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Heller: I Picked The Wrong Week to Quit Drinking Coffee

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I picked the wrong week to stop drinking coffee. In the past 25 years, I don't believe that I've gone more than 24 hours without a cup; today marks day three without java. I had not intended to quit; but the coffee pot stopped working, and I just decided to see if I could stop the four to six cup a day habit. Well, the pounding headache was non-stop yesterday, it was very difficult to concentrate, and I have no appetite. So, what better way today to face my caffeine struggle head-on, than with a column devoted to coffee?

The most mainstream ways to get investment exposure to our love affair with coffee these days is via Starbucks (SBUX) and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). Starbucks, of course, has been an incredible success story, and shares purchased and held since the IPO in 1992 have returned more than 100 times the original investment. The stock is now trading at an all-time high, and with more than 18,000 stores in 62 countries, the company still has ambitious plans for growth, including 3,000 new stores in the Americas alone over the next five years.

I could never understand paying three of four bucks for a cup of coffee, but given the effects of my current attempt to quit, I am beginning to understand why people do. Still, I've never owned Starbucks, have completely missed the boat on this one, and yet it still appears a bit pricy to me here. What do you expect from a value investor? However, given a decent pullback in the stock, it's one I'd certainly consider.

SBUX Chart SBUX data by YCharts

Green Mountain, which took the coffee market by storm in its own right, has been my nemesis. I'd been of the opinion that single cup brewing was a fad, and that sooner or later, consumers would settle for the lower cost option of brewing full pots of coffee at home.

While Green Mountain has had its share of issues, including an SEC investigation and questions about accounting practices, it has rebounded nicely since trading in the teens last July. It seems that consumers love their Keurig machines, and don't mind paying up for K cups. I still wonder whether ten years from now, Keurig machines will be collecting dust in the back of closets. My only exposure to Green Mountain has been on the short side, which was a mistake. Yet, I can't imagine going long, either.

GMCR Chart GMCR data by YCharts

Of course, there are other, less mainstream ways to get coffee exposure. I've followed the plight of Farmer Brothers (FARM), a manufacturer, wholesaler and distributor of coffee, for years. This company has been around since 1912, but has had its share of struggles in recent years, and has not had a profitable year since 2007. Yet recently, revenue has been improving, and the company is moving back toward profitability.

Shares have doubled since this time last year, and the company is one to keep an eye on. Farmer Brothers, which has a $220 million market cap, is dwarfed by the bigger players and not well-known by investors. One intriguing factor about this company is that it owns significant real estate, including more than 50 branch warehouses, corporate headquarters in Torrance, Calif., and a distribution center in Houston.

FARM Chart FARM data by YCharts

If nothing else, my attempt to break the coffee habit has brought with it the realization that for most people, coffee is probably not a discretionary purchase. It is a necessity.

At the time of publication the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.

Jon is also the founder of the Cheap Stocks Web site, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.

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