Unfrugal No More: I'm Making Coffee At Home Again!

[Image description: Cold brew coffee. Mmmm. Photo by Demi DeHerrera on Unsplash]

“Make coffee at home” is the “we hold these truths to be self-evident” of frugal tips, but I always resented it. In Unfrugal Confessions: I Only Drink Coffee Out, I pointed out the many benefits of drinking coffee out: it’s an excuse get to get out of the house/office, it’s competently made (unlike the coffee I was making for myself at home at the time), and it’s a cheap luxury. Considering how much I love coffee and get a lot of joy out of it, the price seemed eminently reasonable. I wasn’t going to nickel and dime myself over a $2 coffee a few times a week.

Since then, a few things have changed.

My coffee consumption went up. When I was going out for coffee 2-3 times per week, my spending did not seem like a big deal. But there is a big difference between 2-3 times per week, and 1-2 times per day. At some point, my caffeine dependence increased (probably when I started getting to work on time). I started having my coffee earlier and earlier in the day until I was regularly starting each day with a coffee on my way in to work. Then, sometimes, I’d also have my usual optional afternoon coffee.

My standards went down. For my special afternoon coffee, I took the time to walk to my favorite coffee shop. For the morning caffeine jolt, I simply grabbed whatever was convenient, which usually meant Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. I don’t even really like the coffee from those places.

When my monthly coffee spend went up from about $25 a month to $80 a month, I decided it was probably worth it to look into the whole “home coffee” thing again. I’d given my old French press and grinder to my mother-in-law, who was coincidentally looking to get into homebrew coffee right when I stopped bothering, so I had to spend a bit to get back in the game. I ended up spending about a full month’s spend on my home setup ($50 French press + $15 grinder + $13.50 bag of coffee beans from my favorite local roaster). I hoped it would be worth it within 2 months.

Quite aside from the money, though, something else amazing happened.

My home coffee game leveled up. I really wasn’t expecting the coffee I made at home to be that good, because when I’d previously made French press coffee, it ended up kind of water and grainy. But I wasn’t excited by any of the other coffee maker options, because I don’t like giant appliances that take up space on my counter, or methods that create waste (like filters or pods). The French press just appealed to me on so many aesthetic and environmental levels that I went for it again even though I wasn’t expecting much in terms of taste. I did spring for a more expensive French press than I had previously, and it turns out that there is a difference! Instantly, I was making LEGITIMATELY GOOD COFFEE. Like, AS GOOD AS THE COFFEE I BUY OUT or BETTER.

True, I’m using fancy beans. I grind only as much as I need for a given cup, so they’re nice and fresh. But all that was true before, too. I can only surmise that the main difference is in the fineness of the mesh on the reusable filter of the French press. No grinds get through. The coffee blends nicely. I had no idea it made that much difference.

Suddenly, I’m loving the coffee I make at home and even preferring it to what I can buy out. I GET IT NOW!

I like the coffee I make at home so much that I’ve even taken to bringing extra to work in a Thermos. That way I can have some in the afternoon, too. This cuts down on my impulse purchases of bakery goods. Sometimes I still get the hankering to stop into a coffee shop, especially if I’m out already, but my willpower is helped by having not one but TWO points of shame (you forgot your reusable mug AND you have delicious coffee back in the office!)

So, how much cheaper is this? I’m definitely not going for bottom-of-the-barrel prices; considering that you can get beans at the grocery store for like $3, $13.50 for a 12-ounce bag of beans is hardly frugal. But they ARE delicious! And I like that they’re fair trade and environmentally friendly. A bag usually lasts me about a month making 1-2 cups per day. Let’s say that’s about 40 cups. That makes each cup cost less than 34 cents (if you don’t count wear and tear on the French press and grinder, which you probably should since I’ve already had to replace a grinder). Definitely an improvement from the $1.50-$2.50 I was spending on coffee out. The savings is even higher for fancy coffee drinks, like mochas, which are now a snap to make at home (I just add chocolate syrup and lots of milk to the coffee and foam it. Yes, I have a foaming wand. I’ve… I’ve gone around the bend.) It will be a little more complicated to calculate the savings in summer, since my lazy method of making iced coffee is cold brewing, which consumes more beans per cup. Still, if you compare the price of cold brew at home to cold brew out (rather than cold brew at home to the cheapest type of iced coffee out), it’s a big savings since some coffee shops charge exorbitant prices for cold brew.

The only downside to my new coffee-snob hobby is that I’ve lost my afternoon excuse to get out. Between this winter’s frigid temps, blizzards, and rainstorms, that hasn’t been a huge problem. As the weather improves, I’m going to try and pilot a new thing where I go to the park with my Thermos and spend my ten minutes’ coffee break hugging trees instead of making small talk with a barista.

Updated Lazy Cold Brew Recipe

(This is basically the same as the recipe I provided at the end of my I Quit Sugar post, but I've honed the method to be even lazier.)

You will need: 1 cup coarsely ground coffee beans, 2 half gallon mason jars, 1 fine mesh strainer (I use a large in-mug tea strainer, which fits perfectly into the mouth of the mason jar)
  1. Combine grounds with 7 cups of cold water in a half-gallon mason jar.
  2. Let steep about 8 hours in the fridge. (It's okay to be off by +/- 2 hours.)
  3. Strain into the second mason jar. Add extra cold water to fill (or to taste). Serve from this vessel.


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