All Chris Schulz wanted was to taste the expensive coffee that’s the source of so much outrage. But does it actually exist?
The stereo was playing Tove Lo, the decor was industrial chic with exposed brick, and, behind the glass cabinet, the hazelnut croissants resembled flattened hedgehogs. On a bright Tuesday morning, the vibe at Parnell’s Red Rabbit cafe lived up to its Google Maps billing as “a hip nook for carefully sourced coffee”.
Coffee is exactly why I was there. You might have seen the headlines, read the comments, heard the outrage. In a world of rising food prices and escalating inflation, Red Rabbit has gone semi-viral as the home of what Newsroom recently called the country’s “most expensive takeaway coffee”.
“Why one cafe is now charging $8.50 for a flat white,” the headline read. “The definitive 10oz double-shot flat white, so definitive to Antipodeans, is up a dollar to $8.50,” the story declared definitively. “That price is too steep by far. Does it contain gold flakes?” read one of the more calm and reasonable Facebook comments.
Red Rabbit owner Steve Barrett had his reasons for raising prices, most of them to do with survival after several brutal, Covid-affected years. “[Coffee’s] been under-priced for a really long time,” he told Newsroom. “If one roastery doesn’t stand up and say something, no one else is gonna follow suit.”
He doesn’t appear to be wrong. In a recent episode of The Detail, Forage cafe co-owner Keita Powley admitted she made little-to-no profit from selling a $5 cup of coffee. Why does she do it? “We don’t just come in to make money,” she told the podcast. “It’s got to be out of love.”
But $5 is one thing, $8.50 is another. I’m used to paying more for oat milk flat whites, but $8.50 would be more than I have ever paid for a coffee, including those sad few weeks when I tried to curb my caffeine habit by switching to decaf. Would Aotearoa’s most expensive cup of coffee live up to its price tag?
I had to find out. I double-parked on Faraday Street, told the kids to stop shouting and rushed inside to the counter. A man with excellent cheekbones and a nice apron greeted me. I told him I’d like a takeaway flat white with oat milk – surely increasing the cost of my coffee by at least another $1.
“Cheers,” he said, then gestured towards the Eftpos machine.
That’s when I got a price shock. I was only being charged $7. I did a double-take and looked back at the cashier, but he was fetching a croissant for another customer. I waved my credit card and sat down, confused. A note on the wall indicated I’d be drinking Ethiopian beans with notes of “tea biscuits and caramel”.
To my right, two men were sipping from tiny cups. To my left, a woman was waiting for her own takeaway coffee. I asked her what she had ordered. “Flat white,” she said, then turned back to her phone. I looked up Newsroom’s story again to check I hadn’t got my facts wrong, but right there in black-and-white were the words: “Charging affluent Parnell and Newmarket consumers $8.50 for a coffee seems to epitomise conspicuous consumption.”
I grabbed a menu, and began flipping through pages. Red Rabbit charges $5.50 for a long black and $7.50 for a cappuccino, which is probably more than most cafes. But a flat white is $6.50, and the oat milk an extra $0.50. Here’s where the confusion came from: if you want to buy the $8.50 coffee from Parnell’s Red Rabbit cafe, you’ll need to order, specifically, a “10oz double-shot flat white”.
That’s nearly double the amount of coffee I had ordered for an extra $1.50. I’m no mathematician, but that sounds like good value. Yet, in the short time I sat in Red Rabbit, I didn’t see anyone drinking this, or hear anyone order it. It is, from my experience – which to be fair was one harried visit on a busy Tuesday morning – not a drink many seem to be buying.
Red Rabbit, which didn’t return a request for comment for this story, has become a focal point for outrage over increasing food prices thanks to an $8.50 coffee not many seem to be buying.
I returned to the car and sipped my $7 single-shot oat milk flat white. I wouldn’t exactly say I was consumed by a heavenly glow, but Red Rabbit does make a very nice coffee. If I’m ever in Parnell without the kids, I’ll happily sit there and savour another one, and maybe one of those hazelnut croissants too.