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$13 coffee worth the brew-haha?

By John DeVore and Steven Stern, Special to CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • $13 coffee is "very fruity, juicy, good mouth feel, [and] full bodied," seller says
  • How you brew isn't as important as what you brew, according to expert
  • Coffee shop in New York sold $9 cup of coffee that was high in demand
  • A fancy cup of coffee should taste bright, and balanced; it changes as it cools
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(CNN) -- Times are tough, which is why most Americans are taking their coffee with two tablespoons of cheap. Inexpensive coffee is being poured by the bucketload at fast food restaurants like McDonalds, with its successful McCafe line, and Burger King, which is planning a nationwide Seattle's Best roll-out this summer.

Even slightly swankier Starbucks is offering totally credible coffee that's no more than a buck and change. So what could possibly make a cup of joe worth $13?

According to Jay Caragay, speaking to The Baltimore Sun, it's "very fruity, juicy, good mouth feel, [and] full bodied." And Caragay should know, because it's his Baltimore coffee ship Spro that's selling a 12-ounce cup for $13. Apparently, even during lean times there are fat cats prowling for novel luxuries.

For that much money, one might expect the coffee to be served in a Swarovski crystal goblet, or brewed in an expensive brass machine with dozens of tubes and loud, steam-spewing valves.

But how you brew isn't as important as what you brew, according to Alan Kaiser of the National Coffee Association. He claims the quality and flavor of your coffee is as dependent on the type of coffee you select, as it is the brewing process. So it's all about the bean.

For instance, Spro uses Aida Grand Reserve, which is grown in El Salvador by Aida Battle. Once brewed, this bean is almost worth $1 an ounce. The most expensive coffee bean in the world is the legendary Kopi Luwak, a bean that is eaten, partially digested, and excreted by the rodent-like Common palm civet. These legendary beans are worth $600 a pound, or $50 a brewed cup.

So what does a pricey quaff of coffee taste like?

Caroline Bell is the co-owner of high-end coffee shop, Cafe Grumpy, in Brooklyn, New York. It's sold a $9 cup of coffee -- Panama Hacienda Esmeralda -- that was high in demand, in limited supply, and therefore, expensive. Expensive, but special.

"The cup was very balanced, with slight orange notes. It had a clean finish," says Bell. Bell adds that a great cup of coffee is "dynamic." "In the start and through the finish, in the aroma and in the taste, you can identify many different notes."

To the uninitiated, a fancy cup of coffee should taste bright, and balanced. It changes as it cools; in some instances the coffee can become sweeter. An experienced coffee palette is able to discern various pronounced flavor characteristics.

And milk and cream are a no-no. Unless, according to Bell, you're drinking the instant stuff. Which is good in a pinch if you need a caffeine fix ... or just love the taste of saving money.

Photographs by Sara Bonisteel, CNN

 
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