Coffee. Coffee and I are friends. Best friends since I was a teenager, in fact.
I drink my coffee black – no cream and no sugar. The stronger the better. Drinking coffee black means that you really taste it, and that you really, really hate bad coffee. Bad coffee tastes bitter – like dirty water.
So we’ve established that I love good coffee. Does this mean that I go to Starbucks every day, or that I own a fancy coffee machine? Nope. I have three pieces of equipment that I use every single day to have amazing coffee at a low price.
More Expensive Doesn’t Mean Better
Just for fun, I decided to peruse Google shopping Coffee Machine offerings. What did I find there but a lovely assortment of expensive machinery, including:
- $90 K-Cup machine from Target
- $150 Nespresso machine from Macy’s
- $5,500 fancy coffee machine from Amazon
The k-cup machine is particularly annoying to me. You see, I received one of these as a gift from my mother-in-law a few Christmases ago. Not only is the coffee pretty low quality, but the cups are expensive (even at BJ’s!) and they create a lot of plastic waste. I checked out the price again today, and it looks like the best bargain on Green Mountain coffee cups would come out to about 44 cents per cup. Ouch.
The Nespresso and fancy coffee machines have one advantage over my setup – they can make those fancy coffee drinks that you can get a Starbucks and the like. Now, if you get those drinks every single day, those machines might be worthwhile. But if you’re like me and get them two times per year, they’re really not worth it. Let’s say the fancy drink costs $4 at Starbucks.
You would have to forgo 38 visits to Starbucks before the Nespresso machine pays for itself, and 1,375 visits for the fancy machine to be worth the money. Even if you visited Starbucks every single day a year, it would take almost four years for the machine to pay for itself! And that’s ignoring the cost of the coffee, milk, sugar, and other ingrediants. If you included those, the payback period is even longer. Ouch.
Cheaper Doesn’t Mean Better
You might think that I’m going to recommend the kind of coffee machines that are the Amazon bestsellers – your regular, standard drip machines. After all, they’re pretty inexpensive, seeing as you can get a five cup coffee maker for only fifteen bucks. But I’ve made that mistake in the past, and I’ve come to regret it.
When I first moved out on my own, I was already a coffee drinker. I was also pretty broke, so I got the coffee maker and the Maxwell House/Folgers canned coffee just like my parents had. And then I proceeded to get frustrated as that stupid coffee maker broke time and time again.
I don’t know if it was just bad luck, or if coffee machines are really just that poorly made nowadays, but it seemed like every time I turned around I had to replace the coffee maker. It was the machine itself that would stop working every time. I felt it was really wasteful, having to put this big hunk of plastic and glass into the trash every year or so. Plus the coffee was pretty “OK” – for the most part it tasted like dirty water, but it got caffeine in my system so it did the job.
But I still wanted something more. I wanted fancy coffee at a bargain price. How could I do that? Eventually I stumbled on my “just right” method.
The Not Expensive, Not Cheap, Just Right Coffee Method
There are three pieces of equipment that I deploy now to make fantastic coffee:
- A coffee grinder for ten bucks
- A french press for twenty five bucks
- An electric kettle for twenty bucks
Total cost for the entire setup is $55. The electric kettle is optional, but makes for easier coffee when I’m stumbling around half awake in the morning trying to get coffee into my system. It can also be used to rapidly heat water for tea, for boiling things on the stove, and heating water for warming baby bottles. I’ve had this setup for 5-10 years by now, and I’ve had to replace the grinder once and the kettle twice. The french press, since it’s manual and not electric, hasn’t needed replacement.
The real key here is the coffee grinder. It lets me grind fresh coffee from beans every morning in just seconds. I can get a bag of coffee beans from BJ’s – 40 ounces worth – for $13. When I feel like a splurge I can get 2.5 pounds of Starbucks beans for $20, or I can go to Costco and get three pounds of amazing coffee beans for $20. I did some research and it looks like you can get around 82 cups of coffee from a pound of beans. If that’s accurate, then spending $20 for 3 pounds comes out to a little over eight cents per cup. You could buy five and a half for the cost of a single k-cup!
The other amazing thing about this is that it can easily be extracted to a non-electricity setup. You see, my family loves camping. We go every year to a Boy Scout camp at the beach in the fall, and every summer we go camping in Rhode Island. For coffee lovers, one of the challenges is how to make good fresh coffee in the mornings without electricity.
What we do? I grind a bunch of coffee before we leave and put it into an old Fluff container. The nice thing about those containers is that they snap shut tightly – the lid won’t come off the middle of your camping trip. You really can use any container with a lid that shuts tight. Then it’s simple – we boil the water on the camping stove, and scoop the coffee into the french press. Five minutes later we have great fresh coffee to start our morning.
This also comes in handy when the electricity goes out. I’ve lived in my house for eleven years now, and during that time we’ve experienced a few major power outages. I’ve been able to grind coffee in my mortar and pestle, and heat water on the grill/camp stove when that happens. Self-sufficient coffee for the win!
Better Quality – Moderate Cost
I know my setup is not the absolute least expensive way to have my morning coffee. I could easily heat water on my stove each morning, saving the cost of the electric kettle. I could pick up tins of Maxwell House on sale, saving me more money on coffee. But I get a lot of joy out of a cup of freshly brewed, fresh ground, amazing coffee at a reasonable cost. Having such good coffee easily accessible means that I’m not tempted to stop at Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, and the like (except as a very occasional treat or when I’m traveling).
The french press doesn’t break, so it doesn’t create additional trash like those cheap coffee makers I used to get. Next time the coffee grinder breaks, I’m thinking of picking up a manual grinder so it lasts a long time as well. And bonus, I could use that while camping to have freshly ground coffee outdoors! Since the electric kettle has so many uses outside of coffee, I think I’ll always have one in my house. For some reason they’re more common in Europe and Australia than here in the US, but I think we’re missing out.
My coffee approach is a lesson in wise, prioritized spending. Coffee is important to me, so I needed to find a way to have good coffee at a reasonable cost. It needed to be easy, tasty, and not expensive. I experimented with different setups until I found one that worked for me. Find creative ways to get what you want for less – and don’t be afraid to experiment. You never know what you’ll find.
I Want To Hear From You!
Do you also love coffee? If so, what setup do you have? Or is there something else where you’ve gone a different, creative path to get something you want at a lower cost? let me know in the comments!
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