Friday, March 5

Coffee: I prefer to buy 'local,' but ...

I prefer to buy local/do business locally when possible, but almost invariably I order my coffee online from remote (to varying degrees) vendors.

Case in point: I would love to buy my coffee from Uncommon Grounds, an Albany/Saratoga coffee house, roaster, bagel shop venture with two locations. I believe they're about 18 years old. They've recently become fairly social media savvy; I don't know specifically how long they've been online in general, but they seem to have a decent enough online coffee & t-shirt store.

Uncommon Grounds seems to have a strong following in the local community. Having been to the Saratoga location in the distant past, and perhaps once to the Albany location in more recent times, I personally don't have any particular attachment to their physical locations. I don't eat out (or get out, for that matter) often, and when I most urgently need to restock my bean inventory, (during code crunch time) I need it to be as quick and painless as possible, while interrupting my workflow as little as possible as well. This typically leads to online ordering.

When I order coffee, first and foremost I want fresh-as-possible, quality beans of varying roasts that arrive as quickly as possible. Close behind that, I prefer organic, fairtrade, preferably shadetree grown beans. After that it's all about price and customer service.

I just placed my second order with Porto Rico Importing Co. out of NYC, (three hours away) tipped to me by Ed Costello. (thanks again Ed!) I placed an order in February on a Sunday, and it arrived Tuesday morning. The beans were, while maybe not the absolute best I've ever had, pretty darn good. They've been in business some 103 years, their website isn't anything flashy, and as far as I can tell, they're not particularly active when it comes to social media. Their store has much more diverse offerings than coffee and t-shirts however, including filters, syrups and machines.

While I prefer to do business locally, I, currently an independent consultant with irregular income, have a hard time justifying a 44% premium on coffee, a staple that I generally consume 2lbs. of each month. I have to wonder, is it a simple matter of profit margin? Or is it a differential driven by sales volume, or diversity of inventory? 44% is a steep premium for buying local.

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