Rhetoric Coffee, Berkeley

(Mod note: split from Chongqing Xiao Mian thread.)

Yes, fun question regarding the pricing of smaller portions.

( there’s another point about what happens if someone orders two dishes, vs someone who orders one smaller dish. Sort of like the “hamburger problem” ( if you have $30 entrees, and the hamburger is really good at $12, and everyone thinks a $30 hamburger is robbery, what do you do? Or the reverse the case of steak, where the actual meat for a $30 entree might be $15 or more).


I happen to make the same point to a new coffee roaster, Rhetoric out of berkeley. I said that I liked their coffee, but the one-pound-only and 2 week roasting schedule means I was having stale beans - 3/4 lb is what I go through at home in 2 weeks. They’re not ready to ramp up to 1ce a week yet.

They said no, until I said “I don’t want to pay 75% of the cost, I want to pay just a little bit less.” Then they added a 3/4 and 1/2 lb to their delivery system - and they’re actually close to 3/4 and 1/2 of the cost of a pound.

An excuse to mention their coffee. They’re trying this idea of doing a 2nd wave roast and a 3rd wave roast, of the same beans, then mixing the two. Although they’re still getting the kinks out of their system, they’ve settled down a bit and I really like their roasts. A pure 2nd wave is like a hard blunt hammer - a pure third wave is t0o acidic and citrus for many people - things like Blue Bottle’s Beta Blend try to “split the difference” but Rhetoric is embracing “the power of and” so you get both tastes, not a midpoint. I only know the roasters because I ran into them at an event and have been a pleased customer since their early batches.

Rhetoric is a believer in the Aeropress, and the beans come alive with an Aeropress method - 100g beans, 100ml water, about 30 seconds in the press. Which they’ll explain over email if you ask nice. I tried it in my Clever and never got the right taste.

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100g beans, 100ml water? That is strong coffee!

Oops, I redid my math - I’m pretty sure I use 100g beans, 200ml H2O, although they might recommend a bit less water, maybe as low as 100ml ( ie, like espresso ). They also recommend 190 degrees, and 10 stirs before pressing. I prefer 12 to 16, and a little more temp ( like 200 ) - basically, slightly greater extraction, to counteract the greater amount of water.

I’m going to guess that your math is still off by at least a factor of 4. I use about 15g beans for about 200ml of water. If you used 100g of beans, you’d go through that 3/4 of a pound in three days, not two weeks. (Sorry for the off-topic thread, everyone!)

Yeah, you must be right. There are only 453 grams per pound. I can check when I’m in my kitchen. The number is probably closer to 20 or 30… ( I use about 2 volumetric oz, which I measured for their style of roasting a while ago and find I like ).

Nice to know there’s a new wave roaster who won’t throw shade at you for mentioning French Press.

And Blue Bottle now deigns to touch dark roast beans? They must have lobotomized Jim Freeman.

Before you know it, people will be “discovering” Graffeo.

I don’t think Blue Bottle has changed their approach. Their darkest non-espresso blends (Bella Donovan and Giant Steps) have been there from the beginning, when I used to buy their wares from a folding table at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market. (I didn’t have espresso equipment in Berkeley at the time, but I took some of their Hayes Valley Espresso home, and it was too light for me at the time; my tastes may have shifted a bit since then.)

Rhetoric’s “new method” of melange roasting isn’t so new, either (a rhetorical flourish?); I read about it when I first started homeroasting in the '90’s. (I am paying around $5/lb for green coffee beans and roasting is less work than making breakfast. Just saying.)

When BB was still relatively new my daughter in NY wanted me to bring some to try in her press pot. I asked for the roast most suitable for French press and was told sneeringly “We don’t really DO dark roasts.”

While I can understand a deliberate move away from dark roasts (without the need for snobbery about it), this sounds more like ignorance on the part of a low-level employee, who probably thought a French press had to use a “French roast”. Any roast level can be made in a French press; what has to be adjusted is the fineness of the grind. BB now has a section on their website describing the use of a French press (among other methods).

I think there’s been a pushback against early “Third Wave” snobbery, and they finally came to the realization that there are people like me with 50+ years of caffe-sitting who like coffee that tastes like coffee and have no problem paying for Graffeo dark roast what they would like us to pay for their epiphanic otter water.

Lovely and funny bit of Prose, thanks.

BB has added this thing called Beta Blend which I consider more of a compromise, coming away from searching for classic third wave acid. Not changing approach, just… reaching a larger market.

