The barista smiles, already making your morning coffee just how you like it as you walk through the door. You sleepily breathe in your first whiff of caffeine and hey, you might even take a photo of it for the ‘Gram to accompany your motivational hashtag of the day. It’s your one little splurge, a chance to catch a breath before time runs away and work mode is fully engaged.
But somehow, despite your best efforts at frugality elsewhere, you’re still finding yourself out of pocket, unable to save for that next adventure or extravagant purchase. As luxurious as it is to start your day with a barista brewed coffee, a daily $5 latte habit could be setting you back $155 a month!
The thought of nipping your coffee shop habit in the bud might sound depressing, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, some of the cheapest ways to make a good coffee are the most satisfying and you don’t need an all-singing, all-dancing coffee machine to replicate that coffee shop experience for a fraction of the price.
Top 5 Ways to Make Coffee on the cheap
1) Buy it Fresh
Many people shy away from making their own coffee at home. They see the machinery at work in Starbucks and tell themselves they don’t have the money, space, or expertise to replicate coffee of that standard in their kitchen. But the worst kept secret of the industry is, it’s all in the bean. Buying fresh, whole coffee beans will be the difference between bad or good coffee, whatever your brewing method of choice.
Make the splurge on the coffee itself, but make it wisely. Look for beans either in air-tight containers or in valve-sealed packaging as this allows natural gases to escape. It can be tempting to buy in bulk in an attempt to get more bang for your buck, but this will defeat the object of buying fresh beans. Since good coffee beans retain their optimal flavors for around two weeks, I’d recommend making this a twice-monthly purchase. While it may feel like a splurge at the time, think how much you would have spent on your daily coffee over the course of two weeks. It’s guaranteed way to make you a saving, not a deficit. Besides, if you’ve already acquired a taste for coffee shop quality then supermarket coffee grounds just won’t cut it anyway.
If lack of budget and time means you must buy ground coffee, taking the time to order from a craft roaster will still be of much fresher quality than a supermarket batch. A coffee container at the store could have been sitting there for who knows how long, but a professional roaster will take pride in delivering their products as fresh as possible. Just remember even the most freshly ground coffee beans will lose their punch just a few hours after grinding.
2) Grind it
Before you start the brewing process you need to grind every sweet morsel out of your beans. Don’t be daunted by the price of an automatic burr grinder; manual ones can be as little as $15. Blade grinders are an option, but to make coffee at home at a professional standard burr grinders are the best option.
Grind just the amount you need right before use and ensure you grind it right depending on your brewing method. Very coarse grinds are reserved for cold brews, a French press requires a medium-coarse grind, drip coffee needs a medium grind and an espresso would need a fine grind.
Follow these first two tips, and you’re on course for making good, cheap coffee with any of the brewing methods you might try, but don’t ruin all your hard work by using water at the wrong temperature. Aim for between 90 and 95 degrees Celcius. If you pour it on your coffee boiling you risk burning the coffee grounds. Too cold and it will be under-extracted.
3) Drip it
The most low-tech, but surefire way of making a good cup of coffee is the simple drip method. It takes more effort than throwing instant coffee in your cup but you can create a coffee shop experience at home. Coffee cones come in plastic, glass, stainless steel, or ceramic for as cheap as $8 but filters are needed. Disposable paper filters used to be the only accessible option but with reusables becoming more widely available, this brewing technique has an initially cheap outlay – all you have to keep buying is the coffee itself. If you’re feeling a little flashier with your cash, automatic drip machines can cost under $20, which could be worth it if you don’t have time to stand over your coffee and need the time to multitask.
Place your filter in the cone over your cup, or carafe if you’re making a larger round. Pour boiling water through the filter to give it a flush and ensure your brew won’t have a papery taste. Now you’re ready to add your coffee. About 22g or two heaped tablespoons of medium ground coffee is recommended. Ensuring the coffee is evenly distributed within the filter paper, then gradually add 352g boiling water starting by pouring enough to saturate, but not flood the grounds. After 30 seconds continue to add boiling water in a slow, circular motion, ensuring not to fill the cone with water. A narrow spouted kettle will give you more control over your pouring method. Once all the water has filtered through your first top-quality homebrew is ready to be savored.
4) French Press it
For a robust and flavorful cup, make like the Europeans and invest in an elegant French press. You can get a decent one for as little as $20, making it an affordable and pretty foolproof way to ease you into home brewing. Unlike other options on the list, you don’t have the repeated cost of filters, making it a more environmentally friendly option too.
