Daniel and I both drink coffee, at least 3 cups a day each. That adds up! We support human rights and environmental stewardship by buying only fair-trade*, organic coffee for our home. My church also buys fair-trade, organic coffee. This coffee is more expensive than the big mainstream brands. How can we get the most value for our money?
*(Yes, I have heard that fair-trade certification isn’t always perfect; I’m also willing to buy coffee from companies that “have a relationship” with coffee farmers and treat them well but have not obtained official fair-trade certification; what I’m looking for is some acknowledgement that the coffee is grown by people in a place and that these people deserve fair compensation for their labor and this place deserves not to be ruined.)
UPDATE: A fourth way to save money on coffee is to buy loose coffee grounds instead of individual pods! I knew pods were bad for the environment and our health, but I had no idea how much more expensive they were until I wrote this investigative article! If you’ve been buying conventional coffee in pods, you can actually save money by switching to fair-trade, organic coffee by the pound.
Buy in bulk.
Organic coffee in the supermarket often costs $10 or more for a 12-ounce (3/4 pound) bag–and then what will you do with that bag? Years ago, Daniel and I made coffee one of the things we routinely bought in reused containers from the bulk section of our local food co-op. Just recently, after he read my post about buying by the case, we talked about other products we might be able to get cheaper if we ordered a case. It turns out that the co-op’s “case” price for coffee is a 5-pound bag. We use about a pound of coffee a week, so 5 pounds is not an unreasonable amount to buy at once, especially since it’s whole beans that we grind shortly before brewing–it won’t go bad or anything. This month, Equal Exchange Breakfast Blend is on sale for $8.99/pound; after the 20% discount for buying a case, our 5-pound bag costs $35.96, which is $7.19/pound–almost half the price per pound of the supermarket coffee!
My church buys Bishop’s Blend coffee, which also supports Episcopal Relief & Development. Not only do we save money by placing a bulk order for several big bags at once, but then we have coffee on hand for every coffee hour and special event without having to think about it for several months.
It’s hard to make exactly the right amount of coffee for a church event: You have to set up the coffee urn before you know how many churchgoers will stay for coffee hour, and you don’t know how many cups each person will drink! We often have coffee left over. The church owns a bunch of insulated carafes that are rarely used, so I just grab one or two of them to hold the leftover coffee. I take it home, and Daniel and I drink it Sunday evening and into Monday. The carafes keep it hot for hours, and when it’s cooled we can warm it in the microwave. Free coffee!! And we are preventing waste, so we can feel virtuous about it. 🙂 I bring back the carafes the next Sunday.
On a smaller scale, if you’re done drinking coffee for the moment but there’s some left over that would go to waste, fill your insulated travel mug for later!
Often, coffee grounds can be used again to make more coffee. Just add water to your coffee-maker (1/2 to 3/4 as much water as you used in the first batch) and turn it on again. If you try this and are unhappy with the flavor or caffeine buzz that results, next time add just a spoonful of fresh grounds on top of the old ones.
We call this “recaf”–like “decaf” but better, because caffeine! 🙂
One caution: Coffee grounds sitting around damp at room temperature eventually begin to grow mold. If you won’t be recaffing your coffee for 24 hours or more, put the grounds in the refrigerator just to be safe.
Don’t throw away those grounds!
This tip isn’t counted in the headline because it may or may not save you money, but it will reduce garbage going to landfills and help you in your home and garden! When you are finished extracting caffeine from your coffee grounds, put them to work in one of these ways:
- Clean your cast-iron pans. Coffee grounds are great for scrubbing! They won’t harm the pan’s seasoning. Just add a little water and scrub with the white side of an orange peel or other citrus peel, if you have one (orange oil is a great cleaner and deodorizer), or the implement of your choice, then rinse and dry thoroughly. We have some black cloth towels that we use for drying the cast iron to avoid dark smudges on white towels. (To oil your pan after cleaning, use up the last drops of cooking oil!)
- Fertilize your plants, control weeds and pests, and attract beneficial earthworms. Here’s some advice on how best to use coffee grounds in the garden. I feed my potted spider plants as much coffee as their pots will hold; they don’t seem to mind at all! My lilac bush in the front yard is benefiting from a layer of coffee grounds on the soil around it blocking weeds to some extent. (Weeds do come up, just not as many as in plain soil.)
- Put them in the compost bin along with your vegetable scraps, egg shells, hair trimmings, etc., to turn into rich soil that you can add to your garden. Paper coffee filters can be composted, too–but we use a percolator that filters with a stainless-steel basket, so it doesn’t need disposable filters. The church’s coffee urns also have reusable baskets; I scoop the grounds with a spoon into some kind of container (several parishioners bring in empty plastic containers with lids, from yogurt and such, that we stash in the church kitchen for storing leftovers) and take them home for composting. My local earthworms seem to have an infinite appetite for coffee grounds!
- Hide scratches on dark wood furniture.
- Grow mushrooms, make a pincushion, trap cockroaches, clean your fireplace, absorb odors, weather wood for that Pinterest look…and various other tips I haven’t tried myself.