffee beans, visual inspection and cupping. Visual inspection involves inspecting a sample of 350 grams for primary and secondary defects. Specialty coffee should have zero primary defects and less than five secondary defects.
Below is a list of primary and secondary defects and the causes
- Full black/partial black from fermenting unripe beans or over fermentation.
- Full sour/partial sour beans caused during fermentation
- Fungus damage during harvesting or storage stages
- Foreign matter such as stones and sticks
- Dried cherry from poor pulping, hulling or sorting
- Insect damage from pests such as berry borer beetle
- Broken or cut beans during the dry mill process
- Immature beans from strip harvesting and early harvesting
- Withered beans from plants that didn’t get enough water
- Shell beans caused by genetics
- Parchment beans from improper calibration
- Floater beans from improper drying or storage
- Hell or husks from improper cleaning
Specialty coffee is not about grading and cupping. It’s a combination of efforts by all the coffee stakeholders. Starting from farming, harvesting, processing, storage, and roasting.
Because of this, specialty coffee is highly-priced, but it’s the best coffee you can get. Apart from the specialty grade, there is also the
- Premium grade,
- Exchange grade,
- Standard grade, and
The majority of roasters only sell specialty arabica beans. However, there are a few that are starting to sell roasted robusta.
Further below in this article, I have a specific section for the cost of specialty coffee beans.
The price of coffee beans also depends on the form, with the cheapest form being cherries. Coffee beans are the cheapest after harvesting.
They are red in color and have not been processed. The next form is green beans. These are beans that have been wet or dry processed. This is what coffee importers in coffee-producing nations buy and then import to coffee-consuming nations.
When green beans get to coffee-consuming nations they are sold to coffee chains, coffee shops, and roasters.
Coffee chains and coffee shops roast and grind for use in making coffee, while roasters roast and grind the beans for sale.
While there are consumers who prefer to roast their beans at home, the majority of customers buy roasted beans. Those without coffee grinders at home buy ground coffee.
To roast beans at home you will need a coffee roasting machine, microwave, oven, popcorn machine, or a coffee machine. While it takes time to learn, it’s a great way to save money in the long run since green coffee beans are cheaper.
In most places, whole coffee beans cost more than ground coffee.
Whole beans are usually a selection of the best coffee beans. Roasters know the buyer can instantly tell if low-quality and defective beans were used.
Ground coffee allows some roasters to use low-quality beans since it’s impossible to tell what types of beans were used.
Apart from getting the best quality, whole beans give you the freedom to grind according to the type of coffee you are making, unlike ground coffee which is best for auto-drip coffee.
Because of the versatility, you will pay more for whole beans.
Below are all the brewing methods you can use with whole beans by just adjusting the grind size.
|Brewing Method||Ideal Grind Size|
|Turkish coffee||Extra fine|
|Moka Pot||Fine – Extra fine|
|Pour Over||Coarse – Medium Fine|
|French Press||Coarse – Medium|
5. Variety, Cultivars, or Hybrids
As I mentioned at the start, there are more than 124 coffee species, with arabica and robusta being the most popular varieties. Each variety is further subdivided.
That’s why you will often hear varieties, varietals, cultivars, and hybrids.
A cultivar is a subspecies that has been developed from selective breeding to attain specific characteristics. Variety refers to species that occur naturally, while hybrids are as a result of selective and natural breeding.
Examples of cultivars are Bourbon and Typica cultivars. These subspecies are products of selective breeding to achieve certain characteristics.
Breeding of coffee is done by agricultural institutions and scientists to achieve the best quality coffee and to develop subspecies that are more tolerant to weather changes and more resistant to pests and diseases.
|Typical Cultivars||Bourbon Cultivars||Typica and Bourbon Cross|
Rare and high-demand cultivars will often cost more than readily available cultivars. Some rare cultivars include
- Kona coffee bean
- Kopi Luwak
- Black Ivory Coffee
- Peaberry coffee
- Jamaica Blue Mountain
- St Helena Coffee
Starbucks has the Starbucks Reserve Program that features what they call a selection of rare and most extraordinary coffee beans from specific regions across the coffee growing nations.
