Why is some coffee so cheap?

Alex | July 5, 2022

When you’re looking to purchase coffee for the office, one of your key drivers will be based on cost. Facilities and office managers will likely be working within budgets and so value for money is important. However, the quality of the product is also important to keep teams happy in the workplace. We take a look at why some coffee is cheaper than others and understand if it’s worth spending a little extra in order to provide a quality coffee experience.

What’s the difference between instant and ground coffee?

Firstly let’s talk about instant coffee – the cheapest of all coffees on the market. Most of us will favour a cup of ground coffee over instant coffee although it’s not so long ago that we were used to the taste of instant. Instant coffee comes in granular or powdered form and is made from real coffee beans. It’s been through a process of dehydration so as soon as you add water and/or milk, it’s rehydrated.

Like ground coffee, it comes in a variety of roasts and it tends to be made from robusta coffee beans. Whilst robusta coffee beans are popular in instant especially, they have garnered a poor reputation from some coffee enthusiasts. Coffee made with robusta beans is typically more bitter. It also has almost double the caffeine of the more favourable arabica beans.

In a cheap instant, you’re also likely going to be getting poorer quality robusta beans to keep the price down. Having said that, for people who are on a tight budget, it can be a good option. You can pick up a jar of instant in supermarkets from only around £1 for a ‘value’ brand. A market-leading instant like Nescafe Gold Blend will set you back around £3. Instant micro-ground coffees are becoming more popular and are the most expensive choice of instant. Micro-ground coffee is a very fine powder and you can pick up a jar for around £5 in the supermarket. Other benefits of using instant along with affordability are convenience and speed. Of course, what makes instant especially cheap is that you don’t need any specialist equipment – just a kettle and away you go!

Ground coffee is as you would expect – coffee beans that have been ground into granular form. Whilst at first glance, it doesn’t look too different from some instant, there are big differences in taste. You can buy packs of ground coffee for around £5 to £7. For a good quality cup of ground coffee, it’s not too much more than instant cost-wise. However, for premium quality ground coffee, the sky is the limit for cost. For the freshest taste coffee though, you may want to consider whole bean coffee.

What’s whole bean coffee?

Whole bean coffee is coffee that’s gone through every stage of production except grinding. Stages of production include picking, sorting, deseeding, fermenting, drying, and roasting. The main benefit of using whole bean coffee is the freshness. Once the coffee is ground, it starts to lose its flavour so freshly ground coffee is the best tasting.

You can pick up reasonably priced grinders online. But you must be aware that different brewing methods require a different grind of coffee. For example for a cafetiere, you’ll want the grind course whereas an espresso requires a finer powder form. If you’re using a bean to cup coffee machine, you don’t have to worry about any of that. The texture of grind will be carefully programmed for you so you just hit a button to pour your perfect coffee.

So why is some coffee cheap?

Firstly, it may help to explain that coffee is an agricultural product. So just like any other product that’s grown, the price will vary depending on the speed of production and the costs and effort that goes into that process. Typically products that take a longer time to grow or involve more complex processes will increase the price. Examples of this that are well known would include aged Wagu beef, vintage wines, etc.

Ultimately it comes down to a number of factors. The quality of the bean is naturally a key factor along with its roast profile. Also if you’re producing coffee in bulk on a commercial scale it’ll be less expensive than smaller volume producers. Microlot roasteries for example will produce very small, limited-batch coffees that are of exceptional quality and will cost more. Not so long back in 2020, one cafe in London was charging £50 for a cup of coffee!

Other things to consider why some coffees are so cheap are packaging costs. A value brand will often use lower-cost packaging to save money in production. Whereas a more upmarket brand will opt for packaging of better quality to appeal to their customers. Lastly, we must consider the conditions in which the coffee is produced. You’ll pay more for responsibly sourced coffee like Rainforest Alliance Approved or Fair Trade as it pays producers a fairer fee.

Your decision on which coffee to choose will depend on what’s important to you and your team? What we do know is that today most people expect a quality coffee experience at work and instant coffee is becoming a far less popular option. You wouldn’t expect to get a cup of instant in your local coffee shop.

People now demand the same coffee shop barista-style coffee drinks they can get on the high street at work. Consider what message you’re sending to your team if you’re offering poor quality, cheap beverages in the office? If your team appreciates good coffee as an office perk, think about the value of keeping them happy. In this case, it’s probably worth paying a bit more.

Get in touch

If you need any advice on coffee in the workplace, please get in touch with our team who will be happy to help you. From selecting a coffee machine to choosing the perfect blends, we’re here to lend a hand.