What's out: Starbucks. What's in: Home-brewed French press coffee.
It's hardly a surprise that fewer people are laying down $3 to $4 for a cup of joe. Even when our pockets were lined with greenbacks, we knew that what we were doing made no economic sense. Assuming we spend $2.79 a day on something like a latte, five days a week, for 50 weeks a year (subtracting two weeks' vacation), that's some $700 before tax. Half the time, we don't stop at that figure though. We go venti, we buy froth or shots, we eat. So that figure is often a bare minimum.
And it wasn't so much our addiction to caffeine that had us lining up for lattes. It was other, more powerful addictions--our penchant for ritual, and for convenience--that kept Starbucks in the cups. But although we all knew that spending so much each morning was a flagrant waste of money, it's still shocking to learn, once you do the math, just how big that waste actually is.I'm proud to say it: I don't even like Starbucks coffee. Its beans are burned. Coffee, being a natural crop, adopts different flavors depending on the season and its origin, so in order to give its product a consistent flavor profile across its thousands of domestic stores, I'm pretty sure that Starbucks simply scalds all of its beans rather than laboring on complicated blending procedures. In fact, its nickname among some competitors is "Scarbucks."
Any fan of strong coffee (that is, someone who doesn't care as much about convenience and ritual as they do about flavor) will tell you that you're better off brewing your own. For some reason, the perception is that it's difficult to do. It's not. Grandma had a percolator with clear plastic cap. When the brown stuff bubbled, breakfast was ready. But she was working harder than she had to.
In fact, all she needed was a simple glass French press, which is also often called a cafetiere. They cost $20 to $30 at your local home store. (I got mine at a closing-down sale at Bodum for a mere $13.) You put a little coffee in, you add hot water, you wait a couple minutes, and then you push the plunger down to isolate the grounds. That's it. No filters required. And clean-up is as quick as turning on the tap.
Not only do I cater the flavor according to what I like, but also the cost difference is astounding. A pound of fresh-ground coffee makes 40 to 60 six-ounce cups, depending on how strong you like it, and costs between $7 and $13 for most varieties. Calculating on the middle of the range (50 cups at $10 a bag), a six-ounce cup of brewed coffee, about a classic mug's worth, costs 20¢ each. At Starbucks, a "tall" is a 12-ounce serving.
At the Starbucks nearest me (thanks to rampant expansion, there's now one in the hall between my kitchen and the bathroom), a tall fresh-brewed coffee is $1.75. The same amount of coffee, brewed at home, would be 40¢. At the Dunkin' Donuts near me, a 10-ounce small costs $1.34--still about $1 more than I have to pay.
If you stop going to Starbucks every day, you don't even have to do without Starbucks coffee, because it sells its own beans by the pound that you can use in your French press. Most of its varieties cost exactly what I've based my calculations on: $10 a bag. Dunkin' Donuts sells it's own coffee, too; a pound costs $8.69--you'll get 40 to 60 cups out of that, too.
Besides guaranteeing a taste you prefer, buying your own beans also enables you to put your principles where your teaspoon is. You'll have control over where your beans are grown, if pesticides are used, and if political conditions are generous to the farmers. And I don't know about you, but if I brew my coffee at home, I'm more likely to eat at home, too, which saves me even more money.
So with very little outlay (a cafetiere, a cheap plastic hot water kettle, maybe a travel mug), regular coffee drinkers can save nearly a grand a year and not lose a thing in terms of flavor. That must be why, at my local Bed Bath & Beyond, there are suddenly piles of French presses stacked up in a prominent location. People are onto them. Home-brewed coffee is, well, hot.