Examples of some of the featured farms in the Starbucks Reserve program include
- Ethiopia Gera Farm
- Sun Dried Zambia Ngoli Estate Coffee
- Rwanda Hingakawa
- Colombia Cerro Azul Geisha Varietal
- Brazil Fazenda Catanduva
- Papua New Guinea Moanti
- Kenya Kangunu
These are specific farms that produce rare and extraordinary tasting coffee hence the premium price tag.
6. Supply And Demand
Like any other traded commodity, the price of coffee beans is also affected by the laws of supply and demand.
When the supply of coffee beans goes down, the prices tend to go up, and if there is an oversupply of beans the price goes down.
The supply of coffee is negatively affected by factors such as drought, pests and diseases, and political crises in coffee-producing countries.
A good example of how external factors can affect the price of coffee beans is the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected the supply and prices of farm inputs and transportation of coffee beans from coffee-producing nations to coffee-consuming nations.
7. Government Taxes
The final price of coffee beans also depends on government taxes where you live. If you live in an area or country that taxes uncooked food items such as coffee beans then you will pay more.
In the US, California does not tax uncooked food, while Illinois charges a coffee and tea tax.
Coffee bean prices also tend to change from one location to another. In the US, bean prices differ slightly from one state to another, especially when buying from roasters. However, roasters that have online stores have consistent prices.
The far you are from coffee-producing nations the higher the price of beans. For instance, if you are in a country that does not have flights to New Papua Guinea, you may not find coffee beans from this Island.
9. Farming Method
The way the coffee beans were grown also impacts the price you will pay. That’s why organically grown coffee will typically cost more.
Organic coffee is grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals making it healthier. Apart from quality, organic coffee farming helps in curbing climate change by lowering carbon emissions making this type of farming environment friendly.
Other farming methods that may impact coffee bean prices include
a) UTZ certification
UTZ-certified coffee is coffee grown using sustainable farming methods. This certification encourages and enables coffee farmers to produce better quality coffee.
To encourage farmers to adopt these farming methods, UTZ-certified coffee beans attract higher pay.
b) Shade Grown
Shade-grown coffee is coffee grown under shade. This type of farming has very similar benefits to organically grown coffee. There is little or no use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Shade-grown coffee also matures slowly producing better quality.
c) Rainforest Alliance Certified
Coffee beans with Rainforest Alliance Certification also tend to cost more. Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee is grown in areas where efforts have been put to protect forests and the environment in general.
To encourage farmers to adopt this sustainable and responsible farming the beans fetch a higher price.
10. Fairtrade Certification
One of the dark sides of the coffee industry is that farmers get very little.
One of the organizations that have been at the forefront of championing and fighting for better pay for coffee farmers is the Fairtrade organization. Fairtrade’s mission is to help combat poverty, fight child labor, protect the environment, and promote workers’ rights.
To encourage coffee buyers to pay better prices, Fairtrade has a minimum price guarantee that is usually higher than what other coffee buyers are paying.
Fairtrade-certified coffee costs more but it goes a long way in supporting farmers.
It’s a way to challenge coffee players in the industry to source their beans ethically, which starts by offering the farmers better prices.
11. Free Shipping
Is free shipping really free?
Most roasters offer free shipping when you buy coffee beans worth a certain amount. However, the shipping is not free. The fact is the shipping fee has been added to the cost of the beans. So at the end of it, you are the one paying for the shipping.
12. Farmers’ Organizations And Cooperatives
Another factor that determines the final costs of coffee beans is farmers’ organizations and cooperatives.
In some countries, coffee farmers organize themselves in organizations. After harvesting, farmers deliver the coffee cherries to the cooperative, where processing, drying, sorting and packing are done.
These cooperatives then sell and receive payments on behalf of the farmers. Because of the volume, cooperatives have bargaining power when it comes to getting better prices for their beans. Beans sourced from cooperatives will most of the time cost more.
13. Packaging Costs
There are different ways to package coffee beans including stand-up pouches, flat-bottom, side-gusset bags, and flat pouches.
