Seattle, Washington (AP) — Some 200 coffee roasters, espresso bar owners, and ordinary caffeine lovers turned out to protest a ballot measure to tax espresso drinks to raise money for preschool programs.
A demonstrator sips coffee Sunday, while protesting the proposed tax in Seattle.

A demonstrator sips coffee Sunday, while protesting the proposed tax in Seattle.

“I’m here on behalf of my wholesale customers who cannot afford this unfair tax,” said Neal Brown, wholesale director for Zoka Coffee House, at Sunday’s protest.

In this city where fancy coffee is a way of life, Initiative 77 is up for a vote September 16.

Supporters say the dime-a-drink tax could raise more than $6.5 million a year for day care and preschool programs. A City Council staff estimate puts the benefit at $1.8 million to $3.5 million annually.

A coalition of business owners, led by Seattle-based Starbucks, is fighting the tax.

“They see the espresso business as some sort of cash cow to be milked for this particular issue,” Brown said Sunday. “The next thing, who knows what? They’ll be taxing orange juice for another issue.”

Calling the protest their version of the Boston Tea Party, demonstrators marched to Green Lake, where they dumped burlap bags into the water.

They looked like coffee bags, but were filled with balloons to keep them from sinking so they could be retrieved after the protest, said Susan Majerus, who helped organize the demonstration.

The tax would not affect plain old diner coffee — just “any beverage prepared for immediate consumption containing half an ounce or more of espresso regardless of caffeine content, whether served hot or cold.” Such drinks are luxury items, initiative backers say.