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Clouds in My Coffee

Richard Quinn, 2:32 am ET

I’M ON MY THIRD cup of coffee this morning and it dawned on me how much I’m spending on the stuff. I have one of those machines that use the little K-Cup pods, which may be the most expensive way to make coffee. I find it curious that someone who likes to think of himself as frugal makes coffee at home that can cost 70 cents or more per cup.

If I bought a pound bag of house brand—not designer—coffee, I could enjoy a cup for as little as 12 cents. Why not do that? In a word, convenience. Like many other people, I’ll pay more than five times as much for a cup of home-brewed coffee just to have it quickly and with no mess. Are we spoiled or what? There’s another advantage to the machines—variety. The cups provide an endless choice of coffee and flavors, including that fall delight known as pumpkin spice.

My machine also makes lattes and cappuccinos. The Starbucks standard price for a latte or cappuccino is $4.25. The price for a small—excuse me—“tall” coffee is $1.85. That means they’re charging an extra $2.40 for a little skim milk and perhaps some syrup to upgrade coffee into cappuccino. At that rate, my in-home convenience has a favorable price factor, though without the coffee shop ambiance.

Lattes and cappuccinos have always fascinated me. What’s the difference? Turns out there’s very little difference and it all comes down to foam. A cappuccino has more foam, while a latte has more steamed milk in the coffee and a little foam on top. The real discovery is that someone convinced us there’s a couple of dollars of value in making foamed milk. Probably the same critic who convinced us that modern abstract art was actually art.

There are many ways to make coffee. I’ve used a French press and cold brew. Both work, but they’re messy. I was in a specialty store with a large copper coffee machine on display that looked like a boiler. It was $15,000. I wonder what that amortizes to per cup?

I’m sticking with my machine, but I’m obsessed with not paying full price for my K-Cups. Fact is, every week or so, one brand is on sale, even Starbucks. I’ll buy whatever is a bargain. Every trip to the store requires a trip down the coffee aisle in my quest to save money—or is that to overspend less?

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ishabaka
ishabaka
17 days ago

You can buy reusable/refillable K-cups and use bulk coffee or grind your own beans. Amazon has them.

John McHugh
John McHugh
17 days ago

I recall a quality sci-fi novel, maybe Heinlein but I’m not sure, with the observation, “Every planet has something called coffee but none are the same.”

Presumably all are a habit-forming mild stimulant. Presumably, whatever it is, the habituated people on each planet savor their morning cuppa just as much as those on the others.

Linked to that is another pop- culture reference, an exchange between (middle class) Morgan Freeman and (rich guy) Jack Nicholson in The Bucket List film. Freeman refers to the “Chock Full Of Nuts” coffee brand’s slogan, “Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy,” and Nicholson responds, “I wouldn’t bet on that.”

I might bet on it* in this sense: It may not matter much which brand one drinks or how much it costs, because before long they become all the same, just the morning cuppa that you look forward to and often sip on much of the day.

I always liked the quirky the Chock Full O’ Nuts slogan and label design, so that’s what I drink. When I find myself sipping and enjoying fancy stuff away from home I always enjoy it, but realize if I started using it at home within a couple week it would quicly become just the morning cuppa I look forward to, but no more or less than “regular.”

*There may be some poor-quality threshold to which the above does not apply. Related, on this planet roasted beans get rancid after a few months and the product becomes undrinkable.

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
17 days ago
Reply to  John McHugh

Wise words indeed.

Brent Wilson
Brent Wilson
20 days ago

If you like the convenience of pods but want higher quality espresso-based drinks, take a look at a Nespresso machine. These machines take small pods of coffee and produce enough bars of pressure to make legit espresso shots.

The machines themselves run about $150-$250 depending on the model you choose, and the pods run about $1 each. It is by far the easiest way to make good espresso and, if consumed regularly, will save money over time compared to the coffee shop.

kahunastev
kahunastev
22 days ago

On my 2nd cup reading this, noting there is a LavAzza coffee ad on the right side of the screen. Started drinking instant coffee in college and loved the flavor and rush it gave me. Fast forward 40 years and realize the coffee maker is the most used appliance in the house next to the microwave oven. We cannot start the day without a few cups and my wife preps the “Mr.Coffee” maker every evening before we retire. Dunkin Donuts coffee is our preferred brand, but the best we ever had were the bags we brought back from Costa Rica years ago, after an epic surf trip to Jaco Beach on the Pacific coast. I could die a happy man just thinking about it.

R Quinn
R Quinn
21 days ago
Reply to  kahunastev

My best remembered coffee was Kona we bought in HI, but I like that LavAzza too. Not a fan of DD though.

medhat
medhat
22 days ago

Sure, a Keurig is more (per cup) than using a French Press, but if you step back and look at the absolute expense outlay, I think you can continue to sleep well at night! We have in our household a relatively expensive “super-automatic” espresso machine. Even taking into account the price of entry and the cost of consumables (beans, milk), my family rapidly tilts into value over a daily Starbucks habit.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
23 days ago

Fun article Richard. I didn’t drink coffee until I was 55. I never understood the appeal. But I saw how much fun everyone was having hanging at coffee shops, drinking things I couldn’t identify. My brother and I were traveling together and he wanted to stop at a Starbucks for his afternoon coffee. I asked him what I should order and he started me with a Java Chip Frappucinos (almost a milkshakes). That started it – I now drink several cups of good, dark coffee per day.

