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Coffee and community improvement districts: Unpacking the mystery of the $7 Starbucks macchiato

1 13 25
23.09.2021

It doesn't matter if you're buying a home, car, food or coffee — the price of everything has soared since the onset of the pandemic. Inflation hit a 13 year high of 5.4% in July, and supply chain disruptions led Vice President Kamala Harris to encourage parents to start buying Christmas presents as soon as possible.

Both inflation and shipping delays are valid explanations for the rising cost of everything. Still, it didn't explain why I paid nearly $7 for a grande Iced Caramel Macchiato at a Starbucks in Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle on the first Sunday in August. I had heard about the ongoing global coffee shortage — caused by rolling COVID lockdowns and climate change — but I also recall reading that Starbucks CEO, Kevin Johnson, assured customers and investors that Starbucks had stockpiled enough coffee to mitigate any future supply shortages.

But, after paying a price comparable to the minimum hourly wage in some states, I began to question the integrity of Johnson's assurance.

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I knew the city was becoming more expensive by the day — but $6.55 was absurd, even in Washington, D.C.. Needing an explanation, I spent the rest of that afternoon using the mobile order feature on the Starbucks app to look up prices of Grande Iced Caramel Macchiato across the country.

The prices, like everything else these days, made no sense. How could an Iced Caramel Macchiato be cheaper in San Diego than in Detroit? Or cheaper in Los Angeles than St. Louis? I fired up Microsoft Excel and embarked on a month-long truth-seeking journey........

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