For most of my life, I was not a coffee drinker. I preferred my caffeine cold in the form of Diet Coke.
And then fate stepped in…
But before we get to that, let me say that the following is a guest post I originally wrote for Get Rich Slowly. It was written over a year ago and since then, I have had to change my coffee-making methods. So at the end, I’ve provided an update to reflect my current habits.
I hope that you non-coffee drinkers can see the humor in this post (it is crazy how people obsess over coffee) and those of you who love coffee might be able to give me some tips to make mine even better.
For now, here’s the post (with a few updates) detailing my love affair with the elixir of life…
A Gift Opens the Door
As I said above, I was not a coffee drinker. I hated the taste the few times I’d tried it, though admittedly that was when I was much younger.
Then four years ago we moved to Oklahoma and my sister-in-law gave us a Keurig machine.
I thought, “That’s an interesting gift for a family that doesn’t drink coffee.”
But a set of sample k-cups came with the machine so we started trying them.
The kids liked the sugary cups which were more like hot chocolate than coffee. And I found that I liked the taste of coffee now and then. I played with combinations of coffee, sugar, and milk until I found out I liked it a lot. I later dropped the sugar and went straight for the coffee/milk combo.
Within a month or two, I was hooked.
The Latte Factor
The often-derided phrase “the latte factor” was coined by David Bach in his book The Automatic Millionaire. He followed that up by recently writing a book called The Latte Factor which I have not read (anyone out there have an opinion on it?)
The phrase was meant to illustrate the impact small purchases can have on a person’s finances. They don’t seem like much but they really add up. By minimizing small spending and saving the difference, one could become wealthy over time.
Bach just happened to use coffee as the example but small purchases could be anything where money trickles out here and there — a daily muffin at Panera, a soda or two in the machine at work, lunch out every day, and so on.
Of course the coffee people were up in arms thinking Bach suggested they go without coffee. Perish the thought! They threw a collective fit, but abandoning coffee wasn’t his intent. Nevertheless he became the personal finance expert most likely to be hated by coffee drinkers.
But he did have a point.
When we got our Keurig, my brother-in-law had given me a rule-of-thumb for buying k-cups: 50 cents or less per cup was a “good deal”. So I had a guideline to work against as I decided what I would spend on coffee.
As my coffee obsession grew I discovered Starbucks (of course) and found out that a latte can really rack up the spending. I don’t know about where you live, but a venti latte with only one shot is $4.60 here.
Put that into any financial calculator at a couple lattes a day for 20 years and it adds up to some serious moo-lah. (Get it, “moo”-lah and “latte”? Never mind.)
Anyway, that sort of spending could derail retirement if it got out of control.
Spending My Retirement on Coffee
Soon after I retired I started walking quite a bit (my goal is 15,000 steps per day). It was ever-so-natural to stop by our local Starbucks and grab a latte while I was out. A hot coffee was particularly nice on those cold Colorado winter mornings.
By the time I had racked up enough Starbucks points for three free lattes, I started thinking this habit was way too expensive to have in retirement. Yes, I could afford it if I wanted, but that’s just not how I roll. I thought I could probably make my own latte that tasted just as good for a lot cheaper.
And so the challenge was on!
Coffee Experiments Gone Wild
The last job I had before retirement had a plethora of coffee aficionados. I would go to the kitchen and be surrounded by all types of coffee, various machines for making it, and different techniques that were “guaranteed” to make the “best” coffee. At least that’s what each person claimed — that their method/beans/process resulted in the best tasting coffee possible.
I asked questions and discovered the world of pour overs, French presses, and all sorts of things that were previously foreign to me — each claiming to be better than the rest.
In the end I knew I needed to try several alternatives to see what tasted best to me.
So I did just that and began to experiment with the following:
- A variety of k-cups at various prices and coffee-to-milk ratios
- Different types of coffee (light, medium, and dark) in a couple forms (already ground versus beans)
- Differing methods of preparation including pour overs, French press, and drip
While doing this I tracked the cost per cup to see how low I could get the price. Yes, I was retired and had plenty of time on my hands.
It was actually a pretty interesting process. A whole new world came to life for me as I experimented. I also supplemented my efforts by reading about coffee online as well as chatting to anyone who claimed to know anything about making great coffee.
Through the process I began to narrow down what I liked best. For me this included:
- About a 50/50 split of coffee to milk — 6 or so ounces of each in a cup
- Dark roast blends over regular or light
- Beans seemed fresher/more flavorful than pre-ground
- There wasn’t much difference between the processes except the mess, so since the Keurig was the easiest to clean, I stuck with it
Getting the Price Down
As noted above I had established a couple cost numbers going into my trials:
- $4.60 was the “high”, Starbucks price
- 50 cents was the cut-off point for k-cups
Those were my benchmarks. But how low could I get the cost and still enjoy what I was drinking?
