Sunday, September 16, 2007

Where to Buy Zeke's Coffee

If you want good coffee beans in Baltimore, Zeke's Coffee is the primary roaster (or at least the only one I've discovered). They have lots of different types of beans from all over the world; many are shade-grown, organic, fair-trade or free range. It's no Zoka Coffee of Seattle, but it is still very good.

Until now, I have bought their coffee at the Saturday morning Waverly Market. Zeke's coffee has a booth there where the owner (or, this weekend, his nephew) sells their coffee and will grind it for you. Ironically, you cannot buy actual cups of Zeke's coffee from this booth. However, another booth sells cups of coffee and they use Zeke's beans. (According to the owner of Zeke's, the person selling cups of coffee at the market pre-dated him and he didn't want to run her out of business by competing directly; he did get her to start using his beans instead of Folgers or something similar so I guess he gets free advertising. Why they don't put their booths next to each other I have no idea.)

In response to a recent post about The Wine Source, an anonymous commenter noted that you can get Zeke's coffee at The Wine Source for $9/lb and at Eddie's Market in Roland Park for $10/lb. The price for beans at Zeke's booth in Waverly Market is $11/lb. It is odd that you pay more for buying directly from the producer (Zeke's) than for going through a middle-man (Wine Source, Eddies).

What extra services to you get by buying directly from Zeke's at the Waverly Market? They grind the beans for you. (Wine Source has a grinder you can use yourself, but perhaps this is mis-calibrated or scares some people.) More importantly, Zeke's booth provides recommendations in case you don't have a specific bean in mind.

Why wouldn't cutting out a middle-man lead to lower prices? For one thing, the cost of running the booth just to sell coffee probably exceeds the cost of having a little area to sell coffee in a store that would be open anyway. My guess is that the more important factor is demand elasticity. The kind of people who come to farmer's markets come to the market for special and local products like coffee. These are the kind of people who care a lot about which coffee they buy and would buy Zeke's even if it was very expensive. The kind of people who buy Zeke's coffee at the Wine Source come there to buy alcohol and just stumble upon Zeke's coffee; they figure they will buy some coffee while they are there. Since they may not care about the Zeke's brand and almost certainly didn't make the trip just to buy Zeke's coffee, these folks are more price sensitive. The optimal price for a good is higher when demand is more inelastic (as it is at the booth in Waverly market) than when it is more elastic (as it is at the Wine Source).

If you would otherwise only shop at one place that sells Zeke's coffee, it's not worth it to make the trip to save $2. However, if you frequent both Waverly Market and the Wine Source, the optimal thing to do is seek coffee recommendations at the Waverly Market but buy your beans at the Wine Source.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

micro theory can be descriptive !

sortof - how do we explain why he "didnt want to run (the coffee lady) out of business"

rd

Marginal Foodie said...

Economists always say that all models are wrong in the sense that no model (economic or otherwise) can describe every phenomenon. While I totally agree that I didn't write down an economic model of this phenomenon, that doesn't mean that I couldn't. It would be pretty easy, in fact. (reputation blah blah blah) That doesn't mean the model would be right.

Anonymous said...

I wish they would run her out of business--last cup of hers I had was transparently weak and tasted of detergent.

On topic, I perceive that buying from Zekes directly at one of the farmers' markets gets me fresher roasts and selections not available at the retailers. I may be wrong about those, but I'll pay the money. (Btw, Zekes has their own retail shop and they do comp a cup at the Sunday market). I've seen the same thing with buying wine, bread, cheese, and tap-beer directly from producers.

R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy Mon said...

(Btw, Zekes has their own retail shop and they do comp a cup at the Sunday market).

Zeke's storefront is next to the Lauravill Safeway on Harford Dr. It costs $11/lb there too.

I go through coffee so faat, I usually get it for $6.99 at Shoppers Food in Parkville. Zeke's is noticeably better though.

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