Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Ecofrugal Java Jive

Last Christmas, when we went to visit my in-laws, I accompanied them on a trip to Costco and was smitten by the variety of organic and Fair Trade foodstuffs on offer. In particular, their price for Fair Trade decaffeinated coffee—just $13 for a two-pound bag—was enough to have me reconsidering the value of a $55 Costco membership. After all, I reasoned, at a pound of coffee per month, the membership could easily pay for itself in the savings on coffee alone.

That, however, was before I actually tasted the stuff. I still had the remainder of my last 5-pound shipment of Dean's Beans to get through, plus the bag of Caribou Coffee I'd snagged at Target, so it was some months before I actually got around to cracking open the big two-pound bag of Costco beans and grinding some up. And the result was...disappointing. I found the flavor very bitter and heavy, without any of the underlying fragrant sweetness that I associate with good coffee. I know there are some folks who really like their coffee as dark and bitter as possible, but for me, this was just too much.

So I figured it was back to the old drawing board, searching the supermarket racks for sales on anything with a Fair Trade label. Unfortunately, the decaffeinated version of our local supermarket's organic brand, Nature's Promise, was $7 for a 10-ounce bag, which made it pricier than the Dean's Beans. But fortunately, I managed to grab a bag on sale for $6, or just under $10 a pound, and I assumed that was probably the best I could do. However, that bargain paled in comparison to the one I discovered at IKEA when we went there in search of patio furniture last July. In the cafĂ© just beyond the checkout, I came across 250-gram bags of their various house coffees, which included a decaffeinated medium roast. All of them were Utz Certified, and all were marked down from their already remarkable price of $3.49 a bag—which works out to about $6.35 per pound, less than Costco's price—to an absolutely jaw-dropping $1.99. Naturally, I couldn't pass up a deal like that, but my experience with the Costco coffee had made me cautious. Rather than stock up at this bargain price, I decided to get just one bag at first to make sure that I liked it. Besides, I already had a mostly full bag of the Nature's Promise coffee to get through first, and in the August heat I wasn't drinking coffee at my usual rate anyway. In fact, as it turned out, it wasn't until yesterday that I actually finished off the last of the Nature's Promise coffee and brewed up my first batch of the IKEA stuff.

So how was it? Well, like the Costco coffee, it was definitely on the dark side; in fact, my friend Doug, who got the first cup, remarked, "If that's their medium roast, I'd hate to see their dark one." But while I'm generally no lover of extra-dark coffee, I actually found this one quite likable. It was bitter, but the bitterness wasn't overpowering like the Costco brand's; it let the subtler, aromatic flavors of the coffee come through. Usually I find I can't drink a very dark coffee without sugar, but this one actually tasted fine to me with just milk. It wasn't the best cup of coffee I'd ever had, certainly, but I agreed with Doug's assessment of it as "decent but not extraordinary"—which, as we both noted, is pretty much what we've come to expect from IKEA in general.

So IKEA's Mellanrost decaf turns out to be pretty much everything I could ask for: flavorful, Fair Trade, and a great value even when it isn't on sale. There's just one catch: it's only sold at IKEA, and the nearest IKEA to us is in Elizabeth. We have to take the NJ Turnpike to get there, paying $4.90 in tolls. Thus, if I made a trip there solely to buy coffee, the price of two bags would jump from $6.98 to $11.88, or $10.80 per pound— exactly the same price I've been paying for Dean's Beans.

Fortunately, this isn't an insurmountable obstacle. We usually end up visiting IKEA at least once a year already, so we can just add coffee to the list of items to stock up during these trips, along with jars of lingonberries for Swedish pancakes. We can also make a point of popping into the nearest IKEA when we're on the road; when visiting our friends in the DC area, for example, we'd only have to backtrack one exit along the Beltway. So one way or another, we can stock up on the Mellanrost coffee whenever the opportunity presents itself—and if our stock runs out between trips, we can fill in with a bag or two the Nature's Promise. It should still work out cheaper overall in the long run than buying Dean's Beans five pounds at a time.

Or, what with Hanukkah coming early this year and all, we could just plan to do some of our holiday shopping at IKEA. :-)
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