A Cup of Coffee: Daily Necessity or Daily Indulgence?

Sometimes I don’t wake up early enough to make a cup of coffee. I’m too frugal to buy a coffee every day before work. Due to my extremely early starting time for work and long work hours, many of my colleagues depend on the java juice to keep them going. I like the taste of it (black though, sugar and cream seem to take away from the real coffee taste), but I’m not addicted to it. Nor does it really affect me, with the exception of it being a diuretic (a substance that promotes the production of urine).

expensive indulgence

Image via https://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/

For many people, coffee is a daily necessity. Coffee is ubiquitous and can be purchased at any eating establishment. It is affordable and has a casual sense about it, which makes sense as to why people ask each other to grab a cup of coffee.  Regular coffee, meaning real coffee, is usually under two bucks, even for a large.  So even if you are buying a regular coffee every day, five days a week, it isn’t costing you that much.  It’s the fancy specialty coffees that do.  They are the ones that have a long name with so many options that I already forget half of it while saying my order to the barista.

Sounds familiar? As you can probably tell, I’m not the frequent visitor to Starbucks. Not only do I have to say something like supercalifragilistcexpialidocious (this is apparently how it is spelled), I have to specify the size as a tall (not a small), venti (which is Italian for 20, A venti is 20 oz. or 590 ml)[1] and grande.  Short is the smallest size and is only available for hot drinks. Trenta is the newest and largest size, meaning 30. However, it is actually 31 oz. or 920 ml and only available for cold drinks.

Shouldn’t ordering a cup of coffee be simple regardless of whether or not it is fancy?

I’m not trying to belittle Starbucks. They are a lucrative company that has a strong hold of the coffee market.   Based on revenues, they are the world’s biggest coffee chain.[2]  They are continually expanding in emerging markets such as India and China.  What I am impressed with is rather than throwing their original products in these countries’ faces and refusing to change, they are more adaptive and responsive to the huge tea drinking culture that is present over there.

What I am not too impressed with is the prices of their fancy drinks. As my brother-in-law once put it, Starbucks should change its name to five bucks. The total price of some drinks in the tall size are almost five bucks. The company is being criticized in China for their MORE expensive prices compared to the U.S. A grande latte costs $3.80 in the U.S., whereas it is a dollar more in China.

I rarely buy coffee, and if I do, it’s usually regular coffee rather than the specialty coffees. I find McDonald’s has pretty good coffee for a cheaper price and a bigger size. Even their specialty coffees are decent.

Although there are a few Starbucks locations close to each other in my town, I don’t drive around looking for a Starbucks just to get a cup of coffee.  Believe or not, Starbucks can be a demographic indicator. [3] I live in a relatively affluent town overall that is known to other cities and towns as being a “rich” town. This makes sense to me as to why there are more Starbucks locations vs. Tim Horton’s.  The city where I grew up in is a mixture of pockets of different class. The area in which my parents’ live in is a nice middle class neighbourhood.  There are three Tim Horton’s locations, but only one Starbucks location nearby. The next closest Starbucks location is in the downtown core, which is a 12 minute drive away. It seems as if Starbucks seeks locations where the big bucks are made.

According to the Maynard institute: “Starbucks created an affluent and vibrant cafe society in upper-middle-class suburbs, high-income city neighborhoods and prestigious college campuses. The green-and-white Starbucks logo is a sought-after status symbol”.3

There is no specific rule that says Starbucks has to charge their customers a certain price for their coffee. They haven’t had to lower their prices to compete with other coffee chains.  It’s probably the other way around. Starbucks obviously knows what they’re doing.

Looking for ways to save money on everyday things? Check out these articles

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Do you think Starbucks coffee prices are outrageous and do you see their coffee as a status symbol? Do you still drink their coffee or specialty coffees anyway?


[1] Rabinovitch, Simon. Chinese Steam Over Pricey Starbucks Coffee. Financial Times. October 21, 2013.

[2] Goodwin, Lindsey. Starbucks Sizes  Coffee/Tea, About.com

[3] Bowman, Bobbi. Starbucks as Demographic Indicator Maynard Institute. September 11, 2008.

32 thoughts on “A Cup of Coffee: Daily Necessity or Daily Indulgence?

    • Like McDonald’s! They even have a card to put little stickers on it each time you buy a hot drink, not necessarily coffee. Buy 7 of them and get a medium free! Awesome.

