Convenience isn't the only reason so many people buy coffee on-the-go. Since it's brewed and prepared by baristas with plenty of coffee know-how, a cup from your coffee shop typically tastes better. Replicating that coffee shop taste is not as simple as buying the cheapest bag of beans and brewing it at home.
But, you can brew an inexpensive yet delicious cup of coffee at home if you follow these tips:
1. Buy whole beans instead of pre-ground
Bags of whole coffee beans are usually less expensive than pre-ground coffee. Plus, coffee tastes better when it's brewed right after it's freshly ground. A new coffee grinder will cost about $14-20; check out the Proctor Silex E160BY Fresh Grind Coffee Grinder or the Krups 203 Electric Coffee and Spice Grinder on Amazon. Or, wait for one of the frequent Kohl's sales or Bed Bath & Beyond coupons to arrive in your mailbox to buy a grinder for less.
Although investing in a coffee grinder may seem like an additional expense, it'll save you in the long run. Plus, you can also use it to grind spices, which are also less expensive if you buy them whole and grind them yourself — plus, like fresh-ground coffee, they taste better!
2. Let yourself be surprised by a lower grade
When shopping for coffee beans, expensive does not necessarily mean better. I've tried many brands at various price points, and although it is true that less expensive coffee typically has a more bitter and less smooth taste, there are exceptions to the rule. Even the New York Times found that in a blind taste test, people did not always prefer the more expensive brands.
A 16-ounce bag of whole-bean Starbucks coffee is $12-14, depending on the blend. But some of my favorite "cheap" coffees like Dunkin Donuts and the generic Safeway Brand are in the $7-8 range, plus I see more sales on these coffees. I also like that I can purchase Dunkin Donuts at CVS and Walgreens so I can use my Extra Care Bucks and Register Rewards.
Try different lower grade brands, and you just might find one you like.
3. Join a coffee of the month to sample artisan brews
If you're passionate about a high-quality coffee and the grocery store brands don't cut it, subscribe to a coffee club to try a variety of artisan coffee at a fixed price. This could also be a good way to budget your coffee spending, since you're paying the same amount each month. When I'm out of fancy coffee for the month, I just have to make do until another bag arrives next month.
Usually these coffee clubs are less expensive if you commit to a longer subscription. So an annual subscription would be less expensive per month than a three-month subscription, for example. Better Beans has a variety of clubs that deliver a new 12-ounce coffee blend each month for $12.95.
Although $12.95 is more expensive than buying coffee from the grocery store shelf, it is a good price for high-quality artisan coffee and typically supports a small coffee farm. I've purchased beans from coffee shops for as much as $18 for a 12-ounce bag. And, it's certainly less expensive than spending $1-2 a day on a cup of coffee from Starbucks.
4. Use reusable coffee filters, or forgo filters completely
Although the coffee itself is the main expense for brewing a cup of joe, you'll need filters for your coffee maker, as well. Cheap filters affect the taste of your coffee, so I steer clear of the flimsy white filters you find in hotel rooms and communal office coffee makers. I previously used the brown Melitta cone filters, which cost about $5 for a pack of 40. Then I discovered that for the same price, I can use the same filter over and over.
Instead of throwing your money away on disposable coffee filters, try a $5 reusable mesh coffee filter, which has a 5-year warranty. $6 mesh filters are even available for Keurig and Cuisinart K-Cup machines.
Or, you can eliminate filters completely by brewing your coffee with a $25 French press.
5. BYOM (Bring Your Own Mug)
This one's a no brainer, but I can't believe how many people don't do it! I have a rule that I never show up to a coffee shop without my own mug. Nearly every coffee shop will give you a discount with a reusable coffee mug. Sometimes you'll only save 10 cents or so, but I have been to coffee shops that discount my drink by a couple of dollars. Always keep a reusable mug in your car or at your desk so you'll never be caught off guard paying full price for a cup of coffee again.
6. Pick one go-to shop for on-the-go coffee
If you must get your fix on-the-go, go to the same coffee shop every time, especially if they have punch cards. Getting to know the staff will save you money in the long run because you'll receive better service and more perks.
Staff at my favorite coffee shop will sometimes give me a few punches on my card instead of just one, bringing me closer to that free tenth drink more quickly. They'll also offer me free day-old treats or pastries. And sometimes they'll refill my reusable coffee cup to the top, then charge me for a smaller size.
7. Use a smaller coffee maker
When you're groggy and not yet awake, it might seem like a whole pot of coffee is necessary to wake up. So you might be tempted to brew a gigantic pot to get you through the morning. But how many times have you brewed a whole pot only to drink half of it and dump the rest down the drain? I prevent this from happening to me with a small coffee maker that only brews a few cups at once, which prevents me from being wasteful. And when I do have leftovers, I recycle them (see the next tip.)
8. Recycle leftover coffee
Coffee snobs may snub their noses at this tip, but I can't stand to waste anything, even if it is a few ounces of coffee. If I have coffee left, I'll pour it into a jar I keep in the fridge specifically for leftover coffee. When I need a caffeine fix later in the day, I already have iced coffee ready to go! I also pour leftover coffee into ice cube trays and freeze it. This prevents my iced coffee from getting watered down. The coffee cubes work great for adult coffee-flavored drinks, too!