The 99 Cent Coffee Maker

Coffee. That smooth, dark-roasted richness, that aroma, the way a steaming hot mug of it pairs nicely with my relaxing morning routine…mmm, coffee. Yes, I love it.

But I am no coffee snob. I’m no connoisseur. I wouldn’t even call myself a coffee buff. I’m just a girl who loves a good cup of coffee to begin the day. What I would call myself though is frugal. Okay, some of you might say that’s a bit of an understatement. And the rest of you, well, once you read my latest penny-pinching scheme, you will probably concur. But wait! It’s not just about the pennies, this one also has minimalism and zero-waste in mind.

For years we have owned a Keurig. Go ahead and gasp, it’s okay. This little machine is hotly contested when it comes to wastefulness. On the one hand, there’s the fact that most of the coffee pods designed to fit it are neither recyclable or compostable. I’ve even read that the amount of coffee pods sent to landfill each year would wrap around the planet 10 times. On the other hand, the counter-argument holds that single-serve machines generally use only as much coffee and water as is precisely necessary to brew a cup, meaning they waste less of both. When we got our Keurig, we opted to stand firmly in the middle of the debate. We bought reusable coffee pods.

Recently, we started thinking about the Keurig from a more minimalist approach. To be totally honest, it was Angie who started thinking about how much time and energy she was spending on keeping up with the Keurig. She had to descale it, clean the needle, change the water filter, wash the internal components, wash the external components and even then it would sometimes still spit coffee grounds at us. And the real estate that it took up on the counter! That thing was the size of a small microwave.

For almost a year we’ve debated on getting a French press. Our friend has one and when we visited her last summer, we loved it. Several times we looked at them but none really struck as as “the one”. Then at VegFest a few weeks ago, we sampled a coffee that the barista was making using a simple pour-over contraption. The coffee was nothing to write home about but while I watched him with the pour-over, a light bulb came on in my head. All coffee makers, no matter what type, work by simply pouring water over coffee grounds in one form or another. The drip coffee maker does it slowly. The Keuirg does it a lot faster. Even with a French press, you’re still just pouring water into coffee grounds and letting them steep. If the art of coffee making is that simple, then why use a coffee maker at all??

To explore my theory, I bought two 99 cent mini strainers at Ollie’s Bargain Barn, grabbed our travel tea kettle from the closet, along with our coffee mugs, and set up an experiment.

First, I heated the water in the kettle to boiling and then turned it down, allowing it to cool a few degrees. I’m not sure what temperature that is exactly, but I’d say somewhere between 190-200 degrees. Next, I warmed the strainers. I read somewhere that warming a tea infuser helps to bring out the flavor of the tea so I thought it might be the same with coffee. 

I filled each strainer with 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 TBSP of medium ground coffee.

Next, I poured a little hot water on the grounds to wet them and allow them to expand.

And then filled the rest of the cup by slowly pouring water on the grounds in a circular motion.

Finally, I pressed the grounds to get the last drops of coffee out.

The result:

A decent cup of coffee that was largely indistinguishable from the cup I made with the Keurig.

The next day, we sold the Keurig. Over the past week, we’ve improved greatly on our technique. We’ve found that the slower the pour, the stronger the coffee and the finer the grounds, the bolder the taste. 

The best part – no plastic, no waste, no maintenance of a machine, and clean-up is a breeze. The grounds go straight into compost and you simply rinse and dry the strainer. It’s so simple in fact that right now, as you read this, we’re out on a week-long camping trip…using our very portable 99 cent coffee maker to enjoy a morning cup of Joe.

Zero Waste Tastes Great

Last Wednesday, Angie and I attended a free No Waste Cooking Class hosted by The Nashville Food Project. It was great to learn about TNFP’s mission and the work they are doing to alleviate hunger in the community. It was also nice to meet other people who share our interest in reducing food waste and being better stewards of our environment.

Making veggie scrap fritters

The menu for the class included:

Everyone got to play a role in helping prepare the meal. I grated Parmesan and Angie patted out the veggie fritters. While we worked we chatted with our neighbors around the prep table, sharing tips and stories about composting, meal planning, plant-based eating, and even minimalism. I was particularly interested to learn that Nashville is part of hOurworld. Being only vaguely familiar with time-banking, this was really fascinating to me. (Time banks allow users to share talents and services with one another without the use of money.)

Along with the delicious meal that we all shared together, The Nashville Food Project provided a lot of useful information and tips on reducing food waste. I have summarized their handout for you below (in hopes that you find it as useful as we did).

Most common examples of avoidable food waste happening in our homes:

  • “scraps” or the parts of food usually thrown away
  • discarding expired or nearly expired foods
  • discarding “ugly” foods (ie. cheese with a small spot of mold that could be cut off)

What we can do about it:

  • Start cooking differently. Use the scraps and get creative!
    • Make veggie stocks or veggie fritters out of scraps.
    • Freeze scraps until you have enough to use in your recipe.
  • Shop smarter. Only buy what you know you will use. Make a list before you leave home.
  • Designate a “use first” section of your fridge to encourage yourself (and others) to use up the items that have been in there the longest.
  • Compost what’s left.
  • Donate food to your local food pantry (or organization like TNFP).

Why you should use scraps for cooking:

  • Broccoli stems contain more calcium, iron, and vitamin C than the florets.
  • Zucchini is 95% water, making the skin the most nutritious part of the vegetable. The skin contains more fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C and potassium than the flesh.
  • Celery leaves are a great source of fiber, calcium, and vitamin E.
  • Saving stock from cooked veggies (and meats) is a great way to retain some of the vitamins and minerals that were lost during the cooking process. Cooking rice in stock makes it more nutritionally dense and flavorful.

Other cool tips:

  • Yogurt contains fewer calories and fat than traditional mayonnaise-based dipping sauces (plus yogurt has health benefits that mayonnaise doesn’t). Yogurt is high in calcium, B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, and contains probiotics. 1 TBSP of mayo = 94 calories, 10 grams of fat while 1 TBSP of yogurt = 18 calories, less than 1 gram of fat.
  • Adding fresh herbs to recipes is a great way to boost flavor and increase the nutritional value of meals. Sorrell, parsley, and basil are high in fiber as well as immune-boosting antioxidants like vitamins A and C.


**In case you’re wondering, like we were, the dinnerware was all recyclable or compostable.**

**To make the non-dairy peanut butter banana ice cream, simply puree 1 banana with 1 TBSP peanut (or almond) butter and freeze**

Food Waste Update

  • Wasted Food this week: 0 ounces
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 50 ounces
  • Rescued Food this week:   0 US pounds
  • Total Food Rescued this year:  185.69 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.