Money College: Savor your own French press coffee, and save big

French press coffee college moneyA common college money saving tip is to avoid buying your coffee. Make it instead.

This just makes a whole heap of sense. Why spend money every morning on a grande (that's a medium for those of you who need a Starbucks lingo refresher) when you can make it for next to nothing at home?

Grocery stores have all manner of house-blended-(insert foreign sounding nut here)-roasted varieties that taste just as delicious as anything the chain stores offer, but this only really works if your drink of choice is a standard cup of java. Things become a little more difficult if you get used to drinking beverages that either start or end with words like "mocha," "chino" or "latte."

So, short of buying a specialty machine, what can a money-conscious, college student do to drink great coffee and stay fiscally responsible?


Ah, ou et magnifique!: The answer lies in the subtleties of the French press.

At its heart, the French press is a glorified tea pot with a mesh plunger that runs through the top, down the entire length of the device. They even look like tall, cylindrical tea kettles. They are usually made of glass and you don't heat them on the stove. Instead, you scoop in ground coffee and fill the container with hot water. The measurements can vary to your desired strength. After a few minutes of soaking, you push the plunger down--which forces all of the loose, floating bits to stay at the bottom--and viola: You have fresh, drinkable coffee. Its super simple and takes only four minutes to make.

The fact that you have direct control of the water-to-grounds mixture means you can make a drink to suit your situation. Tired? Lots of grounds with little water gives you an immediate espresso. Just in the mood for a pick me up? Do the reverse.

Target.com sells a Bodum Chambord 3-cup press for $29.99 and Walmart.com has a Mr. Coffee 5-piece "indulgence" press kit for $29.98. Both prices compare to your average coffee maker which can also be purchased at either store. The difference between the press and the run-of-the-mill coffee maker lies in the level of control the user has over the outcome of the drink. With the French press, you can control the strength of your drink, but what about the consistency?

A good companion piece to any press is another item of equipment called a milk frother. The company Bonjour makes a very good one; Target sells the "Froth Maximus" for $29.99 and while Walmart doesn't have the item listed on its online site, Sears has the exact product at the same price.

It looks just like a mini-press and in essence, operates like one -- except instead of coffee, you guessed it, you use milk. The plunger in the frother acts more like a flat whisk, which causes the liquid to foam with repeated pumping. Instead of just lightening your coffee, some of the foamed milk will sit on top of the drink, which helps to give it a thicker, creamier quality.

The outcome of using heated milk in this way is very similar to what steaming machines will do and once added, tastes very similar. And again, messing with the ratio of coffee to milk can change your espresso into something much more resembling a latte or cappuccino.

It's time to crunch some numbers. A standard medium cup of coffee costs around $2.25 at Starbucks, $1.99 At Caribou Coffee and $1.69 at Dunkin' Donuts. For the sake of argument, let's average the price to $2. Now this is just a cup of black coffee (without tax). The prices will obviously increase depending on the amount of prefixes and suffixes in the drink's name. A cup every weekday morning will run $10. The total, one-time price of a French press and frother runs about $55. After only five and a half weeks (and less than 60 cups later), you've already broken even.

It'll be even faster if you're an avid drinker and require more than one cup a day to function. This may sound like it takes quite a while to pay off, but if you think about the situation long term, you only have to buy the press once and then everything after that is money saved.

The only real expense is purchasing various ground coffee from your local grocery store. A massive tub of Folgers only costs $7.46 and guarantees 240 cups per container -- it's the same as the price of just under four cups from Starbucks -- and milk, which you'll probably have on hand anyway.

So there you have it: After less than three months of owning these two items, you'll already be saving money. And when you get bored with the drink you're making, change it. Buy a different kind of coffee from the store, add a sweetening syrup, heat the milk.

If saving money alone isn't enough to convince you, the press also makes some really good loose-leaf tea. With all of that in mind, why waste cash on something you can do for much less ... and waste time waiting in line that you can better spend sleeping? Fancy additives and steamed liquids can only improve a drink so much; the sweetest improvements are free.

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