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Brew Your Own Damn Coffee!

Thursday, February 23, 2012
Man enjoying freshly brewed coffee
It always amazes me how much money people spend buying coffee from places like Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. Buy one regular brewed coffee every work day and you're spending around $500 a year. Many coffee drinkers purchase more than one coffee a day. If you're opting for the high calorie coffee flavored milkshake type drinks it's even more still. Many people are spending well over $1,000 a year on something you can get an endless amount of practically free with your breakfast at any diner.

Why spend so much money on coffee, have to deal with the hassle of going out, waiting in line when you could brew a better, cheaper cup while still in your robe? (OK more like boxers and t-shirt scratching your groggy head.)

The answer is pretty simple. Most people can't or don't brew a better cup of coffee at home!

This might be why there are so many Starbucks Snobs. Trust me, if you're idea of great coffee is having a college kid press some buttons that makes hot brown water shoot out of a machine into a paper cup, you're not a coffee snob.

Places like Starbucks are the McDonald's of coffee. It has it's place in the market but I've never been a fan. For me, going out for coffee used to mean finding an independent coffee shop that roasts their own beans and has a nice atmosphere plus some good deserts. A place you could sit and read or chat with friends while a friendly waitress brings you your coffee in a quirky mug. The coffee shop was owned by someone who lived, breathed and slept coffee and was proud of delivering quality. Sadly, it's harder to find such cafes these days. (End rant)

You don't need to be obsessed with coffee to make a great cup of coffee at home though. You also don't need a lot of expensive equipment either and I'll show you how.

What it takes to make a great cup of coffee

Coffee isn't complicated. Seriously, you're not developing the next new vaccine.

All it takes to make great coffee is good beans (freshly ground preferred), filtered water, the right ratio of beans to water, water heated to the appropriate temperature (195-205 degrees F) and the correct brewing time (about 4 minutes).

The right water temperature and brew time is very important to get the rich flavors out of coffee and avoid the bitter flavors that can come from brewing too long.

Cheap way to make great coffee at home

This post wound up being pretty long so here's a summary.

First of all, ditch the espresso based drinks. Coffee shops market them more because they make more money. In my research I came across coffee shop consultants (people who help you set up and run a cafe) who all said that the success of a coffee shop is based on how many espresso drinks they sell.

Espresso isn't bad but when you consider that a shot of espresso is 1.5oz, that 20oz double shot is mostly milk. I'm really trying to cut down the calories I drink, as should most people. If you learn how to brew good tasting coffee at home you won't have to add a lot of milk, sugar or flavorings that just add calories.

I got tired of cleaning my drip coffee maker and I wound up going through 3 in the past 2 years because they all sprung leaks so I did a lot of research on a better way to brew coffee at home. If you don't care about the how and why or other more expensive options here is a list of things you'll need to make great coffee at home cheap. The coffee maker is less than $20 at time of writing.
You can use ground coffee with the above setup but you'll get even better coffee if you grind your own beans. Grinding coffee beans just before you brew helps preserve the flavor of coffee. Just think how much better freshly ground pepper tastes compared to that from a tin.

A consistent grind size is important for brewing good coffee and a burr grinder is recommended over a blade grinder. From what I read it looks like you need to spend at least $80 for an electric burr grinder to get something that doesn't create a lot of dust. If you don't mind burning a few calories the Kyocera Ceramic Coffee Grinder manual coffee grinder is well regarded.

How much do you save making your own coffee?

The Clever Coffee Dripper, manual coffee grinder and travel mug will cost less than $80 total. The biggest expense is the grinder which you can forgo in the beginning and just use the same preground coffee you're probably already using.

The cost of making 1 16oz mug of coffee, including milk, sugar and filter is going to range $0.55-$1.20 per 16 oz travel mug based on using coffee that costs $6-$15 per lb. That's a saving $0.80-$1.45 compared to the $2.00 16oz coffee in a paper cup.

If you buy 2 16oz coffees every work day that's a savings of $400-$725 a year which more than makes up for the minimal equipment you need.  If you buy more coffee than that, including on weekends, you wind up saving even more.

You also get to start enjoying a good cup of coffee before you even put on your pants. You can't put a price on that. :)

Why home coffee makers suck!

Most home coffee makers fail at making good coffee. Even expensive models. The reason is they don't get the water hot enough and/or they don't brew the coffee long enough. In addition, the hot plate that keeps the coffee warm can ruin the flavor of the coffee if it sits there long. Thermal carafes can improve the flavor a bit but don't negate the problems with temperature and brew time.

The single serve pod brewers don't seem to do a better job and have a much higher cost associated with them.

Try this coffee brewing experiment. Brew coffee in your coffee maker as you normally would. While that's going boil some water in a pot or kettle.

After the water boils let it sit for 2 minutes. This will bring it down to the right temperature range for brewing coffee. Measure out the same ratio of coffee to water you use in your coffee maker (usually 1 tablespoons per 6 oz of water) and mix it with the hot water in a warmed cup. So 2 tablespoons for 8 oz of water. Stir the coffee for a few seconds and allow it to brew for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes use a fine mesh strainer with a coffee filter in it to filter out the grounds. Compare this coffee to that from your drip coffee maker. You should notice a big improvement in coffee flavor.

