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The Heady Aroma of Coffee

Today’s New York Times has an excellent article about Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee, a high-end coffee roaster with a new approach to bean counting.

Not only does Intelligentsia’s buyers seek out the best coffee beans from around the world, they strive to develop strong, personal relationships with the growers. They also pay about 25% above the usual fair-trade price for their beans so they’re sure to get the best of the best.

Mr. Watts and the founder and chief executive of Intelligentsia, Doug Zell, do not ascribe to the “buy low, sell high” business model. They buy high and sell high. In the coming years, both say they expect to pay 50 percent, 100 percent, even 200 percent above Fair Trade rates for beans so good that customers will pay $20 and more a pound retail. … Mr. Zell has turned Intelligentsia into a profit-making venture, with 2005 sales of $9.4 million and a 2006 growth rate of 21 percent, according to company figures.

In the work that you do, what’s worth paying a premium for?

(Learn about more innovative approaches to food and hospitality in the May issue of Fast Company.)

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