I used to obsess about finding the best price per K-cup, scouring the internet. Usually you need to buy large quantities to get the best price from Amazon or Costco. Finally my family told me we ran out of storage space for them.

When I accidentally broke the water reservoir on our Keurig, I was forced to use our French Press while waiting for a new one to be delivered. (BTW – we have an older unit and Keurig customer service was excellent at helping me find the right one and shipped it rapidly and for free). I like the french press but it’s more work. If I get up and take a nice bike ride on the boardwalk, I’ll reward myself with a cup of Ocean City Coffee Company’s Pirate Blend (Costa Rican & Columbian).

R Quinn
R Quinn
22 days ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

I drink my coffee black, purely by accident. I was on leave from the army when we got married in December. Out honeymoon was delayed by a snowstorm and we were stranded at the airport for more than a day.

When we finally got to our hotel in Freeport a day and a half late, they showed us our room – with twin beds. My stress level was high. Just fix it I said and while they were doing that we ordered breakfast. They forgot to bring milk and sugar and 53 years later I still drink coffee black, no sugar. Every time I drink coffee I think of that day.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
23 days ago

We love our coffee as well and my wife and I polish off a full pot (at least) every day. We’ve been happy enough with a simple drip coffeemaker and bags of ground Starbucks from the grocery store. But I’d like to try out at some point one of the more exotic methods and machines mentioned.

But what I really get a kick out of is that every time they launch a study trying to prove that coffee is bad for you, the results are that it actually has health benefits!

R Quinn
R Quinn
23 days ago

Like they say, everything in moderation. But what point is that? I have one regular and two decafe on most days. My wife say I drink too much coffee

macropundit
macropundit
22 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

It can be hard to find. I’m a caffeine lightweight, and not at all a foodie, so I like coffee because one must have a number of non-harmful habits I suppose. For me it’s mostly about being a hot beverage, so I drink it pretty weak. If the caffeine is keeping one from sleep or given headaches it’s too much. My favorite trick is to take a sale medium roast k-cup (~.35 cents each) and use the cup twice to make 2 cups of coffee, and then mix the two together to get 2 cups weaker than full strength–and halving the cost. I know most people who aren’t caffeine lightweights think that’s disgusting, but I like it and it’s a means of moderation.

Dan Heller
Dan Heller
23 days ago

I enjoy a little ritual in my coffee making routine, and it not being a completely utilitarian activity. Pour-over and Aeropress are my favorite methods – there’s a few steps yet are simple and require only a couple minutes, the coffee is great, and cleanup is especially easy.

Agree with the larger point – examine and reflect on where (and what) you pay for convenience.

R Quinn
R Quinn
23 days ago
Reply to  Dan Heller

Not sure what a pour over is.

David Powell
David Powell
23 days ago

Life has to have some pleasures and good home-brewed coffee is one we also love. We grew weary of spending money replacing cheap plastic coffeemakers. Technivorm makes built-to-last drip units like Moccamaster which quickly brews a cup or six. Add to that a decent coffee grinder and a 5 lb bag of beans from https://bardcoffee.com and every day is a good day. I should do the math to calculate per-cup cost but with well over a decade of use I’ll wager the coffeemaker cost is in the noise. Update: yep, we likely average about 95 cents/cup all-in.

Last edited 23 days ago by David Powell
R Quinn
R Quinn
23 days ago
Reply to  David Powell

Forget the math and enjoy, but it sounds like work.

Ginger Williams
Ginger Williams
23 days ago

I picked up fast food soda pop with crushed ice three times a day for years. That $10 a day habit was a tiny and affordable indulgence, right? When the fast food place switched from bountiful crushed ice to a few wimpy cubes, I decided to stop spending a ridiculous amount for a no longer satisfying indulgence.

it took so trial and error, but I finally discovered tiny packets of flavor crystals, which I pour into my reusable water bottles, and store in the refrigerator, are great. I enjoy trying the different flavors and no longer miss my crushed ice and fizz. Plain tap water would be even more frugal, but $15 a week on flavor packets is an affordable indulgence.

The $65 a week savings on beverages is plumping up my vacation account nicely. Retirement savings are on target, so why not pay for a great experience?

R Quinn
R Quinn
23 days ago

Sounds like a smart move to me. Just goes to show where there is a will to save for better things, there is usually a way.

Ormode
Ormode
24 days ago

Well, here I am drinking tea that costs $40 for 200 grams. I’m retired, too. Does this bother me? No, I’m still only spending 50% of my income, and I haven’t even touched my rather large retirement accounts.
So if your net worth is still going up, and you have plenty of money, you might as well enjoy yourself.

R Quinn
R Quinn
24 days ago
Reply to  Ormode

One time I was in Harrods in London and splurged on a package of tea, my taste buds weren’t sophisticated enough to tell difference from Tetley. But there were two Asian women there loading up suitcases with tea and spend £1,300. I wonder if that stuff comes in K-cups?

Last edited 23 days ago by R Quinn
Mike Zaccardi
Mike Zaccardi
24 days ago

I too enjoy a great cup of joe. I’ve always thought it’d be cool to join some kind of ‘coffee of the week’ club where they send you a different grind each period. That’d probably be very expensive, but discovering a new favorite would be fun. I like a dark, bold, black flavor usually.

R Quinn
R Quinn
24 days ago
Reply to  Mike Zaccardi

I’m with you, my favorite is Starbucks Italian roast. No milk or sugar. Just heard the coffee crop did poorly so I guess it’s time to stock up.

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