I love coffee.
I also love saving money.
This means that worlds could collide when deciding whether to trust a professional barista to make my daily coffee or make it at home.
For a long time, the cliche of all cliches in the world of personal finance has been that you can save a bundle of money by switching your Costa or Starbucks habit for the home-brewed version.
Is that true? Well, yes, it is – but it won’t be right for everyone.
Why you shouldn’t make coffee at home to save money
The Motley Fool is a site dedicated to helping you live your best financial life. In many cases, that means pointing out where you can save money.
But unless you’re struggling under high levels of debt, living your best financial life doesn’t mean cutting spending to the bone in every aspect of your life. There’s nothing ‘best’ about that.
It does mean being smart about where you spend your money though, and it does mean making sure you’re not making outlays on products or services that aren’t that important to you.
With that in mind, consider not worrying about buying coffee out of the home, if either of the following is true:
- Coffee is a priority in your life, the prepared coffee you buy is much better than that you could hope to make yourself* and drinking prepared coffee every day brings you consistent joy.
- Buying prepared coffee out of the home saves you so much time* that you’re essentially trading the coffee money for time – which can be a very valuable resource.
* Ensure you are convinced on these points, as it’s possible to make excellent coffee at home and to make coffee quickly at home. Read on to learn more about both. (Though I will readily admit that making excellent coffee quickly at home is more challenging!)
How much can you save by making coffee at home?
The short answer? Quite a bit of money.
The longer answer? It really depends. Let’s take a look at why.
It depends on where you regularly buy your coffee out of the home and what type of coffee and coffee preparation technique you would use at home.
But for argument’s sake, imagine you were using a relatively basic Russell Hobbs filter coffee machine (£35 at the time of writing), along with an 80-pack of Melitta coffee filter papers (£2.49 at the time of writing) and Costa Coffee Signature Blend (pre-ground, £18.75 per 1kg at the time of writing).
A coffee maker can last quite a while, but let’s make the assumption that this one will last us two years. And let’s further assume that we’re making an average of two cups per day, every day of the year. With the £35 price tag on the coffee maker, we’re looking at roughly £0.02 per cup. Then add £0.03 per coffee filter and £0.30 for the coffee (assuming 16g coffee per cup).
Which brings us to a grand total of £0.35 per cup. That’s quite a savings from the £2 to £2.50 you might pay at Costa or Starbucks.
And that’s just one cup. Multiply that over the two cups per day over a year and you could save up to nearly £1,600 annually. That’s real money.
Naturally, this is a very simple comparison. If you’re in the habit of drinking flat whites or cappuccinos, or your spot is a third wave coffee house serving pour-over of single-origin beans, then the maths is a bit different. But in almost every case, you can expect to save a reasonable amount of money.
How to make great coffee at home
If coffee is mostly a vehicle for caffeine for you, then you may not be concerned about a drop in taste by making it at home (though you may be more concerned about how much time it’ll take – if so, see below!).
But for many reading this, saving money on coffee may not mean much if the cheaper coffee tastes lousy. Fret not, because home-made coffee can be quite good.
Personally, I’ve found that the best balance between convenience and a great-tasting cup of coffee is a filter machine. Crazy, right? Not really.
Many consider the gold-standard of coffee making to be the pour-over method (more on that in a moment). A filter coffee machine is essentially the same extraction mechanism – hot water is poured over the ground coffee over time and allowed to filter through the grounds and a paper coffee filter into the carafe.
There are quite a few things that can be done to make coffee from a filter machine quite bad. But, likewise, quite a few things that can be done to make the coffee very good. Here are a few:
- After about 30 seconds, open the top of the machine and stir the grounds: Well-brewed coffee revolves around evenly extracting from the ground coffee. Once the grounds have been doused in water, a good stir ensures that a wonky settling of grounds won’t cause uneven extraction.