I experimented with k-cups as high as 70 cents each (usually pretty good) to as low as 30 cents each (Walmart generic cups on sale, weren’t as good). But I thought I could do much better, both in cost and taste.
By this time I had purchased a small grinder. I went to the store and purchased a whole host of beans. I used the Keurig one-cup filter to brew them immediately after grinding.
Here’s a list of where I bought my beans, the brand and blend, and the ultimate cost per cup of each from August 2106 to May 2017:
- Walmart; Starbucks Breakfast Blend; $0.272 per cup
- Walmart; Starbucks Espresso Roast; $0.220 per cup
- Walmart; Boyers Medium Roast; $0.249 per cup
- Walmart; Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend; $0.289 per cup
- King Soopers; Starbucks Café Verona; $0.237 per cup
- King Soopers; Starbucks Italian Roast; $0.214 per cup
- King Soopers; Starbucks French Roast; $0.227 per cup
- King Soopers; Starbucks Veranda Blend Blonde; $0.230 per cup
- King Soopers; Starbucks Pike Place Roast; $0.200 per cup
- Starbucks.com; Starbucks Cmas Blend Vintage; $0.239 per cup
- Starbucks.com; Starbucks Cmas Blend Espresso; $0.217 per cup
- Starbucks.com; Starbucks Holiday Blend; $0.239 per cup
- Starbucks.com; Starbucks Cmas Blend Decaf; $0.262 per cup
- Costco; Kirkland Espresso Blend; $0.134 per cup
- Costco; Kirkland Decaf; $0.142 per cup
- Costco; Kirkland Espresso Blend; $0.133 per cup
Told you I had a lot of time on my hands.
Most of the items above were purchased on some sort of deal/sale/coupon. I hardly ever paid full retail price except at the beginning when I simply wanted to try a bunch of options.
Through this process I discovered:
- Buying on sale/at a discount can make a big price impact. I don’t know why anyone would pay full retail when coffee deals seem like a dime a dozen. And getting even a decent deal can shave several cents off the price of a cup.
- Making your own coffee can be much cheaper than a k-cup. A LOT cheaper. Like at least half the price.
- Grinding it fresh seemed to make it taste better. You might not be able to notice a difference, but when I compared k-cups to pre-ground to freshly ground, the latter tasted best to me.
- The Kirkland Espresso Blend ended up winning on both taste and cost. Yet another reason to be thankful for Costco.
As a result, Kirkland has been my go-to coffee ever since I stopped tracking my results. Coffee for 13.3 cents per cup versus $4.60 for the same or better taste was a no-brainer. Yes, I realize the Starbucks venti is larger. That said, I could have 34 cups of the Costco coffee for the same price as one venti latte.
A nice perk is that I can make my favorite coffee at home. It tastes great, I’ve saved a ton of money, and I don’t have to go out at 5:30 am for the cup of coffee I prefer.
And my latte factor is well under control. David Bach would be so proud.
Hahahaha! I look back on this post and smile. What a nerd I am!
Anyway, time has a way of changing things, so here’s what’s happened in the year since I wrote this post:
- I bought a new grinder, going from the small KRUPS F203 Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder to the Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill. The reason for this will be apparent in a moment.
- I switched my process since grinding one k-cup at a time was very tedious (too much effort and clean up) and I wanted to batch my efforts. So I began to grind large amounts in my new grinder, then put the grounds and water in a large container (about 80 ounces) and place it in the refrigerator. It would brew over night. The next day I’d spoon out what grounds I could with a strainer, then use a pour over cup with filter to get the rest, transferring the coffee into a clean container. Then when I wanted a cup, I’d pour out some coffee, mix with milk, and put in the microwave.
- This process began with one container “brewing” in our refrigerator and now it’s up to two at a time.
- I used to purchase my beans at Costco (Kirkland espresso brand mixed with Kirkland decaf beans), but for some reason our Costco has decided not to stock the beans any longer (I guess they weren’t selling well). So now I’m experimenting with a combination of whatever beans I can find at Costco (Starbucks and others, usually on sale) mixed with Kirkland ground decaf coffee at a 60/40 blend.
- I currently use about 75/25 coffee to milk ratio for each cup. The 50/50 blend I was using started to seem too weak especially when I moved to mixing in decaf.
- I’ve tried some flavorings like cinnamon to spice up the coffee (get it, “spice up” and “cinnamon” — I kill myself!) but haven’t found anything I really love. Any suggestions here?
I haven’t been tracking costs but they are likely in the neighborhood of what’s detailed above. Plus, does it really matter if it’s 15 cents a cup or 20 cents? I think I can give myself that much lee-way.
Anyway, what tips do you have for me? I think my coffee tastes “fine” but am entirely open to suggestions you have for making it better. One thing I’m not open to though is roasting my own beans — just too time consuming. Other than that, let me know your secrets to making a great cup.