  1. Starbucks is all about branding and nothing about product. But, so what else is new? That’s the nature of today’s retailing world. I buy maybe 2-3 Starbucks products a year; if I go to a coffee shop, I’ll first patronize the Mom & Pop placed owned and run by someone in my community.

  2. I can count the number of times each year that I buy coffee on one hand. I drink coffee every day but I make my own. It’s much cheaper and I’m perfectly happy with the way that I’ve come up with. I completely agree that prices are way too high at coffee shops to justify more than the occasional purchase.

  3. I have to admit, I have a soft spot for Starbucks, primarily because they’re a fun place to watch people. You find everyone there — nurses and businessmen, college students, old couples. You don’t always find that at local shops, especially ones that don’t get the same amount of foot traffic as the average Starbucks.

    I’m not one for specialty drinks, and their regular coffee is usually priced similarly to the coffee at other local shops. I have to admit it’s not my favorite coffee, though — I can make a much better cup of coffee at home, and for much cheaper.

    • Good point. Every time I’ve gone to a Starbucks, it has almost always been busy. The odd times I’ve actually sat down and enjoyed my coffee there, I can’t help but watch the people who come and go.

  4. I think as long as people demand it they can charge for it. I do like starbucks a lot but I don’t have a coffee addiction so every once in a great while I treat starbucks like going out for ice cream and I get a vent iced non-fat vanilla latte. It’s really good on a hot summer day. Other than that I make coffee at home. They did a very good job marketing themselves. Even if I don’t want a starbucks, there is something comforting and familiar about seeing their logo when I’m someplace new. Genius.

  5. I think getting a Starbucks is partly paying for the experience. I do enjoy knowing that I can go to a Starbucks in Vancouver or New York or Berlin and my coffee will be created exactly the same way and served with exactly the same well-trained friendliness. For GOOD coffee, I more often go to independent or local cafes.

    • Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience ordering a coffee at Starbucks. The baristas have always been pleasant, which must be hard to do all the time, especially in the morning when people haven’t had their coffee yet. 😛

  6. I have never needed caffiene to get through my day. Even on the days when I’m tired I just wade through. I think that makes things easier and it never becomes “necessary”. That said I do enjoy going to Starbucks for tea every once in a great while.

    • I’m the same as you. I usually just suck it up and trudge through the week. I’ve been drinking more coffee lately though. I think it’s due to the colder weather.

  7. I try my best to avoid coffee at work since there are already too many slaves around the coffee pot all day. Occasionally I will go to starbucks, but its for their salted caramel hot chocolate…yummm 🙂

  8. I drink tea in the office and in my home I prepare coffee with chocolate. I visited Starbucks once, yes it is expensive. What I like in Starbucks is the free wifi access. Some people try to visit this shop to show up to their friend that they can afford the five bucks (Starbucks experience).

    • McDonald’s also has free wifi access, but I’ve only seen someone working on their laptop there once. I guess Starbucks has more of a professional atmosphere to it?

  9. I’m a Starbucks addict. Many years ago I worked for them and got hooked on their coffee. Thankfully, I’ve been able to find a less expensive drink that I like (under $3.00). I don’t go everyday, only about once a week, and make every other day at home. There’s definitely some prestige surrounding their brand. I think they’ve really cornered the middle-class market and branded coffee as a luxury item that most people can afford.

  10. We brew a pot of coffee at home pretty much every single day. I drink 2-4 cups a day and it’s become a necessity as I get up at 5:30 on weekdays despite being a night owl who would much rather work late into the night. I do go to Starbucks, but only when I’m going for the purpose of working on my blog. I justify it by telling myself I’m making money while I’m sipping my overpriced specialty coffee : )

    • Wow. I can only drink 1 cup of coffee a day, if I do drink coffee. More than one cup seems to upset my stomach. I get up just about 15 minutes earlier than you on weekdays, but I’m definitely not a night owl. I try to go to bed around 10 at the latest if possible.

      I’ve often pondered about going to Starbucks to work on my blog to see if a change in environment would increase my productivity or help with the writer’s block I get from time to time. I should try it out one of these days since there is one walking distance from my house.

  11. Kathy says:

    Before retirement, I had a programmable coffee pot that I got ready the night before. It automatically came on a half hour before our alarm went off so it was ready for us to have that first cup right away, or take a commuter cup in the car with us. I’ve never purchases Starbucks coffee. I guess I’m too cheap.

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