- Don’t bother with the permanent filter: Yes, not buying paper filters saves you money – and we’re talking here about saving money – but, as noted above, that’s only about £0.03 per cup, and filter coffee made with a paper filter is far better than what comes from using the permanent filter basket.
- Don’t make 10 cups at once: Most filter coffee machines can make eight or 10 cups at once. Don’t do it! The optimal brewing time for coffee grounds is in the range of three to five minutes. Brewing too much at once throws this off. If you’re having a large crowd, do what you must. But making two to three cups at a time will yield far better coffee.
- Don’t let the coffee sit on the burner: The burner under the carafe that turns on when you’re making your coffee is not your friend. Let the coffee sit too long on that burner after it’s done brewing and your coffee will be ruined. Better still, don’t let the coffee sit there at all. Either brew enough that the coffee is all being enjoyed fresh (best option). Or preheat a thermos (I use a Stanley similar to this one) with some boiling water, empty it, and then pour your coffee in there for later use.
- Use quality coffee: Using good-quality ground coffee (or whole bean) is important for obvious reasons. I can assure you that the most expensive coffee isn’t always the best, but I can say that getting too cheap on your coffee will not get you a good result.
- Grind your beans fresh for every cup: This isn’t an absolute must, as it does an amount of time (grinding) and cost (the grinder) to the process versus using pre-ground coffee. However, freshly ground beans produce a much better cup than beans that have been pre-ground. If you are going to bother grinding your own though, invest in a burr grinder to make it worth your while (something like the Melitta Molino).
Even better coffee, though less convenient
If you’re less concerned about convenience and more about approaching the hallowed perfect cup, then you are well advised to consider pour-over coffee.
While it’s beyond the scope of this article to cover all of the ins and outs of making pour-over coffee (there is, after all, an annual competition devoted to making the ultimate pour-over), we can look at some of the basics to get you started with this brewing method.
From the money-saving angle, pour-over coffee may end up an even cheaper method for you than filter coffee. As it’s likely that you already have a kettle in your kitchen, all you really need is the coffee, a pour-over dripper (I suggest a classic Hario V60), and some pour-over filters. You can even get a start-up set that includes all the pieces in a kit.
Of course, we’re talking about maximum taste now. So the Hario V60 dripper and filters will serve you well. But for the best results, you’ll also want a burr coffee grinder to make sure you have freshly-ground coffee for every cup (the Melitta Molino mentioned above, or something similar, would work well).
And since a lot of the magic of pour-over coffee is the control you have over the brewing process, you’ll want to make sure you have a proper gooseneck kettle. Hario’s kettle is a good choice if you are happy to boil on the stovetop, though there are also electric kettle options. I’ve been known to boil water in my non-gooseneck electric kettle and then pour it into my stovetop pour-over kettle.
If you do maximally equip yourself for pour-over coffee, it can indeed start to add up – dripper, filters, burr grinder, gooseneck kettle. But as compared to even a filter coffee maker – let alone a more complex push-button setup – most of these elements are likely to last you a very long time. This means that from a cost-per-use standpoint, the price tag is still quite low compared to coffee purchased out of the home.
I won’t get into the specifics of the coffee itself here, but naturally, if you’re focused on taste, you’ll want to seek out great coffee beans. You’ll typically want to look for single-origin beans and get something that’s been roasted very recently.
The coffee itself will constitute most of the cost of each cup of coffee you prepare at home. But if you’re aiming for great taste, this isn’t a good place to skimp. Besides, even after you spend more on good beans, if you do the maths and compare to coffee purchased at a fancy third wave shop, you’re still almost certainly spending a lot less.
How to make coffee quickly at home
The other reason many people buy coffee out of the home is convenience. With many of us rushing around more than ever, taking the time for a filter pot to brew can be a luxury. Standing over a pour-over setup is downright laughable.
Luckily, there are solutions for this as well, and just like the solutions mentioned above, they can save you money versus buying coffee out of the home.