The final price of coffee beans will also depend on the packaging that the coffee roaster has used. The fancier the packaging the higher the price tag.
The pricing of coffee beans is wide and deep. There are countless factors that determine how much we pay for coffee beans.
Before we get into how much coffee beans cost to consumers, let’s cover how much farmers are paid for their beans.
And that’s where the C price comes in.
What Is The C Price?
Like other raw materials and primary products, coffee is traded in the New York International Commodity Exchange (ICE) market.
How does a global exchange market relate to an agricultural product?
The ICE has the C price for coffee, which keeps on fluctuating. ICE facilitates buying and selling of coffee futures. The price of Coffee Futures is key because it determines the price of green coffee beans.
The C price is hence the benchmark price for arabica coffee beans.
The C price is only for arabica coffee regardless of the origin.
What Does This Mean?
When coffee importers are buying coffee beans from farmers they base their price on the C price. However, the C price is dangerously low to the extent that it does not cover the cost of production.
A study by Caravela, showed the cost of producing 1 lb of coffee ranges from $1.05 to $1.40 per pound.
This is the same case with Robusta coffee where the coffee robusta price is about $2.14 per 2.2 lbs.
How Much Is The C Price?
As of September 2022, the C price is averaging $2.30 per lb of green coffee. This is the highest it has been for the last 8 years.
In June 2022, the C price was at the lowest point in the last 15 years falling below $1. This just shows the volatility of the C price.
This volatility is not good for coffee farmers; the C price doesn’t consider that the cost of production is going up.
In the last 4 decades, the C price has never surpassed $3 per lb of green coffee. While some reports will indicate that the C price has risen by 300%, in the real sense it has only moved from $1 to $3 per lb.
This pricing model does not work in the favor of the coffee farmers. While all the other stakeholders are able to make healthy margins, coffee farmers are still languishing in poverty.
It works in favor of large companies such as the big four (Nestle, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, and Sara Lee, that purchase about 50% of the total robusta coffee in the market.
For them, the price of coffee beans remains stable notwithstanding the rising costs of production.
But the bottom line is this:
As a coffee consumer, it’s good to understand that the arabica coffee you are buying is bought based on the current C price.
However, by the time you are getting the beans, they will be retailing for between $15 and $50 per 16oz bag.
How Much Do Coffee Beans Cost?
Because of the above factors, it is hard to quote a specific figure as the price of coffee beans per lb.
The best way to approach this topic is to handle each category of coffee beans separately. The cost will depend on where you are buying from.
- A roster selling specialty coffee
- Grocery store
- Online stores such as Amazon
- Walmart, Target, or Costco
How Much Does Specialty Coffee Cost?
Specialty coffee is like fine wine.
It is the best coffee you can get on the market. It all starts with the farmer who ensures the trees get the perfect conditions and employs the best farming methods.
When it comes to harvesting and processing, only ripe beans are harvested. The cherries are then processed, sorted, graded, and sold to specialty roasters from all over the world.
How much do specialty coffee beans cost?
According to a study of 55 roasters by Emory University, the average price for roasted specialty coffees in 2021 was $28.64 per lb.
The study showed that the highest quality specialty beans were fetching up to $38.99 per lb, while the least priced specialty coffee beans were retailing at $18.28 per lb.
The study showed that in 2021, the Specialty Coffee Retail Price Index (SCRPI) improved by 18.3% compared to 2020.
In 2015, when the study commenced, the average price for roasted specialty coffee was $21.94. The lowest-priced specialty coffee beans were retailing for about $16.15, while the highest-priced beans were averaging $27.73.
The study pointed out that the highest-priced specialty beans bore the name of the estate, farmer, or region where the beans were grown.
On the other side, low-priced beans did not provide the name of the farm or where the beans were sourced from.
Some roasters are going ahead to provide not just the information of the growing region but everyone else who was involved in the chain, including the mill, importer, roaster, cooperative, and store.
