Intelligentsia's Price Hikes: Quality or Snobbery?

‘Coffee has been under-priced,’ says CEO

It looks like Intelligentsia has been stirring up a buzz with its decision to use single-brew-only systems.

Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, a coffee roasting company headquartered here in Chicago, supplies coffee to several cafes and restaurants but also has a few retail locations. Recently, its Lakeview location (3123 N Broadway St) and its Millennium Park store (55 E Randolph St) have replaced their regular drip machines with Clover coffee makers, which custom-brew one cup at a time.

Many coffee connoisseurs swear by $11,000 Clover machines, arguing that brewing each cup individually brings out the full flavor of the coffee beans. ("Average Joe" coffee drinkers, though, may not notice a difference.) Mike Doyle of Gapers Block's Drive-Thru, along with a number of Intelligentsia employees, worried that the shift in brewing style would lead to more expensive prices.

Sure enough, prices went up, but CEO Doug Zell says the increase has nothing to do with the Clover machines. Rather, he believes his gourmet coffee is worth the extra money.

"Historically, coffee has been under-priced," he told David Tamarkin of Time Out Chicago.

The move is just the latest in Zell's "gourmet" business decisions. Along with eliminating customer loyalty cards, Intelligentsia discontinued 20-ounce servings in August.

"These decisions were geared to move us away from the sort of fast-food approach of other coffee shops into a more intimate and personal customer experience," Zell told the Chicagoist.

The fact remains though that Intelligentsia is raising prices, a business move that is questionable given the current economic situation. When blogger Doyle criticized the decision however, Chuck Sudo of Chicagoist went on the attack, accusing Doyle of "launch[ing] into overdrive."

Sudo went on to interview Zell, who only confirmed that the price hikes may lose them customers.

It would appear then that Doyle's expressed concern is a valid one. So why the unnecessary blogger bashing, Chicagoist?

Matt Bartosik, former blogger of The Chicago Traveler and editor of Off the Rocks' next issue, has a love/hate relationship with the blogosphere.

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