I will put in a quick plug here for the filter pot. Though it does take a bit of time to brew, as mentioned above, I do think this approach provides the best balance for making great-tasting coffee quickly. If time is an issue – and often that’s especially true in the morning – you can get your filter and coffee set up in the machine the night before.
Many filter machines have a scheduling function to allow you to set the time so a pot of coffee is ready when you need it. But even if you buy a machine that’s so simplistic that it doesn’t have its own timer function, you can get a smart plug like this and schedule your coffee through your mobile.
Ok, but what about Nespresso? My colleague Diana Bocco has previously written about whether Nespresso is worth the money. And I largely agree with her conclusions.
The plusses are that the Nespresso is fast, so it definitely meets the need for convenience. And it’s also cheaper than out-of-home alternatives. If we go for the Nespresso Essenza Mini (£89 at the time of writing) and assume it will last two years, making two cups per day, then the machine will cost roughly £0.06 per cup.
The Nespresso pods do generally cost more than ground or whole bean coffee, but prices can vary wildly. On Nespresso’s website, a single Peru Organic pod costs £0.50 (at the time of writing). Yet on Amazon, you can buy 100 Solimo Nespresso Ristretto Capsules for £10.49 (at the time of writing), which works out to a bit more than £0.10 per capsule.
Generally speaking though, you’ll likely pay somewhere in the range of £0.40 per capsule. When combined with the £0.06 machine cost per cup, you’re looking at £0.46 per cup. Which is more than the £0.35 per cup that I worked out for the filter coffee maker, but still quite a bit cheaper than the couple of quid you’ll pay for a coffee at Costa or Starbucks.
Given that the Nespresso is so incredibly fast and easy and saves a lot versus buying prepared coffee, you might wonder why this wouldn’t be my top pick. The answer will be a bit controversial to some: I don’t love the coffee from Nespresso machines. It’s good. I’d even say it’s quite good considering how fast and easy it is. But I still wouldn’t go out of my way for a Nespresso coffee.
For not that much extra effort (and at an even lower cost!), making coffee with a filter machine provides a lot of room for customisation and experimentation. And in the end, again, just in my view, a better cup of coffee.
Conclusion: Yes, you can save money making coffee at home (and do it quickly and easily!)
There’s a lot we haven’t covered here. We’ve only skimmed the surface of espresso (via the Nespresso machine). We haven’t touched at all on coffee/milk drinks. The good news is that while the maths changes a bit, it still comes out in favour of making coffee at home. That is, equipment for making these drinks at home gets a bit more expensive, but the drinks you’d purchase at the coffee shop also get more expensive.
We’ve also stayed with lower-priced machines for our coffee making. I don’t think that massively expensive machines are necessary. But there are some higher-end bean-to-cup machines, like the De’Longhi Magnifica that may be worth the money to some, since they are extremely easy to use and make very good coffee. The upfront cost is more for the machine here (£251.45 for the De’Longhi at the time of writing), but if we use the same maths as above (two cups per day from a machine lasting two years), then the machine will cost roughly £0.17 per cup. Combine that with £0.30 for the coffee and you get to £0.47 per cup, which is still quite a bit cheaper than what you pay at the coffee house.
And we haven’t covered the french press, aeropress, or moka pot – all of which can make a good cup of coffee and save you money. But, in my view, they aren’t as good as pour-over and brewing isn’t nearly as easy as a Nespresso. Though if you like especially strong coffee, these are brewing methods to consider.
No matter how you look at it, it’s clear that there are a variety of ways to make coffee at home that produce a really good cup and are not particularly difficult.
Should you save money by making your coffee at home? This has to be answered by you.
If buying prepared coffee brings you particular joy – you have a favourite barista, you meet friends at the coffee shop, or the coffee is just so good – it may not be worth it to you to make coffee at home.
Good money habits aren’t simply about spending as little money as possible. Instead, they’re about prioritising your spending and making sure that you aren’t spending a lot of money on things that aren’t important to you.
Matt owns shares of Starbucks, but does not own shares of any other companies mentioned.