It’s the beginning of January which means nearly every blogger, podcaster and planner under the finance umbrella will be touting their lists of ways to trim the fat and save money in 2016. One of the items that is sure to turn up on practically every list is the old “save money by making coffee at home” suggestion.
It’s tired, overdone and an easy target but I thought it would be interesting to look at this popular exercise from a manual brewing perspective (and as someone who values financial scrutiny as well as a great cup of coffee).
If someone wanted to give up their daily trip to Starbucks, how would they go about making the switch? What equipment would they need? How much money could they save? And, perhaps most interestingly, how much of a quality increase could they expect for the same amount of money?
High Upfront Costs- What equipment do I need to start brewing coffee at home?
If you are starting from scratch, there is going to be a bit of an investment to begin making coffee at home (whether brewing manually or with an auto drip machine).
As the average price of an automatic coffee maker continues to climb, I believe manual brewing is the thriftier way to go. You should also be able to get a higher quality cup of coffee from manual brewing.
For the examples in this post. I am going to base my numbers on a person who has no coffee equipment at home and visits Starbucks via the drive thru everyday. They spend two dollars a day and anywhere from five to ten minutes extra drive to the coffee shop and in line.
In case you are just showing up to the manual brewing party, the basic set-up for making a delicious handmade cup of coffee is not complex and is readily available. Here is what you need:
- Something to heat and pour water- Preferably an electric kettle (for ease of use) but a stovetop kettle will work and even a 2 cup pyrex measuring cup and a microwave will do in a pinch.
- A manual brewing device- These vary widely in price, design and ease of use. If you have a brewer already (such as a French Press) you can start with that. If you don’t have anything, the Melitta Ready Set Joe is the budget option of choice.
- Filters- If your selected brewer requires filters, you will need to pick some up. Filters range from basic paper filters (use #2 for the Melitta Ready Set Joe) to a variety of reusable filters (from cloth to metal). Just make sure you get filters appropriate for your brewing device.
- A coffee grinder (optional but highly recommended)- You can go without a coffee grinder for a little while if funds are short. Eventually, I would recommend getting a small inexpensive handmill like the Hario Slim Mill. This will allow you to grind your coffee fresh each morning. Fresh ground coffee tastes better and a handmill is well worth the investment (you may want to upgrade to an electric burr grinder at some point but more on that later).
- A scale (optional but highly recommend)- A scale will make your coffee more consistent and help you get into a daily manual brewing routine. Once again, this is a nice-to-have instead of a need-to-have but for a minimal investment you get a lot.
- Coffee- You are going to want some coffee. Again prices will range greatly. You should be able to find many great coffee options for around twenty dollars a pound (this will be a vast quality difference over your typical drive thru Starbucks) and still be able to save money. More about picking a coffee in a bit.
Better Coffee in Ninety Days- The Three Month Plan
If you are spending two dollars a day on drive thru coffee, ninety days of manual brewing can be a coffee game-changer. Starting with nothing, ninety days and 180 dollars (two bucks a day) will get you a great home brewing set-up (including scale and grinder) and three months of coffee. After that, you have paid the upfront costs. The only recurring costs are coffee and filters.
I don’t have time for this: Before you whip out the “I don’t have time for manual brewing in the morning” excuse, I want you to give it a try. Time how long it takes you to pick up your drive thru coffee in the morning. You can brew a cup of coffee at home in less than ten minutes and half of that time will be waiting for the water to boil.
It helps to have a little cash reserved saved up, but if you don’t have much. Start with a 12 oz bag of coffee (pre-ground if you don’t have a grinder) and work your way down this shopping list as you are able. You can, of course, make substitution or choose different brands. These are just the bare bones functional items I recommend.
Your shopping list:
- Mellita Ready Set Joe- The “Ready Set Joe” is the budget option of manual brewers. It is made of durable plastic and filters are readily available at the supermarket and online. Don’t forget to grab a box of filters. Approximate cost of brewer plus filters: $11.00
- Electric Kettle- A basic electric kettle will just make your brewing regimen simpler. You can pick one up at the local department store or online for around fifteen dollars. Approximate cost of an electric kettle: $14.00
- Handmill/Grinder- the Hario Slim Mill is my budget grinder pick. It has some consistency issues, especially at the coarser settings, but it is a great mill for the price. Approximate cost of a grinder: $23.00
- Digital Gram Scale– this little American Weigh Scale is a nice expensive option. If you already have a digital gram food scale, feel free to use that for now. Approximate cost of a scale: $16.00
The Math:If you purchase these items, you will have around 116 dollars to spend on coffee. At 30 grams a day you will need to buy six pounds of coffee over these three months. This averages out to be a little over 19 dollars a pound of coffee ($.0425/gram).
