Coffee is one of those indulgences that can get as expensive as you let it, and that means that sometimes it can seem like you have to buy a lot of fancy gear and gadgets if you want to make great coffee. In reality, you don’t need much to make excellent coffee at home, even if you’re on a tight budget. People often use the terms cheap and bad interchangeably, but cheap doesn’t necessarily mean lower quality when discussing coffee.
In this article, we discuss the cheapest way to make coffee and give you some tips on how to get the most from your budget by buying only the essential equipment.
Pour-over is all the rage these days because of the vibrant, delicious coffee you can make using the pour-over method. What some people might not realize is that pour-over is one of the most cost-effective brewing methods and requires very little money to get started using.
A bare-bones pour-over setup only requires a cheap plastic cone, a filter, and a way to boil water. The filters are the only recurring cost besides coffee, and they’re generally affordable. The pour-over cone itself is nearly indestructible if you choose a plastic version. There are many ceramic and glass options available, but we recommend sticking with plastic if you’re on a budget. Plastic is usually the cheapest option and won’t break or need to be replaced, further reducing the cost.
Another great option for making coffee on a budget is the AeroPress. It’s slightly more expensive than the cheapest pour-over cones, but not much. A major benefit of going with an AeroPress is the all-in-one nature of the product. When you buy an Aeropress, you get everything you need to start making coffee with it in one box. That means you don’t have to buy additional filters right off the bat, so the price is a better reflection of the total cost of getting started.
An Aeropress is one of the most flexible brewing methods and can make an impressive range of different coffee styles and can even make a pretty good imitation of espresso. If you’re looking for an easy to use, affordable, and capable brewing method, an Aeropress is the way to go.
3. French Press
Similar to an AeroPress, a French press is more expensive than pour-over but overall quite affordable. A big benefit to a French press is the built-in – usually stainless steel – filter, which alleviates the need to buy more filters over time. We’ve owned a single French press for over a decade, and it still works just as well as it did the day we bought it.
French press coffee has one complication that keeps it out of the top spot on our list. To properly make French press coffee, you need to use coarsely ground coffee. If you use pre-ground coffee intended for automatic drip machines, your French press coffee will come out muddy and bitter. Some brands sell pre-ground coffee meant for a French press, so look for those options if you decide to purchase a French press.
4. Automatic Drip Machine
We estimate that most people probably think of countertop coffee makers first when they think about making coffee at home. These machines have a wide range of prices and can get very expensive at the highest end.
Our recommendation is to purchase a cheap automatic drip machine if you prefer a hands-off brewing method. We haven’t had the best experiences with automatic coffee makers in the past, especially cheaper models. Be aware that the cheapest automatic drip machines tend to be prone to breaking, and you might have to replace one sooner than you had hoped. It’s this lack of reliability that knocks these machines to number four on our list.
5. Cowboy Coffee
If you are on a very tight budget, cowboy coffee is the absolute cheapest way to make coffee since it doesn’t require anything other than coffee, a heat-proof container, and boiling water. Be forewarned, cowboy coffee isn’t very good, but it is an option if you can’t afford to spend any money on coffee gear.
The simplest way to describe cowboy coffee is by comparing it to French press coffee. If you made French press coffee but never pressed the plunger, you’d have cowboy coffee. The result is a muddy mess, but it’s surprisingly drinkable even if it isn’t necessarily enjoyable. Still, if you need a way to make coffee in a pinch, consider cowboy coffee.
If You Have a Bit More To Spend
With a slightly higher budget, you might wonder what is worth buying and what is ultimately a waste of money. In this section, we’ll give you some suggestions for how to spend your money if you want to improve your coffee game while getting the most bang for your buck.
A regular kitchen scale is the first piece of additional equipment we recommend you buy if you have some money to burn but are still on a budget. Weighing the coffee and water you use is the most reliable way to make reproducible, delicious coffee. Don’t go crazy here — any scale will do. The finer the measurements the better, but look for a scale that at least has 0.5 g precision.
If you opt for a pour-over setup, you will find it much easier to produce good cups of coffee if you invest in a gooseneck kettle. The long, thin spout on a gooseneck kettle makes it easier to control how fast you pour the water, making it much easier to soak the coffee grounds evenly. These can be pricey, so we don’t recommend purchasing one if you’re on a tight budget. However, if you need a new kettle and like pour-over, spending a bit more on a gooseneck kettle is a good idea.
The best way to improve the quality of the coffee you make at home is to use fresh, whole bean coffee and grind it immediately before brewing. Coffee grinders can be expensive and should be the last purchase you make when you have sufficient funds. You might be tempted to purchase a cheaper blade grinder, but we recommend saving a bit more and splurging for a burr grinder. Burr grinders are significantly better at grinding coffee than blade grinders, so it’s worth delaying your purchase until you can afford one.
We’ve been trained by society to associate higher prices with higher quality, and, in some cases, that is true. The cliché “you get what you pay for” exists for a reason, but sometimes elevated prices don’t indicate proportionally elevated value.
Coffee equipment is notoriously expensive, but you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a coffee set up to make good coffee at home. A simple pour-over cone or a French press can make superlative coffee on a tight budget and will last you many years. We hope you found this guide helpful and have some ideas for making your own coffee station at home, no matter what budget you’re working with.
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Featured Image: Patrick T. Power, Shutterstock