Make coffee at home instead of buying fancy lattes at the local cafe (or, OK, Starbucks outpost), and you’ll save boatloads of cash each year.
Shocking, right? If only it were that simple.
Although financial gurus repeatedly trot out the so-called latte factor as a prime example of how we’re all busting our budgets, the tired tip fails to account for one major hurdle: taste. If we all boasted barista skills and our home kitchens had $1,000-plus espresso machines, the venti whatevers wouldn’t stand a chance. As it is… well, let’s just say it’s no surprise that so many people are willing to fork over $5 for a caffeine fix.
The good news is, even cooks with little skill and a basic drip coffeemaker can improve the flavor of their home brew. It may not prompt you to switch altogether — despite her $0.40 blended coffee drink recipe, Frugal Foodie still occasionally indulges in the real thing from Starbucks — but even buying two fewer fancy coffee drinks per week save up to $520 a year.
Use these tricks and recipes to make your homemade coffee more palatable straight up, or mixed into a fancier drink. (Plus, check out the food recipes below to further indulge your coffee addiction.)
1. Stir the grounds mid-brew
It extracts more flavor and releases the essential oils, says Jill Houk, a chef with Centered Chef Food Studios in Chicago. Just pull out the basket a little bit to briefly stir the soppy grounds and water with a spoon. “You’ll be shocked how different this coffee tastes,” she says.
2. Store beans with care
Don’t keep beans or grounds in the refrigerator, advises former Starbucks barista Will Kruisbrink. “The environment dries up the essential oils that make coffee taste fresh,” he says. To maintain flavor, keep whole beans in an airtight container at room temperature, and grind them “at the last possible second.” Don’t store them too long, though, says Scott Lush, the founder of coffee roasting company RoastE. The flavors are best within 10 days of roasting. (Many companies will post the date of roasting on the bag.)
3. Preheat the water
The best flavors make their way out of the bean in the first four minutes of brew-time, but most drip coffee makers take a full 10 to 15 minutes, points out Chef Tom of Salt Lake City’s ABC4 “Cook With Tom.” That adds astringency and bitterness. Heat cold water in a tea kettle, and add it to the coffee pot just prior to brewing. “Your brew time will decrease dramatically, and you’ll get more of the good stuff, and less of the bad stuff in your java,” he says. (Don’t use the shortcut of taking hot tap water, which has lost much of its dissolved gas and results in blander coffee.)
4. Make iced coffee the right way
Hot coffee + ice = a too-bitter brew. Self-professed coffee snob Rob Pitingolo of Arlington, Va., uses a French press for a cold-brewing method. No press? Frugal Foodie has made a slightly messier version using a covered bowl, straining the grounds out with a fine sieve and cheesecloth.
5. Get it off the heat
“Transfer your coffee off the burner as rapidly as possible,” says Chef Tom. Letting it linger at a high temperature keeps coffee warm, but also transforms some of the chemicals released by the bean into sour acids that ruin the taste.
6. Experiment with flavors
Add a cinnamon stick or a pinch of ground cinnamon to grounds before brewing for spicy kick, suggests Gail Dosik, the New York confectioner behind One Tough Cookie. Cardamom pods in the grounds offer “an exotic, citrus-y” kick, she says. Mint leaves can also be a great addition to iced coffee drinks.
7. Add milk barista-style
Only pour milk into the center of the cup, and not on the sides of the cup or in a swirling motion, Lush says. That keeps the milk in the middle for a perfect mix while you sip. A bonus for those looking for a prettier drink: it also creates a nice leaf-like pattern.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.