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Image: Tina Tiller
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PoliticsMarch 5, 2024

Calculating the true cost of the government’s war on coffee

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Nixing the plunger habits of MSD staffers may save $70k a year, but our high-level analysis suggests productivity will plummet.

The coalition government is widening its war on coffee this week with the announcement that the Ministry of Social Development will nix staff access to plunger coffee. A surprising development that feels anything but social. 

MSD stands to make savings of up to $70,000 a year. That’s $18k more than we are saving by no longer paying the prime minister to live in his own house. Split among the ministry’s 9,000 staff, that’s $7.77 per person a year. About the cost of one takeaway oat latte. The ministry will still be providing tea and instant coffee, but does anyone want instant coffee? How will this affect staff morale and productivity? 

I’ve explored the joys and pitfalls of instant coffee before and look, it is coffee, sure, but I say that with some caveats. If MSD staff want to enjoy their instant then sugar will almost certainly be involved, and milk. Will the ministry be providing alternative milks for vegans and the lactose-intolerant community? Are we talking functional Value Brand or drinkable Moccona? Certainly not the actually kinda OK Supreme instant? 

Legally, New Zealand businesses must provide a paid 10-minute break for any stretch of work between two and four hours. The MSD headquarters sits atop of one of Wellington’s 1,789* Mojo cafes. Putting aside the fact that many MSD staff do not have this convenience, the time required to leave one’s desk, get to the cafe, queue and wait for your coffee cannot possibly be achieved in under 10 minutes. Mojo might be the Red Bull pit crew of takeaway coffee efficiency, but it still doesn’t make logical sense.

Did anyone consider the process by which most of us are making our plunger/French press coffees? That is dumping a huge, random amount of ground coffee in there and making a bitter soup of despair. The king of coffee on YouTube, James Hoffmann, recommends using 500g of water to 30g of coffee and letting it steep for four minutes, stirring, then leaving for another five minutes. Most people find the idea of using scales to make coffee ridiculous and pretentious but it is remarkable how much less coffee you use and how much better it tastes. I implore all true patriots to give this technique a go. 

And what, I hear you say, of the cost to staff if they choose to buy their own coffees? Today I went undercover posing as an MSD team leader to confront staff at Aurora Mojo (in the MSD HQ building on the Terrace) and find out the real cost of coffee. “I’m gonna send a WHOLE LOT of staff to your cafe and I need to know the price of every coffee now!” I said, a lie as effortless as it was pointless. A medium takeaway flat white, perhaps New Zealand’s most “normal” coffee, is $5.60. The closest coffee to a plunger coffee available at Mojo is undoubtedly the Moccamaster filter coffee, which is $4.90 served black and hot and ready to be adulterated with your favourite staffroom milk. 

MSD HQ sits atop one of Wellington’s many, many Mojos, where staff will now spend even more precious work time (Image: Archi Banal)

So if a staff member working 218 days per year (that’s 366 days – it’s a leap year – minus weekends, minus public holidays, minus four weeks’ annual leave and 10 sick days) was to buy a Mojo filter coffee at every morning tea break they’d be spending an extra $1,028.20 a year. If (and this is a big if) every staff member spent the same, that’s an increase in staff spending of over $9 million. This kind of spending could be a real boost for the hospitality sector.

But if that takeaway coffee purchase added five minutes to their break time that’s a loss of 18 work hours a year. Spread across all staff, that’s the equivalent of having 95 fewer staff working for the ministry. However, if the MSD fired 95 staff earning $70k per annum they’d save $6.6 million smackeroos. But then they’d have to find work for all the people they just fired, and would have to hire more staff to manage the case work. It’s a socialist society, capitalist market paradox!

Is this $70k saving really worth it for anyone? Maybe it’s a health issue? Associate health minister Casey Costello’s office compared the harm from nicotine to caffeine and she would know – as a former police officer she must have experienced countless nights chucking over-caffeinated youths in the slammer. David Seymour is concerned that “too much creamer in your coffee could be unhealthy”,  a huge problem in New Zealand where the only people who use coffee creamer are expat Americans and Radio Hauraki breakfast hosts who want to say “I creamed in my coffee, BOOSH”. 

Most shockingly, Aotearoa is still reeling a month on from minister Chris “The Fish Shop” Bishop revealing “I am certainly addicted to caffeine, I’ve had four coffees today.” Who is paying for his addiction? Certainly not the taxpayer? Do they have plunger coffee at parliament? 

One MP staffer who chose to remain anonymous described the coffee situation at parliament as “vague and inconsistent”, with ground coffee being randomly available at various kitchenettes and most ministers and staffers choosing to use their hard-earned cash to juice up at Copperfield’s, a cafe they described as “like the watering hole in an Attenborough show, where politicians of different species gather together once a day to rehydrate”. 

The Bish replied personally to my ferocious email inquiries; he enjoys long blacks, and yes he pays for it himself. In many ways a disappointingly unscandalous reply and, quite frankly, drinking long blacks is disturbingly BDE. Green MP Julie Ann Genter also got in touch to say that yes, there is plunger coffee available in parliament but that most MPs enjoy putting aside party allegiances to get coffee together at Copperfield’s.

But do they have a Mojo? Yes, they have a Mojo; they also have their own little Logan Brown. Make of that what you will. A 400g jar of Moccona is currently $38 at Woolworths. If you make a 5g instant (about a heaped teaspoon), that makes it $0.47 per cup before sugar. A 500g bag of  Hummingbird coffee will get you a cup of plunger at about $0.60. Lunch at Bellamy’s by Logan Brown is $52. It looks really good, but I’m not sure if the price includes coffee. 

*This figure has a +/- margin of error in the realm of 99%.

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