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.

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