Save Money By Drinking Better Coffee

March 1, 2009

A while back I started to get disgruntled with my morning coffee routine. I’m a habitual coffee drinker who has a good tolerance to the effects of caffeine and I drink multiple mugs full daily. But, I found myself unhappy with the sour, off tastes of my morning brew, and relying more and more on buying mediocre coffee at work or from local by-the-cup shops.

That’s where saving money comes in. Even if you don’t regularly waste calories on lattes and cappuccinos (calorie bombs, anyone?), a large regular coffee or two bought outside the home can add up to a $2-5 expense, per workday. $10-25 per week. That’s roughly $45 out of pocket, and usually much more, especially if you are buying a high-calorie breakfast (extra large bagel or muffin) with your coffee.

I did a lot of reading and researching online, visiting the CoffeeGeek forums among many other websites. Making good coffee doesn’t take much work. Here’s what it does take.

  1. Fresh, good coffee.  Fresh means whole bean. I resisted this at first, because it seems inconvenient.  You can’t get around it. If you don’t grind your own beans, you are drinking a stale tasting cup of coffee. You don’t need an expensive burr grinder, even though they heat and degrade the beans less when breaking them down.  You also need to grind right before you brew to avoid oxidation and the development of staleness.  Also, if you can find a local roaster, use them.  Even premium whole bean coffee from a fancy marketplace has probably been sitting around for more than a month before you purchase it. Consider mail ordering fresh whole beans weekly.
  2. Hot water, 200 degrees F.
  3. Freshly ground coffee in the hot water for about 4 minutes.  7 grams of coffee for each 6 ounces of water. It’s much easier and more consistent than measuring with a tablespoon or coffee measure.  If you are reading blogs about diet and fitness, you need to pick up a quality digital kitchen scale.  Weighing my coffee instead of measuring was one of the most important changes I made to my coffee routine.
  4. Filtering out the grounds, which your quality automatic drip coffee maker does for you, along with heating the water to the right temperature and managing the contact time.  You can use a gold-plated filter to save money and the hassle of stocking paper filters at home.
  5. Not heating the coffee pot, preferably using an insulated pot and no warming plate. If you don’t have one, then set the warmer on low.

So, how can you make it healthier? Coffee’s full of antioxidants, the largest source in the average US diet. Most people tolerate caffeine well, although a few can’t drink coffee due to GI upset or irregular heart rhythms.  To make it healthy, stop putting high calorie cream or half-and-half or trans-fat laden whitener in your drink.  I drink mine with skim milk, which I think improves the mouth feel by adding a small amount of protein, slightly sweet carbohydrate and a trivial amount of fat for depth and richness. I don’t use sugar, or artificial sweetener, since I enjoy the taste of coffee and don’t want the calories.  I count the skim milk in the day’s calories and also get some protein and calcium for my efforts.

If you have an insulated mug, you can bring some of your morning brew to work and not have to buy any coffee out.  Since making a decent cup is difficult at work, I often drink tea during the day.  Now that I’m used to decent tasting coffee, most of what I purchase by-the-cup tastes stale and full of off-flavors.

If you are thinking about upgrading your set-up, first try to clean up your current machine, or even use a commercial descaler to get it in better shape.  Here’s what I use and recommend:

Cuisinart DCC-1200 12-Cup Brew Central Coffeemaker

  • This is a basic, quality automatic drip coffee machine. It isn’t perfect, including brewing into a glass container on a warming plate rather than an insulated mug. But, it has held up to my hard use without breaking or breaking down.  You will want to purchase replacement charcoal filters when you buy the machine, as they get changed every 60 days.

Swissgold Gold Foil Filter 12-c.

  • Better quality than the one that comes with the Cusinart machine, not necessary until you decide you prefer to brew with a mesh filter vs. paper.

Salter 11-Pound Square Stainless-Steel Digital Kitchen Scale

  • If you don’t have one yet, this is an essential part of a diet and fitness oriented kitchen. You can put the grinder on it, zero it, and pour in your beans until you get the canonical 7gm per 6oz water. It’s faster than measuring with a scoop and more accurate.

Krups Fast Touch Coffee Grinders

  • The cost is so much less than using a burr grinder, it’s hard to justify the small increase in quality you would get with the burr.  Only use it for coffee, you don’t want various seed or spice flavors to intermingle.

If you can’t find a local roaster, try ordering beans online.  If you don’t know what you like, start with a medium roast, like a city roast, or talk to your roaster about your preferences.  You can adjust from there, now that you can brew a decent consistent cup for comparison.

Let me know how it goes!


9 Ways to Save Money and Eat Healthy

August 7, 2008
  1. Start the day with breakfast at home. No expensive and fattening bagels or muffins on the run to work. Even on weekends, you don’t really need that lumberjack special, have something better for you, home made. At least you can have real maple syrup on your frozen waffles like I do.
  2. No coffee out. I wish I would consistently follow this one myself. Most of my pocket cash goes to these sellers of adrenalin by the cup. Not that coffee is so unhealthy, just expensive unless you make it at home. And you can take it with you.
  3. Brown bag your lunch. Try the eBags Lunch Cooler, or something similar. I usually bring a sandwich, with quality nitrate-free fillings which are much better than what I would get at a deli or cafeteria. Bring along some fruit for a side. If you have the patience to get it ready, a big salad with some chicken on it can work as well.
  4. No take out! This can be a diet and a budget killer. Nothing like ordering out after a long and hard day at work. Think instead about easy, lazy cook at home weeknight meals. If you are a crusty bachelor consider adding some quality frozen entrées to your regimen.
  5. Rely on frozen vegetables. After a completely unscientific analysis of where my wastage was going in the kitchen, these were the findings. From my greengrocer, into my refrigerator, into my trash. Plans change, and produce goes bad quickly. Quality frozen vegetables are pre-washed, precut, and cook up fast in the microwave. Some butter or olive oil, some spice, and you have a healthy side dish.
  6. Plan and eat three meals per day, not an endless array of grazing and snacking. You will be surprised at how much you can save in terms of cash and calories by not keeping snack food on hand.
  7. Eat the same things over and over again. Admit it to yourself. Even if you are nowhere near as repetitive as Slowfit, you probably have a limited number of things you eat for your meals. When you hit the grocery store, do it with a plan.  Run through your typical meals in your head and make sure you have enough of the usual not to run out for a few days.
  8. No nutritional supplements. If you feel compelled to waste money, a cheap store brand multi-vitamin may be a lesser evil.  You will find more and more people pushing these on you, since they are a high margin, recurring purchase. Say no!
  9. Be careful of organic and local, artesian products. I love the idea, too, but they are often 50-150% more expensive than mass produced varieties. Stick with what you can afford, and what you enjoy. A trip to Whole Foods can blow a middle-class food budget in no time at all.