Because French press coffee is immersed directly in hot water, it requires a medium-coarse grind to avoid an over-extracted, bitter brew. Add a few heaped scoops of your fresh coffee grounds to the bottom of the carafe, pour over nearly boiling water, stir, then allow it to sit for 4 minutes before pressing the plunger down. You won’t lose any of the oils you do in drip filters which coffee aficionados attribute to a richer taste.
A French press is a classic coffee maker and you can buy a size to suit your needs, whether you’re making one cup or a whole batch. Just make sure you pour out the coffee once it’s pressed or you might end up with a sludgy residue and over-extracted coffee.
5) AeroPress it
The Aeropress is a relative newbie that has quickly cemented itself as a staple tool for coffee lovers on the go with its easily portable design. Although it requires an initial outlay of around $30-$40, it requires less coffee per cup. Like drip coffee, you do need to use paper filters. Luckily there are fine metal filter options available if you’re trying to reduce your paper waste.
The Aeropress uses a syringe mechanism that forces hot water and coffee grounds through a small filter directly into your cup. This could be a good option to throw in your bag if you’re running late for work. It also brews quicker than French press coffee or the drip method which can be ideal for coffee lovers who find they’re constantly living life against the clock.
Experts say it makes an even better-tasting coffee than a French press, producing a smooth cup with low acidity, and lends itself to a variety of brewing methods; you can almost replicate and espresso shot, create a classic Americano black coffee or you can even use it for a cold brew.
Considerations: How to spend less money on coffee
When you’re investing in the best beans, you don’t want to waste a single crumb. It might take some trial and error in getting your coffee to the exact strength you want it but 14-15 grams is advised for a French press method per cup of coffee. That’s about two heaped teaspoons, but different recommendations come with different brewing methods.
Getting the scales out every time you prepare coffee at home might feel like overkill but it is important to measure ground coffee by weight, not volume because how long it’s roasted affects the weight to volume ratio of the bean. Don’t forget to measure the water too.
Storing your coffee
Whether you’re able to keep the beans intact until use them or you have to grind up a small batch at a time, keep them in an opaque and airtight container at room temperature. Remember when it comes to beans or ground coffee the fridge doesn’t equate to freshness! In fact, cold temperatures can be a real flavor sucker, turning your investment in fresh beans into a bitter brew.
Taking it on the go
You won’t want to drink your coffee cold any more than you want to store it cold, but reheating coffee can leave a nasty taste in your mouth too because it changes the chemical structure.
If you’re anything like me you like your first cup of Joe of the day to last as long as possible. I always drink mine from a thermal cup which makes it last a good two hours at a pleasant drinking temperature. It also means I don’t spill a drop of my precious morning nectar when I’m clumsily rushing through my morning routine and trying to wake up.
Is it cheaper to make your own coffee?
The short answer is yes! We’ve already established your Starbucks orders can add up to hundreds of dollars over just a month or two even if it doesn’t feel like much here and there. Your first purchase of proper coffee, a brewing device, grinder, and perhaps a kettle might feel like a big outlay but you’ll be shocked at how quickly you’ll be finding money to spare by the end of each week.
What is the best cheap coffee?
It really depends on your taste preference. For example, there’s no use in recommending an aged, deep-bodied Indonesian java when what you’re looking for is a mild and sweet Columbian blend. You might need to experiment in trying beans from a variety of the most popular origins.
There’s also the variety of the bean itself to take into consideration; Arabica or Robusta? While Arabica beans are the more popular, flavorful choice, Robusta beans tend to be less expensive and higher in caffeine.
Asking which is the best cheap coffee is really like asking what is the best song to listen to – it’s all down to personal choice. One thing coffee experts do agree on is to shop locally if you can. Your local coffee roaster should be able to advise you where to start. Don’t worry if you don’t have such a person in your local area, you’re only a short Google search away from finding an independent roaster who will deliver to you.
How much does it cost to make 1 cup of coffee?
Even if you’re buying good quality beans which feel expensive, if you make coffee at home, it equates to around $.50 a cup. If coffee is part of your daily routine that’s a saving of $2.50 – $4.50 every day!
Whichever type of method you chose you can breathe in that first whiff of caffeine and smile, luxuriating in your coffee experience from the comfort of your own kitchen.