There are affordable coffee makers that can make the above process easier and cleaner. I'll discuss them below but first lets look at some of the more expensive toys.

There are some good automated home coffee makers. The Technivorm coffee makers are highly regarded. They get the water to the right temperature and have control over the brew which allows them to make great coffee. That's if you're willing to spend $200-$300 on a coffee maker. If you don't mind spending this much, this is the coffee maker you should get.t

Don't worry there are cheaper alternatives.

For around $150 the Bonavita BV1800TH 8-Cup Coffee Maker with Thermal Carafe also fits the bill as far as time and temperature go.

Some people even prefer the Bonavita over the Technivorm. The design is more like traditional coffee drippers so it will fit under your upper kitchen cabinets.

There are no automatic features. All the money goes into a better heating element and spray head.

You've probably noticed that even the coffee at your local newsstand tastes better than the coffee you brew in your dinky little Mr. Coffee or whatever you have.

Bunn is the industry standard in commercial coffee makers. Most of them have a reservoir that keeps the water at the correct temperature and the thicker coffee filters allow the coffee to steep longer. Bunn coffee makers have a good reputation and good customer support. They even make some affordable home models that use the same principles and technology as their commercial big brothers.

One new Bunn home model looks very promising is getting a lot of good reviews. It's the BUNN HG Phase Brew 8-Cup Home Coffee Brewer which is also available in a thermal carafe version for a little more. It's more compact and much cheaper than the Technivorms and it isn't constantly heating water all day long like the other Bunn models.

It heats the water in a tank just before brewing. Once the water reaches the correct temperature it is poured onto the grounds where it brews for 4 minutes. Total time to brew a bot of coffee is 10 minutes. This looks like a great option for those that don't want to manually make their coffee and instead would like it to be ready to serve once they get out of the shower. It even has a timer so it can be ready when you wake up.

If you don't mind putting a little bit of work you can find even cheaper options.

French Press

A popular and affordable choice for brewing coffee is the french press.

It's very simple device. Add coffee grounds to the press, then add properly heated water, stir, let brew for 4 minutes, then press the grounds down with the plunger.

This method gives coffee a full flavor. It allows you to control the brew time and many flavors and oils in the extraction don't get trapped in a paper filter.

There are some cons to using a french press.

The main drawback people have is that the mesh filter on the press isn't as fine as a paper filter so many times some fine grounds will wind up in your coffee cup. Because of this you should grind your beans a little coarser. Unless you have an expensive burr grinder you're still going to get some fine grounds in your coffee. You can't really use most preground coffee in a french press.

French presses are a little harder to clean compared to just pulling out a paper filter and chucking it in the compost bin. I hate the thought of even a little coffee beans going down the drain. Plumbers ain't cheap!

The other drawback is that coffee contains cafestol which may increase LDL cholesterol levels. A study showed that paper coffee filters absorb a lot of the cafestol and decrease the risk of higher LDL cholesterol. Since there is no paper filter in a french press this is a concern.

Clever Coffee Dripper

The Clever Coffee Dripper is a fairly new manual coffee brewer that combines the benefits of a french press and drip coffee maker.

It is a plastic coffee brewer that uses a paper cone filter. Unlike other single cup manual coffee makers the CCD has a stopper mechanism that allows the water to stay in the brewer for as long as you like.

It's very easy to use and clean and creates great coffee. And it's CHEAP! Buy two and bring one to the office.

The people who developed the Clever Coffee Dripper really did a great job in my opinion. The CCD was the last coffee maker I ran across in my research into making a better cup of coffee. As I was investigating the various brewing options I invented a CCD-type device in my head.  When I finally found the CCD I was thrilled. It did everything I thought a manual coffee maker should do.

In practice it's very easy to use and is much easier to clean than the drip coffee makers that always get a build up of coffee gunk on the bottom of the brewing basket.

As I indicated in my experiment above you can just use a strainer and coffee filter but using the Clever Coffee Dripper makes it easier to clean up afterwards. With the CCD you can brew anywhere from 10 to 30 ozs of coffee at a time which makes it great for making coffee for 1-2 people and more if you need to.

How to use the Clever Coffee Dripper
  1. Start boiling water.
  2. Insert a #4 cone paper coffee filter in the CCD
  3. When water reaches a boil remove from heat and pour some water in the CCD. In addition to warming up the CCD to keep the brewing temperature more constant, it also helps remove some of that paper taste from the filter.
  4. This is a good time to measure and grind your coffee beans.
  5. Drain the hot water from the CCD into your coffee mug to warm that up as well.
  6. Place your coffee grounds in the filter in the CCD.
  7. Pour the appropriate amount of water into the CCD and place the lid on it to retain heat.
  8. After 1 minute gently stir the coffee being careful not to damage the paper filter. Replace the lid when done.
  9. After about 3 1/2 minutes empty the hot water from your coffee mug and place the CCD over your coffee mug. This will cause the coffee to start pouring into your mug.
Cleaning is simple. Just dispose of the grounds and filter and rinse the CCD.

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