The Clover is innocent: More on Intelligentsia's coffee prices
If you've been paying attention to the blogs these past couple days, you're privvy to the all the drama surrounding Intelligentsia's rollout of a single-brew-only system at their Millenium Park store.
The snowball started at Gapers Block, where Mike Doyle questioned Intelligentsia's choice to move to the single-brew system, which resulted in some higher prices. Then Chicagoist's Chuck Sudo took issue with Doyle and backed Intelligentsia up, pointing out that sub-$3 cups are still available. Finally, on his personal blog Chicago Carless, Doyle wrote a post titled "The job of the haters is to hate," where he details how the whole experience has affected him emotionally.
Along the way the Clover machine has taken a lot of heat for being the cause of the price hike. That didn't seem right to some folks here at TOC—even at 11k per machine, a one-time cost didn't seem to justify a permanent rise in prices. So I called Intelligentsia and spoke with CEO Doug Zell, who told me that the increase in price was simply due to the fact that he thinks the beans are worth it. "Historically, coffee has been under-priced," he told me. He also confirmed that the cost of the Clover machines has nothing to do with the price of the coffee—in fact, Intelligentsia didn't even pay full price for the Clover machines; they bought them used.
This is unlikely to appease Doyle and other critics of the new prices—it's the same coffee that was being brewed pre-Clover, after all, and since it's not the machine that's raising prices the price hike may seem that much more gratuitous. But Zell wants his coffee to be approached the same way a glass of wine is—that is, approached as a nuanced, unique product—and if that means raising prices, he's "okay with that."
He is not, however, immune to getting his feelings hurt. Asked how he felt when reading the blog posts, he admitted that "it's a little heartbreaking." But clearly, he's not the only one feeling the pain.