The average price for specialty coffee in 2015 and 2020.
|Highest priced specialty coffee per lb||$27.73||$38.99|
|The average price for specialty coffee per lb||$21.94||$28.64|
|Least priced specialty coffee per lb||$16.15||$18.28|
The roasters surveyed during this study included
|1000 Faces Coffee |
49th Parallel Coffee Roasters
Ancora Coffee Roasters
Barefoot Coffee Roasters
Barnie’s Coffee & Tea
Barrington Coffee Roasting
Batdorf & Bronson
Bird Rock Coffee Roasters
Blue Bottle Coffee
Bucks County Coffee
Ceremony Coffee Roasters Coffee Masters Conscious Coffee Counter Culture Coffee
CQ Coffee Roasters
Cuvee Coffee Roasting
|De La Paz Coffee|
Equator Estate Coffees
Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters
Flying Goat Coffee
Fratello Coffee Roasters
Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
Heart Coffee Roasters
Johnson Brothers Coffee Roasters
Las Chicas Del Cafe
Martinez Fine Coffees
Noble Coffee Roasting
|Olympia Coffee Roasting |
Origins Coffee Roastery
Peet’s Coffee & Tea Portland Roasting
PT’s Coffee Roasting Co
Reunion Island Coffee
Stone Cup Roasting
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Supreme Bean Coffee Roasters
Temple Coffee and TeaTerroir Coffee
Uncommon Grounds Victrola Coffee Roasters
Zoka Coffee Roasters
10% of these roasters are located in Canada and more than 40% are located in the US. 20 of these roasters are members of FairTrade US
How much do specialty coffee roasters pay for their beans?
The team at Emory also had another study that studied 58,000 coffee contracts of green coffee graded above 80 points worth $2.4 billion.
The study aimed at finding out how much specialty coffee roasters were paying for their green beans.
According to the study, specialty coffee roasters are paying a medium price of $2.85 per lb. The highest priced beans cost as much as $3.72, while the least priced beans with above 80 points cost $1.97.
While the lowest price is near the range of the C price, the C price has only hit the $2.85 medium price, twice in four decades. The higher price of 3.60 is almost double the C price.
The study showed that coffee beans rated between 86 and 87.9 points were selling for about $3.68, while beans rated between 82-83.9 were selling for about $2.02.
This shows quality is the highest determinant of coffee bean prices.
Below is a breakdown of the prices according to the score.
|Specialty score||Medium price|
Apart from the quality score, the price was also affected by the lot size. Specialty coffee roasters buying small lots of less than 1000 pounds of beans pay more ($4.20 per lb) while roasters buying large lots of more than 40,000 pounds paid less ($2.09 per lb)
When it comes to regions, South American beans had a medium price of $2.50 with a medium quality score of 85 points. Central America & Mexico beans averaged $2.75 per lb with an average score of 84 points.
Africa’s coffee had the highest average score of 86 points earning an average of $3.20, the highest among all the other regions. Asia’s coffee had the least average score of 84 points earning an average of $2.40.
The average price of specialty coffee beans in different countries according to the study
|Country||Medium Price||Average Score|
While this table shows you the prices of specialty coffee beans in coffee-producing nations, the prices also determine how much the consumers will pay for roasted beans.
Buyers will pay more for roasted coffee beans from Panama, Bolivia, Kenya, El Salvador, and Myanmar.
Another study by MyFriendsCoffee found that the average price of 16oz roasted coffee beans in the US is $16.90. The study, which analyzed 458 roasters found the most expensive 16oz coffee beans brand was $59 and the least expensive was $7.
The Economics Of Coffee Bean Prices
How do farmers get less than $2 per lb of green coffee yet consumers end up paying between $10 and $50 for a bag of 16 oz roasted beans?
That’s where the economics of coffee beans comes in.
To help you see why you end up paying more, here is how price increases in each of the value chain stages according to Specialty Coffee Association
|Amount paid by the roaster to the farmer||$3.34||$3.24|
|Cost to the warehouse||$0.31||$3.55|
|Sales and Administration||$2.93||$8.73|
|Total per lb of roasted coffee||$8.73|
These figures are just estimates. The price in each stage differs from one roaster to another. Also, large roasters have the advantage of economies of scale, which small roasters don’t have.
