Strategies for Minimizing the Cost of a Morning Coffee

As many articles for The Simple Dollar do, this one started out as a reader mailbag question whose answer grew longer and longer and longer and eventually warranted its own post. Here’s Mike’s question.

I’m really into your idea of cutting the unimportant things so that I have plenty for the important things. Good stuff. So I am trying to apply it to coffee. Morning coffee, two or three cups, is a requirement. It’s not going away. I love the flavor and thrive on the caffeine. However I am not subscribed to the idea of buying it from a coffee shop or anything else. I’ve been tinkering. Looking for ideas for making morning coffee cheap so I can experiment with them so that I trim my morning coffee down to what is important to me and stop spending money on the parts that are unimportant. Such a good idea dude!

I like Mike.

I started off by listing out some of the tips that Sarah and I use to cut the cost of coffee. Sarah is a morning coffee junkie, just like Mike. I actually like a cup of cold coffee in the afternoon some days with just a little milk in it – real simple. I simply started listing things we do that, much like Mike describes here, retains what we really value about our coffee while cutting out things we don’t value.

So, here’s our repertoire of little strategies for minimizing cost / maximizing value from a cup of coffee. As always with a list like this, you should pick and choose the elements that work for you. Mike actually describes it well: your goal should be to eliminate elements from your coffee that you don’t find important so that you’re not paying for them while saving the elements that you do find important so that you’re actually getting personal value from every cent you spend.

Here goes.

Don’t go to coffee shops. Coffee shops not only charge you a lot for a cup of coffee that’s really only slightly better than what you get at home, they also often upsell you on things that you didn’t even plan to buy, like a muffin or a bagel or a newspaper or something else. It might be a “fun” environment, but it actually becomes a lot more meaningful if you go there occasionally rather than daily, because daily visits to something you consider “fun” tend to drain away that fun and make it ordinary.

Avoid Keurig cups and similar mechanisms like the plague. They’re convenient, sure, but they’re very expensive for what you get. The cost of a single cup of coffee at home is multiples of what it costs from another mechanism, such as an ordinary drip coffee pot or other options (which I’ll mention below). You’re also stuck with a useless device if they stop making pods to your liking.

If you do use a Keurig, get a reusable “K-cup” and fill it yourself. Keurig makes an “official” reusable K-Cup and there are some imitators out there, too. The item’s simple – you just open it up, add a bit of your own coffee to it, close it up, and then it works like a normal K-Cup. You just clean it afterwards. With one of those things, you can maintain the convenience of a Keurig machine without the high expense per K-Cup.

Use a French press instead of a drip coffee maker. A French press is a pitcher with a mesh plunger on it that you can use, along with ground coffee and hot water, to make some pretty good coffee. You just add some hot water and some coffee grounds, let them brew together for a bit, then insert the “press” and push it down onto the coffee grounds, essentially straining the solid grounds out of the liquid coffee. After that, it’s basically just like a normal pitcher.

Using this device basically eliminates all non-reusable items from the coffee making process. No disposable filters or K-Cups or anything like that. It’s one of the cheapest ways to have a hot and fresh cup of coffee in the morning (and it can be endlessly tweaked, too, if you’re into that kind of thing).

Make a bunch of coffee at once and store it in a closed container in the fridge, heating it up when you need a cup. This is actually what I do (in conjunction with the next tip). I usually just have a big sealed container of coffee in the fridge at all times and then pour a cup of it when I want one, heating it up if I want it warm. This is way more convenient than anything else in the moment of wanting a cup of coffee, plus it allows me to use up all of the extra ground coffee rather than letting unused ground coffee go to waste by growing stale.

Cold brew your coffee. This one requires no equipment other than a jar and a fine mesh strainer (and a coffee grinder if you grind your own beans). You can get all of that stuff at the store for a couple of dollars. It also creates a low acidity coffee that can last in the fridge for weeks and, honestly, it’s my favorite way to make it because of the flavor.

All you do is add two tablespoons of coffee to a jar for every cup of water that you add. So, for example, if you put six cups of water in a jar, you would put in 12 tablespoons of ground coffee. If you’re grinding it yourself, make it coarse.

Then, just cover the jar and stick it in the fridge for at least 24 hours. I find that if you take it out too early, it’s weak, but if you leave it in for days and days and days it becomes kind of bitter and really really really strong. 24-48 hours is the magic period for me for a strong cup of coffee without overwhelming bitterness.

At that point take out your fine mesh strainer and strain out the beans. I just pour it from one jar to another with the strainer in the middle. I usually strain it two or three times just to get as much as I can out of the liquid. Then, I pop the liquid coffee back into the fridge in a sealed jar again (and compost those coffee grounds).

This is hands-down my favorite way to have coffee. I like it cold to begin with. It’s also got a flavor that I like, which I assume is the relatively low acidity of it, and it lasts for a long time without tasting stale. You can easily heat it if you’d like, too, and there’s no extra equipment involved other than the sieve.

Buy beans in bulk and grind them yourself. Here’s the reasoning: whole beans stay fresher for much longer than ground coffee. Beans last quite a long time, especially in a closed container. Thus, you can buy a bulk purchase of beans – say five pounds – and get a discounted price on those beans. Then, you simply store the beans in your cupboard and grind some of the beans as needed.

Re-grind cheap ground coffee. This is a tip I learned from an old friend and it surprisingly works. Many people think cheap ground coffee is mediocre, but one really effective way to make it much stronger and more flavorful is to simply grind it again. Use your own coffee grinder on the finest setting and grind Folgers or Maxwell House grounds into a powder.

See, what’s happened with those large-scale ground brands is that they’ve sat there on the shelf for quite a while, allowing the surface of those grounds to oxidize and lose some flavor. However, with the cheaper brands, the grounds are coarse enough that there’s still potent and delicious coffee inside. Grinding Folgers into a powder releases that flavor, making very good coffee from the least expensive brands.

Freeze leftover coffee in ice cube trays. If you have some leftover coffee that you’re considering dumping, consider instead filling an ice cube tray with it and freezing it. Later on, you can use those cubes as the basis of a really good iced coffee, using coffee cubes instead of normal ice cubes to make the drink cool. That way, when those cubes melt, they’re going to be adding coffee to the drink instead of watering it down. You can also use those cubes creatively or even take a few cubes into a coffee cup and microwave it to melt the cubes for an emergency cup of coffee in the future.

These are just some of the ideas that you can use to reduce the cost of a cup of coffee in your life. As always, try lots of tips, stick with the ones that work for you, and focus on eliminating the unimportant so that you have space for the important.

Good luck!

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