After this ninety day trial period, you will be able to spend up to 30 dollars a pound on coffee (for the same price you were spending at the cafe) or save some money. Just a quick FYI, you can get a lot of really nice coffees for way less than $30/pound.
Where do we go from here?: When you are ready to brew a cup of coffee manually, head on over to my Drip Brewing 101 guide and I will get you on your way to a great cup of coffee.
Picking a Coffee- Where to Begin?
At the crux of your new manual coffee brewing budget, is the issue of selecting a coffee that is quality but within the parameters set for this post. If saving money is your primary goal (over quality coffee), I recommend checking out my post on purchasing coffee at the grocery store you can buy a less quality coffee for quite a bit less than $20/pound.
If you are buying coffee for four and a half cents a gram, your cost for a (large) cup of coffee will be around $1.35 a day (plus the cost of a filter). That is a thirty percent savings.
Here are a few companies that I am familiar with that have quality coffee at a great price. This is not an exhaustive list by any means (it really doesn’t scratch the surface), but I wanted to show a few options in the price range.
My local options
You should certainly give your local roasters a try and support them. You will also not have to pay for shipping if you pick up your coffee locally. With shipping, these local-to-me companies are going to be a little bit above the .045/gram target price.
Free shipping isn’t free: If you are ordering your coffee online, somebody has to pay to get that coffee to you. The USPS does not do pro bono coffee deliveries. Companies that advertise free shipping are rolling the price of shipping into their pricing models. This means that you will typically always get a better price if you go pick up your coffee locally.
- Fresh Ground Roasting (.035/gram plus tax for local pickup)– I have written about Fresh Ground before. They are my local roaster. Fresh Ground has great coffee at a great price and they quite frequently have specials on coffee and shipping. They also have a subscription service that comes in around .048/gram shipped.
- I Have a Bean (several options below .04/gram for local pickup)- I Have a Bean is not as local to me as Fresh Ground but they have comparable pricing for local pick up.
A few subscriptions
Besides the local option, subscriptions are a great way to save some money on coffee. These companies can sometimes offer a lower price (with shipping) because of how a their subscription model is structured.
- Mistobox One (.04/gram when you buy at least 6 shipments of the basic tier)- Mistobox One is a coffee subscription service that will curate a coffee selection for you from a wide range of available roasters. Each time you receive a coffee, you can give your curator feedback and they will try to hone in on the type of coffee that you like. It is a great concept. There are several tiers of quality (basic, deluxe and exclusive). If you prepay for 6 shipments of the basic tier, it fits neatly into our .045/ gram budget. There is an even deeper discount for buying 12.
- Modest Coffee (.035/gram shipped for the Modest subscription)- This is another small roaster located near me. Like Mistobox, Modest Coffee has three tiers of coffee available. The “Modest” is available for $12.00 shipped (.035/gram). This is a great budget buy, perfect for exploring your options (especially when you are just starting out).
- Thrasher Coffee (under .043/gram when you get two pounds at a time)- I have not had the opportunity to try Thrasher Coffee yet, but I have heard a lot about them. They sponsor the Top Brew podcast with Joe Darnell (a podcast I have appeared on a couple times). Something cool about this subscription is they give you a free French press with your first subscription order.
The best way to get long term benefits from a particular roaster, is to show some loyalty. Sign up for their newsletters (this will tell you about sales), follow them on social media, and interact with them. This will give you first hand knowledge of sales and promotions.
Optional Equipment Upgrades
One of the things I like best about choosing manual brewing over buying an automatic coffee maker is the ability to customize your coffee brewing bar. You can upgrade elements and add new ones.
When you get a few more months down the road on your manual brewing journey, you should have a surplus of money saved up. If trimming the fat of your spending was your goal, congratulations you can put that money towards something else.
If you want to reinvest that money back into your manual brewing set-up here are some upgrade suggestions:
- Electric Burr Grinder- A quality electric burr grinder will be a game changer if you have been using the Hario Slim Mill for all your brewing. You can read more about coffee grinders here.
- Gooseneck Kettle- lots can be said (and has been said here) about a gooseneck kettle. This is a great way to get more control of your manual brewing process.
- Upgraded brewer- there are so many options when looking to upgrade your brewing device. It is impossible to pick a “next step” without looking at your specific tastes and needs. If you need a recommendation on a brewer contact me or leave a comment below and we can figure out what is right for you.
- Coffee or Origin you are curious about- Once you get a surplus of coffee money in your reserves, you may want to start exploring coffee a bit. It can be fun to try something unique or a little exotic. I would be remiss if I did not mention my friends over at Angel’s Cup for this option. Grab a Black Box and experience four different coffees from two different roasters (more on the Black Box here).