How much is too much for a cup of coffee? While most Sydneysiders expect decent change from $5 for their morning flat white, a growing number of cafes are selling coffee at prices comparable to wine.
A $7 pumpkin-spiced latte from Starbucks is one thing. But how about a $20 Ethiopian brew that smells like tea and tastes of strawberries? Single O in Surry Hills can provide.
"People don't blink twice when a glass of wine costs $20, so why should sustainable, small-batch coffee be any different?" says Single O's head of coffee Wendy de Jong.
"It's creation is no less involved than wine. Workers pick individual coffee cherries off trees and production is limited. A lot of people have worked very hard to get that coffee in a cup."
Single O's $20 "Rumudamo #2" coffee features beans from the second-placing lot in 2020's Cup of Excellence competition – "the Oscars of coffee" held earlier this year in Ethiopia.
Prepared using a V60 pourover device for maximum flavour, the coffee will be available at Single O's Reservoir Street cafe for another three weeks.
Three Blue Ducks in Bronte received a small Rumudamo allocation for International Coffee Day on October 1 and sold out of the $20 cup in a matter of hours.
"It's certainly not the norm for people to spend that kind of money on coffee, but it's starting to change more and more," says Three Blue Ducks co-founder and hot drinks director Chris Sorrell.
"More people are drinking less alcohol, for instance, and spending time and money sourcing specialty coffee instead."
At Ona Coffee's Sydney outpost in Marrickville, customers can expect to pay $5 for a regular house roast, however a "reserve selection" menu features rare coffees priced as high as $32 a cup.
"We have a lot of people that will come in every week and spend $60 on three or four coffees," says Ona head barista Alex Murfet. "They often want to try a variety of coffees from the same farm to taste different flavour profiles."
Murfet says the cost of coffee doesn't always come down to how good it tastes.
"Some of the best coffee I've ever had is Finca Deborah coffee from Panama. We sell Finca Deborah estate coffees for $28, but there are political and social factors affecting that price, not just quality.
"Coffee in Panama costs more because the producers pay workers under a different system than Ethiopia, for example. Meanwhile, some plant varieties may not yield many coffee cherries, or are difficult to grow. That will also affect the price of a cup."
Ona is set to take bean appreciation to the next level in two months by introducing an evening service showcasing high-end coffees and desserts.
"We're also going to continue the tasting sessions we launched in September," says Murfet. "They're a way for customers to sit down with our baristas and deep dive into coffees from around the world."
Is Single O's $20 coffee worth the price?
Cafe manager Dan Winch pours hot water over Single O's "Rumudamo Ethiopia COE #2" coffee, letting the coffee filter through to a tall, handsome glass. "Espresso is great, but it can be quite intense," he says. "This is a way to stretch the coffee out so you can experience complex flavours for longer."
The end result has a whiff of Earl Grey about it, mixed with notes of jasmine, lavender and other floral aromas. It's a long way from Nescafe. "You can barely compare it to a latte or other milk-based coffee either," says Winch. "It's such a different, lighter beverage."
A big, juicy mouthfeel has similar tannins to black tea, but much silkier. Peach and strawberry flavours are pronounced. Is it five times as good as Single O's brilliant $4 batch brew? No. But, it's a unique tasting experience I don't regret. God knows I've spent more money on ordinary cocktails in the past.