Are Panther or Alaska Coffee Worth Double Dunkin' Donuts' Prices?

Gourmands and caffeine addicts alike have celebrated the birth of Miami’s quality coffee scene. Roasting outfits and cafés such as North Miami’s Alaska Coffee Roasting Co., Eternity Coffee Roasters, and Panther Coffee have helped transform the city from a land with little to boast beyond its ventanitas into a respectable place for single-origin, small-batch-roasted enthusiasts to call home.

But the evolution of a better coffee ecosystem comes with the reality of rising prices. At Panther, a large, 16-ounce drip rings in at $3.50 plus tax, while at Alaska, a 20-ounce French press goes for $3.95. Is the most expensive stuff worth double the $2.09 cup at Dunkin' Donuts (99 cents for Perks members) or 50 percent more than the $2.63 one offered at Starbucks? 

You can get a café con leche at Versailles for $2.25.

The answer, says Alaska Coffee Roasting Co.’s Michael Gesser — who founded the company in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1993: "It's not a cup of coffee; it's an entire café experience. Why does a beer at a bar cost $6?" 

But if that's the case and the high-end shops' primary focus is sourcing and roasting the best possible beans, there's also a gaping hole for a no-frills operation to serve average joes a better cup at the cheapest possible price. The answer could be some kind of blend of coffee's café culture and the caffeine-spawning windows laced throughout the city. 

This would leave little other than the cost of producing the perfect cup as the final price, which at the best places is more than worth it. Panther's and Alaska's owners say their prices are the product of a lengthier, more labor-intensive sourcing and production process and that they're constantly trying to keep prices affordable.

“We rotate the single origins that we carry; they’re all fresh crops, and it’s all a transparent relationship where everyone gets paid more,” says Panther’s Leticia Pollock. “The producer gets paid more than a random off-the-shelf coffee, the baristas get paid a living wage, and it makes for a better-quality coffee.”

They also must deal with the overhead of running a high-end coffee shop, which includes ultra-pricey equipment such as a $20,000 espresso machine, a $5,000 brewer, and a $4,000 grinder.

“If you want coffee created by people who are excited about it, who are interested in getting you the best product, then the price goes up,” Gesser says.

“I think there’s plenty of room for people who want to pay 25 cents for a cup of coffee, and that’s fine,” Pollock says. “We can’t afford to sell it for 50 cents because it’s way, way under our cost.”

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson