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The cheapest path to good coffee

September 13, 2011

An important question for any starting coffee enthusiast is “does it really cost that much to have good coffee?” The answer is, of course, as it usually is in life -  yes it does and no it doesn’t. 

The answer is yes only if you do not feel compelled to drink espresso.  If you are looking for the best coffee on a budget there is no question that the secret is to buy great beans, a cheap burr grinder, and a mechanism to brew coffee that gives you control. 

Traditionally the recommendation for the brewer was a French press.  It is still a great solution and will run you less than twenty dollars.  There is a newer competitor that is at least as good and possibly is better though.  This is called the clever dripper.  It is available from Roaste or Sweet Maria’s etc.  It is a funnel into which you pour ground coffee and then hot water – a little below the boil – and wait about 3 or 4 minutes and then all you do is place it on top of your coffee cup and out comes the coffee. 

The reason these two methods are so great is they allow you to control the temperature and the length of time the coffee is in contact with the water.  These are the two main variables in brewed coffee and the reason that most cheap coffee makers are not very good.  The usually are not optimized for at least one of these variables and probably not for either.

The advantage of the clever dripper is that it has the plusses of a French press without the one drawback.  The one problem with a French press is that when you depress the plunger bitterness is released from the grinds and this is not the case with the clever dripper. 

Here are excellent instructions for the dripper…

As for the grinder you can get by with a $15 blade grinder, but stepping up to a "cheap" burr grinder such as a Baratza Maestro plus that runs closer to $100 will make a huge difference.  More on that later (but don’t expect the cheap grinders to work well for espresso).

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