$75 a Cuppa: Tasting the World’s Most Expensive Coffee in San Francisco

Just when you thought coffee was becoming ridiculously expensive, someone had to go and take it to a whole new level — and of course, it’s happening in San Francisco.

A corner coffee shop is selling its most exotic brew for a record-breaking $75 a cup — with the individually-sealed packets of beans proclaiming the Elida Geisha 803 to be the “Most Expensive Coffee in the World.”

This isn’t some new chapter in the Bay Area’s notorious affordability crisis — well, not exactly. For the caffeinated connoisseurs at Klatch Coffee, it’s intended to be part of a new chapter in how Americans enjoy their favorite morning drink.

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“Most Americans are still drinking what I call coffee-flavored milk,” explained Bo Thiara, owner of the Klatch Coffee franchise in the Bay Area. “People put cream and sugar in it. And I think we’re ready to experience coffee by itself.”

Thiara said coffee without the accoutrements has already gained popularity in Europe and Asia. But Americans have been slower to skip the condiment bar — in part, because of the canned, pre-ground coffee many grew up with.

“It had the bitter taste, it had the over-roasted taste,” he said. “You had to put cream in there to cut that.”

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Today’s coffee, he said, is far milder on the palate, in part because roasting and brewing have advanced, and in part because better beans are making their way into the United States from countries like Panama — widely regarded as the best place to grow coffee.

“The beauty of Panama is that you’ve got two climates that are coming together,” Thiara said. “You’ve got a very warm Caribbean climate that collides with this cooler Pacific climate — and that may change throughout the year.”

Much like wine grapes grown in Napa and Sonoma Counties, Thiara said the flavor of coffee benefits from exposure to these varied conditions. Coffee also benefits from being grown at high elevations, he said — in this case, about a mile above sea level.

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The “803″ coffee, which won the highest score ever awarded in the Best of Panama competition (The “Oscars for coffee,” Thiara says) is grown on a hillside between 1,600 and 1,800 meters in elevation — so there’s not much real estate to grow on, and not much coffee to harvest. Of the 100 pounds produced, Klatch Coffee got the only 10 pounds sold in North America, for a whopping $803 per pound.

After roasting, the coffee is brewed for a precise time, at a precise temperature, and served all by itself in a ceramic mug. Customers are told to take their time enjoying it: the flavors change as the coffee cools. There will be blueberries at first, then later strawberries, and perhaps apples and walnuts, Thiara said.

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Much like a fine wine, tasting the “803″ is an experience, Thiara said, and not something Klatch Coffee intends to sell as an every-morning type of affair. The company sells more affordable coffees, starting at $3 per cup, including less-expensive beans from Panama that can also be consumed without cream or sugar.

“Our objective is to slowly train people to drink coffee the way it should be drunk,” Thiara said. “Just like this — and enjoy the layers and the texture and the depth.”

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