Clouds in My Coffee

Richard Quinn

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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