Many people can't get through a day without it, or even just a morning. It's been called everything from brain juice to java to the "black ichor of life." Having coffee, that good old cup of Joe, is an essential ritual for countless Americans. But how do you get the best bang for your buck for your brew, which can cost as much as $5 from the local coffee shop, without sacrificing taste?"
Here's a look at the tradeoffs in making your own cup of coffee versus buying it at a coffee shop, along with some nifty ways to save. The Skinny on Taste: Whole Bean vs. Ground Coffee
According to the National Coffee Association, more Americans are making coffee at home: A whopping 85% of them self-brewed in 2010, using either whole beans or ground coffee.
Whole beans are believed to produce the best-taste because, in their original state, they maintain the highest level of freshness and come from a single country or region -- as opposed to a blend, says Joe DeRupo, a spokesman for the association.
"Any single-origin coffee, like single-malt scotch, is almost by definition gourmet," DeRupo says.
Single-origin coffees suit a range of tastes. If you like acidic coffee, pick beans from Asia; for a rich flavor, Central American beans are your best bet; and for an earthy taste, African coffees should do the trick.
By contrast, ground commercial coffee is a blend that caters to a more mainstream consumer palate and is considered inferior to the fresh, full-bodied flavor of whole bean coffee. Once coffee is ground, it keeps that fresh taste for nine days, while whole beans can hold their freshly roasted flavor for 45 days, according to poundofcoffee.com.
Price Face-Off: Whole Bean vs. Ground Coffee
The cost for coffee beans varies depending on where you live. Most retail outlets price whole beans by the pound, ranging from about $8 to $15 a pound.
The cost of ground coffee generally hovers around $5 for an 11- or 12-ounce can or bag. An 11-ounce can of Folgers, which the can says makes 90 6-ounce cups, sold for $4.19 at both an Associated supermarket in New York City and a Kroger supermarket in South Bend, Ind.
At first glance, it might seem that ground coffee, at about $5 for an 11- to 12-ounce can, is a better deal than whole beans, priced between $8 and $15 a pound. But the price difference is negligible.
While most commercial brands say that their 11- and 12-ounce cans yield 90 cups, they really only make between 30 to 35 6-ounce servings, says Oren Bloostein, the chief executive officer of Oren's Daily Roast, a nine-store coffee chain in New York City. Meanwhile, a pound (16 ounces) of whole beans yields about 45 6-ounce cups.
So in the end, $5 for an 11-ounce can of ground costs $7.28 per pound, or just over 16 cents per cup. The $8-per-pound whole-bean brew costs about 18 cents per cup. So a cup of coffee made from whole beans costs about two cents more -- a tiny price to pay for better taste.
Sizing Up Savings by Method
Forget what you've heard: No coffee-brewing method yields less expensive coffee than another. That's because the basic water-to-coffee ratio to brew a decent cup of Joe is two tablespoons of coffee for every 6 ounces of water -- whether you use an automatic drip coffee maker, a manual drip or a French press, Bloostein says.
But single-serve coffeemakers, also called pod machines, are another story. They make one cup of coffee at a time using individually wrapped pre-measured pods. There is no fuss and no measuring, hence their appeal, but they are the least cost-effective way to home brew. Although you waste less coffee using the pod method and save time, you're paying 45 to 50 cents per serving, and the taste from these machines is sub-par, says Bloostein.
An Outside Cup
Here's a look at how the three big national chains -- McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks -- stack up price-wise. Keep in mind that price varies by region.
In New York City, a medium cup of McDonald's coffee is $1.49; at Dunkin' Donuts it's $1.79; and a Starbucks grande, the equivalent of a medium, costs $2.29. McDonald's, not surprisingly the cheapest, is 80 cents less than Starbucks.
It's up to your taste buds and budget to determine which coffee is your cup of er... tea.
Getting the Best Bang for Your Buck
Surf the web for a range of coffee deals.
Scour Coffeeforless.com for savings on all things coffee and for helpful ratings and reviews.
Monitor deal and coupon websites such as Dealnews.com, which finds the lowest prices from retailers (like a recent Amazon.com offer for an $8.99 can of Lavazza coffee).
Tap BradsDeals.com for coupons (such as $2 off a bag of Peet's Coffee at your local grocery store).
If you have a taste for premium coffee, tap specialty outlets such as Oren's Daily Roast, Porto Rico Importing Co. and Café Grumpy. They roast their own beans and by cutting out the middleman, offer a high value-to-quality ratio for upscale java.
While it's no surprise that making your own cup of coffee is cheaper than buying it on the outside, the savings over time are eye-opening. Here's a telling contrast: A 6-ounce cup of coffee made at home, at about 17 cents a cup per day, adds up to $1.19 a week and $62.05 a year. A 16-ounce grande coffee from Starbucks, at $2.29 per day, adds up to $16.03 per week, and a hefty $835.85 per year -- the price of a mini vacation.