There are two sides to the price of coffee beans. The price that coffee chains, importers, and roasters pay for green coffee beans in coffee-producing countries. The other side is the price that coffee drinkers pay for roasted whole beans from a roaster or grocery store.
On the farmers’ side, the price of coffee beans ranges between $2 per lb for commercial-grade coffee beans and $4 for the highest quality coffee beans.
On the consumer side, grocery stores offer the cheapest coffee beans but they are of lower quality.
When buying from a roster, the price of 16oz roasted beans ranges between $10 and $20. There are also the best of the best that cost anywhere between $20 and $100 for a 16 oz bag.
Frequently Asked Questions
The most expensive coffee beans are the exotic and rare coffee varieties. For some like the Kopi Luwak, it’s because of the processing method, while for others like Saint Helena, it’s because the variety grows in only a few locations.
The most expensive coffee beans include:
1) Black Ivory Coffee
2) Kopi luwak
3) Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
4) Saint Helena Coffee
5) Fazenda São Benedito
6) El Injerto Geisha
7) El Injerto Peaberry
8) Panama Hacienda Esmeralda
The cheapest coffee beans are the ones that score less than 80 points. They will probably have a generic name and won’t include the origin. While they are mostly used to make ground coffee, it’s also what you find in grocery stores.
The best coffee beans are a result of the combined effort of all the stakeholders in the coffee chain. This calls for perfect farming, hand harvesting, the right processing method, perfect roasting, and storage to produce the best quality coffee beans.
They are also sorted and graded and only the best-looking beans are picked. High-quality beans prepare the best cup of coffee you can get.
Yes. Coffee beans are not graded according to the caffeine content. Coffee cupping considers:
5) Uniformity and
6) Clean cup
That’s why despite robusta having higher caffeine than arabica, the latter is the more valuable and most preferred.
The reason whole beans cost more than ground more is that you get to do more with whole beans.
When grinding beans at home, you can alter the grind size depending on the brewing method.
Also, since you can inspect whole beans, they are usually a selection of the best-looking and healthy beans and this costs more. Ground coffee sometimes contains low-quality beans.
On the farmer’s side, the price of green coffee beans is based on the current C price. The C price is the price of Robusta Coffee Futures in the Intercontinental Exchange Inc. At the time of writing this article, the C price is about $2.30.
The price of green coffee depends on the current C price.
On the consumer’s side, the price of roasted coffee beans is not regulated. Roasted coffee beans are priced according to quality, origin, and location.
The coffee production industry is dominated by a handful of countries. For instance, Brazil alone produces more than 30% of global production, while Vietnam accounts for more than 17% of global production.
Any situation that would affect coffee production in these countries will lower the supply making the price go up. Some of these factors include drought, pests, diseases, and an increase in the cost of production.
Despite the price of roasted coffee beans going up, farmers are still getting less than $2 per lb of green coffee, which sometimes does not even cover the cost of production.
Coffee beans are readily available in almost all the states in the US.
First, the best place to buy coffee beans is directly from a roaster. When buying, ask for the roasting date. Then let the beans rest for between 4 and 7 days depending on the roast and the brew method.
Start by checking if there is a roaster near you. You can visit or order online, but it is always a good idea to visit.
Ensure the roaster is selling specialty coffee beans. Most importantly, buy whole beans instead of ground coffee.
Apart from a local roaster, other places to buy coffee beans include:
1) Grocery stores
2) Roasters who deliver
While Amazon is the last place coffee aficionados buy coffee beans from, it has all types of coffee ranging from whole beans, ground coffee, and instant coffee.
The sellers include coffee chain stores such as Starbucks and AmazonFresh coffee beans. The price of coffee beans on Amazon ranges from as low as $10 for a 12 oz bag and as high as $59 for a 16 oz bag. For most brands, a $16 oz bag has an average price of $20
Target also sells coffee beans from different brands including Starbucks and Lavazza. Just like on Amazon the price of coffee beans ranges from $5 for a 12 oz bag and $59 for a 16oz bag. This is the same with Target and Costco.