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Why the Most Expensive Cup of Coffee in the US Costs So Much

Extraction Lab’s $18 cup of coffee isn’t about machinery

Alpha Dominche Alpha Dominche

A new coffee shop in Sunset Park called Extraction Lab is now serving what we called the most expensive cup of brew in the country earlier this week. The company that runs the shop Alpha Dominche plans to eventually charge as much as $18 for a cup, created by a special machine called Steampunk.

But it’s not the machine, which costs $13,900 for two, that’s driving up the price. It’s the bean. Extraction Lab is using coffee from Ninety Plus Gesha Estates, which grows an expensive varietal of coffee called gesha. The coffee is famous for attracting extremely high prices at coffee auctions — as high as $350 per pound, unroasted.

Gesha, also sometimes spelled “geisha,” is fairly rare for coffee, according to coffee news site The Perfect Daily Grind. A coffee shop in San Francisco sells a cup of the varietal for $15 in part because the kind they buy is grown at very high altitudes, which means a tree doesn’t produce coffee beans for eight years. Typically, a tree takes three to five years to produce a harvest.

It’s considered a luxury item among coffee devotees, much like caviar or foie gras elsewhere in the food world, and just as with any auction of a luxury item, a battle between monied connoisseurs can drive the price up. In 2014, Wall Street Journal reported that buyers from Asia were willing to pay new levels of money for rare varietals in exchange for bragging rights. A cafe owner from Seoul said he went for the win for the same reason art collectors pay high prices: “true love.”

Other coffee shops have sold different versions of gesha for less than $18, and Extraction Lab actually has several different levels of coffee prices, including a less pricey cup for just under $15. One shop in San Diego charged $11 per cup, while another shop in San Francisco charged $15 per cup. Due to flurries of news around the pricey brews (and a limited supply), the shops that offer the varietal often report selling out.

But the average coffee drinker might not even like a gesha coffee. Though baristas lust over it for its complexity, it reportedly tastes and feels lighter and more tea-like than most of the brews on the market. The Perfect Daily Grind notes that some people may even find it “too gentle to even be considered as coffee.”

And although it is the most well-known luxury coffee that an average joe could buy, other varietals have garnered even higher prices in coffee auctions. In 2012, an unroasted coffee from Finca El Injerto in Guatemala, called Mocca, went for $500.50 per pound. Similarly, Extraction Lab’s expensive coffee machinery is not the priciest equipment on the market. Blue Bottle in San Francisco has a siphon bar, a halogen-powered Japanese import that costs more than $20,000, and the Clover brewing system at Starbucks costs $11,000.

Extraction Lab has gotten a lot of press and hype for its very expensive brew, but the cafe and coffee shop machinery showroom isn’t limiting itself to the higher end. It also has cups available for las low as $3 for a cup — far more in line with what most coffee shops sell.

Extraction Lab

51 35th St., Brooklyn, NY 11232