I got home the other night and my roommate asked, “What’s the cheapest coffee per ounce?” I didn’t know. That simple question spawned a two-hour search — digital and physical — to find the cheapest possible option.
We scoured Amazon.com for different brands. There were Coffee Bean Direct, 8 O’Clock Coffee, Starbucks, and everything in between online. After some math from elementary school that seemed far too hard to remember, we divided nearly every brand by ounces to find the cheapest price.
The most affordable was about 30 cents per ounce. In the back of my mind, I remembered that I had a coupon for $1 off of Walgreen’s “Nice” coffee. This blatantly huge canister comes in at nearly 33-ounces of pre-ground coffee. After coupon, it came to 23 cents per ounce.
My roommate said, “Let’s go to the Walgreens and try it!” The clock read 9:30 PM. Drinking a bunch of caffeinated coffee didn’t seem smart, but against my better judgment I immediately said “yes.”
We hopped on our bicycles and rode to the store. Headlights ablaze, we were men on a mission. Inside, we quickly walked over to the coffee aisle and found “Nice.” It sat precariously close to Folgers. My roomie was quick to point out that markets regularly pair their generics next to comparable products.
If the “Nice” canister was supposed to be similar to Folgers, it’d be undrinkable at any cost. I had tried Folgers before, and realized that if I ever needed to quit coffee, this would be the perfect prescription. Folgers had perfected the art of throwing unknown substances in large drums — before anyone else. Open any pack, and you find a strange blend of irregularly roasted chips of what they call “coffee.” That diversity of substances is paired with a uniquely acidic taste — like drinking an alkaline battery. But there was “Nice.” Maybe it’d be better?
After purchasing the canister, we rode back to immediately brew a cup. It was just like Folgers. The smell, the taste, the look… Everything about it screamed of substandard quality. I wanted to swig mouthwash and chew soap to clear my palette of this abomination. “Nice” would be returned the next day, as Walgreens’ return policy guaranteed my satisfaction. Two-three cents per ounce were 23 too many.
Saving money has a limit. At some point, frugality becomes cheap to a fault. Every product has a different barrier, and sometimes spending a little more upfront creates a better value. Either way, I have a few takeaways — some rules — that you should follow on your search for a more affordable cup.
1. Search for 100% Arabica
For casual coffee drinkers, scan the package for the source and type of coffee beans. Some popular regions include Central America, Africa, and East Asia. Unlike my “Nice” coffee experience, where the canister read, “100% coffee,” you want to see a bag that says, “100% Arabica beans.” This will help ensure that you are actually drinking real coffee, and not twigs and dirt.
2. Buy whole beans
Whole beans retain their flavor and oils longer then ground coffee. There’s nothing better than some freshly ground coffee. Packaged ground coffee, by any brand, is a big flavor sacrifice. If the goal is to maximize flavor on a budget, stick with whole bean. It usually doesn’t cost any more and assures that you can see what’s going into your hot cup o’ joe.
3. Buy in bulk
But if you can’t buy in bulk and have to buy coffee quick, stick with 12 to 16 ounce packages. While these can’t compete to bulk coffee, you can usually find one brand on sale — exercise strength and resist brand loyalty. Additionally, packages are more frequently purchased, so they tend to be fresher than the metal containers.
4. Stay away from the canisters of coffee
Ugh, I can’t stress this enough. The bulk, pre-ground, canister-style coffees are awful. It’s gas station coffee that’s set out for hours on end. It’s the leftover shards that no other coffee company wants. It might cost a few more cents per ounce to stay away, but I assure you that this is worth it. Just think, you’re saving tons of money over buying coffee out and about!
5. Buy with friends
The best part of about being frugal has nothing to do with padding my own wallet. Frugality is a social starter — something that brings people together and helps them question their values around money. Sharing in this pursuit of the cheapest coffee wasn’t just about saving a dollar here and there, it was about experimenting with a friend. And nothing helps save more than buying in bulk with others. If you can, try to buy whole beans with others — go to Costco or local roasters and ask for deals. There are savings in numbers.