The Java Dilemma: Saving on Coffee in Tough Times

The weak economy can be a buzz kill -- just ask one of the nation's most prominent coffee retailers.

Starbucks Corp. last week reported a 97 percent drop in fourth-quarter profits, a decline blamed in part on fewer U.S. consumers getting their caffeine fix at the popular coffee-shop chain.

If you're among the Americans cutting back on their coffee-shop java, chances are you've at least considered getting your caffeine fix at home instead … and doing so, experts say, doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing your taste buds.

"If you get a decent coffee maker and decent coffee, you can make great coffee at home and save money and enjoy it," said Jack Groot, the president of the Midwest Barista School and JP's Coffee & Espresso Bar in Holland, Mich.

So exactly what is a belt-tightening, amateur "barista" to do? talked to Groot, coffee consultant Ed Arvidson and Consumer Reports' Robert Karpel to find out.

Plain Coffee

Achieving satisfaction from your standard cup of joe starts with great coffee beans. Beans from a roaster or a coffee shop will likely be more expensive than grocery-store coffee but they'll be fresher, Groot says. Expect to pay between $9 and $15 a pound.

Next, consider investing in a coffee grinder. This, too, is a matter of freshness. Groot says that buying coffee beans and grinding them yourself will ensure that grounds you ultimately use in your coffee will be fresher than a retailer's ground coffee.

Experts agree that burr grinders -- devices equipped with grinding wheels -- are superior to blade grinders, which as the name indicates, use metal blades to chop beans. A burr grinder, Karpel says, will run you between $60 to $250. Arvidson, a senior consultant for Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup, says a decent grinder will cost at least $100.

And finally, after you've ground your coffee, it's time for the final step: the coffee maker. One of the most important things to look for in a home coffee maker, Karpel says, is its ability to heat water to the proper temperature -- between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cuisinart coffee makers, Karpel says, have been rated highly by Consumer Reports subscribers and cost about $80, while Groot recommends machines made by Bunn, which run about $100 to $130, and Capresso, which are in the $170 to $200 range.

Save Money and Brew Coffee at Home

Now that you've bought your beans, grinder and coffee maker, exactly how much is that home-brewed cup going to cost each day? Let's do the math.

A $12 one-pound bag of beans will yield roughly 32 mugs -- say 10 to 12 ounces -- of coffee. To have one mug each day, you'll need to buy about 11.5 bags for the year, at a cost of $138.

Assume $100 for a grinder.

Assume $130 for a coffee maker.

Add that together and you get $368 for the year, or about $1.01 per day. A Starbucks "tall" (12-ounce) coffee at one New York store, by comparison, recently cost $1.75 plus tax. The 74 cents you'd save each day, assuming you're having a mug daily, would save a cool $270. If you buy the machines Karpel recommends -- a $60 coffee grinder and $80 coffee maker -- your savings increase to more than $360 per year.

Espresso and Lattes

If fancy, frothy lattes are your caffeine fix of choice, take heart. There are homemade alternatives for you too, but experts caution that for newbies, it can definitely be a bit challenging.

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