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Gourmet coffee on the cheap

By on December 27, 2007

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 ( 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 ( and Home Roasters ( 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 (, 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 [email protected]

Copyright 2007, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.


  1. Maggi

    1/3/2008 at 7:45 pm

    I just realized you were the one I got the idea of adding cincinnamon to my coffee. That is such a taste difference, but I like it and its cheap. Once in awhile when I get the urge for a chocolate flavor I add a little hot chocolate mix.
    People would be surprised if they experimented with flavors.

  2. Sara Noel

    1/3/2008 at 8:04 pm

    I add hot chocolate to my reheated leftover coffee. 😉 We sometimes serve it over ice with chocolate syrup too.

  3. Sally

    7/22/2009 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Sara,
    I just had to write and tell you that your article about roasting your own coffee was such a great idea. My husband and I decided this year, to limit our Christmas spending on each other, to $20 and to see who can get the most creative gifts. I have had so much fun hunting for a second hand pop corn popper, and after 5 stores and no success, I called my 87 yr old Mom & Dad to tell them what I was doing, and see if they had any ideas. Lo and behold, my dear Mom looked in one of her cupboards and had a brand new never before used popcorn popper! So that cost $0!! I than had to track down green coffee beans which took a few calls. Finally talked an owner of a coffee shop into a pound of green beans, which set me back…$3.00. Next I needed to buy a coffee grinder, and decided to ‘splurge’ and get a new one for $10. I know I could have done better, but I still have $7 left to spend. I may actually put the $7 in an envelope and let my husband use it for music downloads.
    I can’t wait to see what my husband will come up with for me. I have to say it has been so much fun and I have had so many people comment what a creative idea when they heard what we are doing.
    And it just proves… you really don’t have to spend much, it really is ‘the thought that counts.’
    Thank you Sara, for a great idea.

    Sally C
    Yakima, WA

  4. John

    3/3/2010 at 5:02 am

    I’ve never tried to roast my own coffee which is probably a big mistake. I should have a go sometime. I’m sure it would be a lot of fun, even if the results might leave room from improvement.
    .-= John´s last blog ..World Barista Championship For 2011 To Go To Colombia =-.

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