Gourmet coffee on the cheap
photo by freewine
What type of coffee drinker are you? Do you go through an entire pot of cheap home-brewed coffee? Or do you buy gourmet coffee and drink it by the $5 cupful? I’m a java convert. I used to overpay for custom blends, but now I brew my own cheap pot of coffee at home, enjoying my gourmet coffee without buying an expensive machine. It’s one of my vices. If you’re looking to trim costs on gourmet coffee, you have some options. Why pay more than you have to?
If you love a particular coffee shop, ask whether they sell their coffee in either bean or ground-coffee form. You’ll get the same great taste for a fraction of the cost. Simply invest in a travel mug and you’re good to go with your daily fix in hand, or sip that full-bodied flavor in the comfort of your own home. It’s not the same as chatting with your favorite barista or experiencing the ambience of a cafe, but we are trying to be frugal, right?
Coffee grinders are cheap, but many stores have coffee grinders you can use for free. If you’re a connoisseur and can taste the freshness quality of beans, then this isn’t the best option; but for the casual coffee drinker, this is a great alternative. Experiment and add freshly ground cinnamon, or make your own coffee creamers. Plenty of coffee-bean distributors sell fresh-roasted beans, too.
You can turn your love of coffee into a flavorful hobby by roasting your own green coffee beans. Yes, you can do this yourself. It’s simple and won’t take much time or money. Not only is fresh best, the pleasure you’ll experience from home roasting can’t be beat.
You don’t need a fancy roaster. You can roast your own with a popcorn popper. West Bend’s Poppery II is a popular choice and can be found at thrift stores or garage sales; eBay has multiple listings that are less than $15. You want a popper that will spin the coffee beans, so when selecting one, test the chamber to see that it spins.
There’s not much to home roasting. It’s all based on personal preference and a little trial and error. You can order green coffee beans from Sweet Maria’s (www.sweetmarias.com). Consider buying a sampler pack so you can try a few different types. They also sell roasters if you’re inclined to invest in one.
To roast with a popcorn popper, simply add approximately a 1/2 cup of beans to your popper. Either keep the popper in the kitchen sink or outside with a metal bowl, because it can get messy. Place the lid back on the popper. Turn it on, and listen for the first crack, which will happen at about three minutes. You can stop it and pull your beans out any time after this point. If you pull them immediately, you’ll get a mild roast; if you wait until the second crack, at around five minutes, you’ll have a darker roast. This is where you can experiment to get the roast to your preference. In time, you’ll learn to listen for cracks, look for color and smell for doneness. Once you have decided when to pull your beans, cool the beans in a colander and stir them rapidly with a wooden spoon, or transfer them quickly between two colanders. It’s then ready to grind, brew and drink.
For more information on home roasting, visit the forums at CoffeeGeek.com (www.coffeegeek.com/forums) and Home Roasters (www.homeroasters.org). They can teach you how to modify your popcorn popper, troubleshoot and home roast using different methods, such as a stovetop or a heat gun.
Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (www.frugalvillage.com), a Web site that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. To send tips, comments or questions, write to Sara Noel, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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