Vice Squad
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Coffee, Inexpensive and Expensive

Well, those are relative terms. The inexpensive version is the small cup of coffee that Starbucks is now offering in Seattle for $1, with free refills included. This might be in response to the increased competitive pressure from McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts. The expensive coffee is made by fancy equipment that can cost $10,000 or more -- this is for brewed coffee, not for espresso. One might think that expensive coffee-making equipment substitutes capital for labor, but it isn't obvious from the description in the linked article: the $20,000 coffee-making process requires stirring the brewing coffee with a bamboo paddle in a rather precise fashion. (Here's a photo set of the bean-to-cup transformation.)

Other caffeine news this week was that even relatively modest caffeine consumption could increase the risk of miscarriage for pregnant women: "Of 264 women who said they had used no caffeine, 12.5 percent had miscarriages. But the miscarriage rate was 24.5 percent in the 164 women who consumed 200 milligrams [about 10 ounces of coffee] or more per day." My uninformed reaction is that this result suggests an effect from caffeine that is more extreme than what actually exists. Among other issues, I think that pregnant women who consume no caffeine at all might differ from others in ways that are hard to control for in an experiment, and could influence miscarriage rates. One nice feature of the Chicago Tribune's coverage is a separate little box that indicates some of the reasons that one might question the experimental finding.

Finally, if you are robbing a bank, you might want to skip the coffee, alluring as it is. The coffee may look free, but that will prove to be an expensive cup.

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