My last two trips to the espresso bar at the BB mothership in OAK has me never going back. I have rarely seen so poorly tended an espresso machine… maybe at a happy doughnut…

The BB kiosk at Ferry Plaza (before they got a permanent location) was responsible for the slowest espresso of my life. Forty minutes from ordering to delivery. It was good, but, yeah, I never bothered again.

But the point here is Rhetoric Coffee ! Unless it’s split to “whining about blue bottle”.

Here’s Rhetoric’s link. I hope some of you get a bit and try it. They deserve more attention - even if you disagree with me.

Considering that this thread started out as a discussion about Chongqing Xiao Mian, getting from Rhetoric coffee to Blue Bottle coffee isn’t such a great leap.

The truth is I’ve been indulging myself with Graffeo Coffee (when I could afford it) for more than 50 years, so my tastes are unlikely to change.

Yay! Hi! I’m one of the co-founders of Rhetoric Coffee and I love talking about this stuff.

Portion pricing

Pricing is tricky. There are fixed and variable costs involved in making a product, and your overall goal as a company is to make enough money to cover all the costs. Usually a profit, too. For us this is “product and growth” because we don’t (can’t) pay ourselves yet, and we’re not interested in profit until we have employees so we can do our profit sharing program.

Everyone has a number in their head that they’re okay paying. This is what negotiation is about. For “market pricing” (where there is a fixed price displayed), it’s about finding an amount above cost and below the maximum the market will bear. There is theoretically a maximal (quantity * price), where you’ll sell more at lower price (possibly - more on that in a bit), but also it’ll be less revenue.

Some companies, since they have a monopoly on the market, or they have a monopoly in how their prices get displayed (airlines, college textbook publishers/wholesalers), can get away with market segmentation, and will try to display to you a price that you feel okay with paying, whether that’s higher or lower than someone who would be comfortable paying more or less.

Unfortunately, people buying your product (and their perceived maximum price & perceived value), your product’s price, and the quantitative/qualitative quality (assuming blind or double blind judgement) don’t have a linear relationship. C.f. Beats by Dre. There are a ton of hidden variables in this equation.

So - what should you sell smaller portions for??

As I said, there are fixed and variable costs. Some of those costs are per-unit. For us that would be the bag, screen printing the bag, shipping the bag. I guess you could call that “shipping and handling”.

Some of our costs are per-quantity, like the green beans that we buy, time on the roaster, etc.

And some of our costs are “floating” like our website, Google Apps, the art that we commission, etc.

Going from 1 lb to 3/4 and 1/2 lb, we tried to address whether it should just be “1/2 price”. Well, the per-unit costs don’t go down, but the per-quantity costs do go down. And our “floating” cost also goes down because we’ve sold more units.

What we did was quantify this by making a profit margin curve, and then placed the costs and ideal price on that curve. Then we took those prices and made them “sound nice” while still being very close to the original amount that would cover the cost of making those units. As you can probably tell I’m an excel nerd, so I love doing analysis stuff like this.

Brew Strength

My personal preference right now is 14:1 water:coffee ratio, with the amounts of 280g water to 20g coffee – with a Hario V60 ceramic pourover. My ideal extraction time is 2:30 - 3:30 including a 30 second bloom. With our most recent blend it’s been tasting better with a longer extraction (finer grind).

We usually recommend the Blue Bottle coffee guides since they’re beautiful! Hopefully as we get more off the ground we can offer our own brew guides that incorporate per-roast strength numbers since the roast changes each shipment, and thus “dialing it in” changes the optimal strength to bring out all the complex flavors we’re going for.

Melange blending

Brian mentioned our melange blending technique. We’re actually experimenting even more with this. Our last blend, the “Cottonwood Blend” (internal name: “Vin Diesel Pitch Black: The Movie Blend”) was 5 different origins of coffee and 3 different roast levels (light, medium, and dark). It has an extremely full body and the singular, most distinct note our roaster (co-founder James Parrish) identified was “Myrtle berry”; a citrusy-peppery-rosemary.

Being small means we get to bend and break rules :slight_smile: The blend was primarily an AA Kenya coffee, to which James exclaimed, “No one blends Kenya!!” and laughed maniacally.

Anyway, thanks Brian for talking about us!

If y’all want a sample, just email me colin@rhteoriccoffee.com and we’ll send one right away, on the house, and if you need bulk/wholesale/office/custom blends, also talk to me about that, 'cause you get nice price breaks.


Hi, Colin. Thanks for the detailed information!

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold