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Higher coffee prices brewing

February 12, 1997

CHICAGO (AP) _ There’s a different kind of jolt coming soon to coffee lovers. That cup of joe soon could cost more.

Too much rain in Latin America and a strike in Colombia have sent prices for future delivery of beans bubbling toward two-year highs.

The nation’s top seller of regular coffee _ Folgers _ already has said it will raise prices 7 percent next month, and others are expected to follow.

Coffeehouses could increase prices 5 cents a cup by the end of summer, and grocery stores could raise prices by the end of the month unless the wholesale prices drop back, said Ted Lingle, executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Among the 49 percent of Americans who are coffee drinkers, many are not about to give up that daily fix.

``We just can’t do without it,″ Yvette Kukuk said as she sipped a cup with a friend at a Seattle Starbucks coffee house. ``Yup, totally addicted.″

``We’ll just scrimp for change the days we don’t have enough money if the prices go up,″ she said. ``We’ll just deal with it.″

In Tulsa, Okla., Colin Tucker, a 29-year-old lawyer, said he would curb his coffee habit only if it began to cost more than lunch.

Carlos Knoepffler, president of Miami Coffee Merchants, predicted people wouldn’t give up coffee but might think twice about indulging in gourmet beans. ``People might buy half a pound _ not a pound,″ he said.

Futures prices have increased 65 percent in the last eight weeks to Wednesday’s close of $1.72 a pound. Folgers announced Tuesday that would translate to a 15-cent increase to $2.41 for a 13-ounce can.

The makers of Maxwell House declined comment Wednesday and Nestle did not immediately return a telephone call. Starbucks said it did not plan to raise prices now, but it would re-evaluate if prices continue to soar.

The last time prices were this high was 1994, when a frost devastated the crop in Brazil, the world’s largest coffee producer. But they dropped almost as quickly because plenty of coffee had been stockpiled.

This time, a nationwide strike by public-sector workers in Colombia threatens to choke off supplies from the world’s No. 2 producer and exporter. It also looks like the entire Latin American crop will be smaller because too much rain has soaked plantations.

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