Ironic Inverse Ratio

Years ago, before my employer started its regular “Great Places to Work” program, it maintained a less grandiose practice of occasionally but regularly asking employees for feedback on how it could improve.  At the time I figured this was pointless lip-service, but I dutifully responded with reasonable requests.  One of these requests was for free coffee.

I didn’t expect them to hire a barista, serving Arabica blends.  Of course, I didn’t expect them to seriously consider the request at all.  But after several years, respond they did, and by popular demand installed coffee machines.  And for a good solid month I enjoyed free coffee–nothing great, but a drinkable instant coffee blend.  Quick and effective.

This is how the work coffee comes in

Then, someone cut costs and changed the blend.  Now, I can drink some pretty awful coffee, but overnight, the coffee had turned into toxic waste.  And toxic waste is probably less bitter–you know, the glowing green kind?  Sadly, I returned to making my own.  But the years passed and the machines remained, so someone had to of been drinking it.  Upon this realization, I started more closely observing who was still getting cups of the sludge.  They all fell into a certain demographic: from Sales, tall, men, middle-aged.  I wondered why successful businessmen were less picky about the quality of their coffee.  Then, I considered my father-in-law.  He is a retired defense-contractor engineer.  He also drinks Folgers.

I wondered: is coffee quality preference inversely proportionate to income level?  To answer this question, I decided to waste time and put off auditing the emails I needed to send out.

To quantify this correlation, I needed figures.  I felt it was safe to assume that the cost of the coffee blend increases with its quality.  What I needed then, were some salary figures.  To graph the slope, I only needed two points.  The first point was easy: take the most expensive coffee I see regularly in grocery stores: $15 a bag; and the lowest income bracket, minimum wage: $15,080.  For the second point, I needed the cost of the cheapest instant coffee available (what I presumed was being used in the machines at work).  Courtesy of Amazon, I found it at $3.33 a bag.  Then, consulting the various online utilities designed to inform the masses that everyone’s underpaid, I found the average salary for an experienced Sales manager to be around $115,000.  Now I had two points.  It was time to calculate the equation.

First, I calculated the cost per ounce of each coffee.  Going off a 12-ounce bag, the expensive coffee was $1.25 and the cheap coffee was $0.28.  But, to make these number more manageable for a formula, I multiplied by 100 to use cents, creating nice whole numbers to work with: 125 and 28.

With standard algebra, we can calculate the slope with (Y2-Y1)/(X2-X1):

(28-125)/(115000-15080)=~-0.000970777, or if you want to follow significant figures, -0.00097.

Following Y=MX+B, we need B to be X0 (in this case, the baseline of minimum wage) to equal the $15 coffee mark.  But first we divide by 100 to bring the scale back down.  After doing so, B is simply calculated to be 140.  Final formula:


Peet'sSadly, I could not find an online calculator that provides coffee products by cost per ounce.  Searching for one only yielded a number of self-righteous articles criticizing how much coffee costs and how stupid people are for buying Keurigs or going to coffee shops.  But I did plug some numbers into the calculator, and my own coffee preference: Peet’s, ranks approximately by cost the type of coffee I should be buying.  So once again, the math doesn’t lie:

Aqua Vitae


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