Ceasar's Mind

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College Student’s Guide to Brewing Coffee

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Coffee seems to be ubiquitous. Walking through campus, almost everyone has a cup, seemingly at all times of day. It makes sense– Good coffee taste good, and the boost to energy can be a life-saver when you’ve just woken up or need to stay up late. But if you’re on a budget and you truly like the taste of coffee, it can be difficult to good coffee that’s also cheap.

The solution of course is to brew your own.

Why Brew?

The reasons for brewing to me were obvious:

  • I hated paying so much. $1.75 for a cup of plain coffee is way more than I would like to pay, and it only gets worse with more exquisite drinks (which are not even that much more expensive to make).
  • I hated wasting time. Spending at least ten minutes walking to and from a good cafe was quickly adding up.
  • It’s something that genuinely interests me. I want to know how to tell a good coffee from a bad one, and to be able to appreciate more exquisite drinks from different areas of the world. As far as I can tell, the best way to learn about something is to take a hand in doing it (and experiment).

Finally, let’s dispel reasons why you might not want to:

  • It expensive to get started. This is simply untrue. For my modest setup, I spent $70. And considering how cheap it is to make, I expect it to pay me back very quickly, as it costs me about $0.16 to make a cup, so I’m saving $1.50 each time, so about a month and a half.
  • I don’t have time. This is something I’ve thought about a lot– I’ve very much into automation. However, I’ve found that brewing takes very little time (maybe ~5 minutes, but most of it is downtime) and in any case it’s cheaper than walking to the nearest cafe.

Getting Started

So how to get started? I’m going to keep this short, mostly because there are already many great resources on r/coffee and coffeegeek.com, and I mostly want to save everyone the time of painstakingly crawling Amazon for the best equipment.

Effectively, you will need three things to get started:

  1. Something that can boil water.
  2. Something to brew coffee in.
  3. The coffee itself.

Buying a Kettle

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Boiling water for me was a problem because I have no stove. Fortunately, there are electronic water heaters, and better yet, they are very fast at bringing water to a boil (think 3 minutes, tops). I highly recommend the utilTea electric kettle ($45). What’s great about it is that it boils water fast and it has a variable temperature setting so you can also use it for making tea. On top of that, if you look at other kettles you will notice that many of them have defects (either durability concerns, the automatic shutoff failing, or chemically tainted water). This kettle, as far I could tell, seemed to suffer none of those flaws, and with nearly 5 stars based on 141 reviews and only 5 of them being 1 star, I was fairly confident that the kettle would be at the very least not bad.

Buying a Brewer

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The second thing you will need is a brewer. r/coffee recommends a French press to get started, but I say skip that and just get the Aeropress. The Aeropress is highly popular on r/coffee, and more importantly, it’s significantly cheaper than a good French press ($25 vs $80). It’s a bit unconventional, but it makes good coffee and is very easy to clean. There is also apparently a lot of experimentation you can do with it to improve your brew if you get into it, but I’ve been content so far with following the directions from the box. The only thing I dislike about it is that it is aesthetically a bit ugly, but I can take it considering the price.

Buying Coffee

The last can obviously be obtained from any grocery store. A 14oz bag of ground coffee costs me around $5.50 from Trader Joe’s, but the prices go up if you want more exotic options. This is a great deal, as, if I’ve done my math right, with two tablespoons of coffee per cup, and five tablespoons per ounce, I should get 35 cups from that (or more practically, $0.15 per cup). The only downside is that the coffee loses its freshness very quickly (ground coffee loses its flavor between 30 seconds and five minutes of you opening the bag), so if you’re in for the long haul, you’ll eventually want to grind your own beans. Given that information, I wouldn’t very much about which coffee you get exactly and I would just buy something cheap, but I would suggest adding “get a grinder” to you to-do list.

I also want to recommend grabbing some decaf while you’re at it. If you’re like me, you genuinely enjoy the taste and sometimes want a drink at night but you don’t want the caffeine. Decaf tends to be a little more expensive, but it’s well worth it.

Wrapping Up

That should get you started and hopefully save you a lot of time researching which things to get. For about $70 you can start brewing good cups for a fraction of the cost of any cafe.

I’ve had my setup for about a week now, and it’s been serving me well. I’m looking to get my own grinder soon to ensure my coffee is always fresh (not to mention, this decreases cost yet again), but I’m very content with what I have just now. As I’ve learned, coffee is actually a very deep rabbit hole, and I look forward to learning the ins-and-outs of making and appreciating a good drink for years to come.

Written by Ceasar Bautista

2012/09/12 at 09:24

Posted in Uncategorized

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