The Economics of Brewing Coffee at Home – Is it cheaper than the coffee shop?

There are a ton of reasons to make coffee at home. One of the least important ones is the cost of a cup of coffee. That is, we all know that coffee at coffee shop or cafe is more expensive, but that’s not the only thing we care about. Flavor, effort, comfort, etc are all important in assessing the value of a cup of coffee.

That said, because it seems interesting, I set out to answer the question of “How much does a cup of coffee cost to make at home?”

More than that curiosity, we also recommend a lot of gee-whiz coffee gadgets here, especially as viewed by other people in our lives. (Read: non-coffee-nerds.) So I was also pretty interested in how quickly, using our real calculations of savings on making coffee at home, we’d have “paid-off” some of our favorite expensive coffee gadgets like the AeroPress, Baratza Encore grinder, and our Bonavita kettle.

Our Assumptions: What Makes the Analysis True for You

Certain things are simply not counted in my analysis: the cost to power an electric grinder and kettle, the cost to drive to a coffee shop for either beans or hot brewed coffee (with a high cost-per-cup 🤓). All of these are things that a complete and rigorous analysis might want to improve. But our analysis is just aimed at devising a useful answer to the cost of coffee at home per cup.

I outline three different scenarios below: what you get if you buy cheaper materials, akin to the way I got into nerdy coffee. Then, what if you just take our advice precisely, and get exactly our “Fussy Coffee Starter Kit.” Finally, just out of curiosity, I tried to estimate exactly the situation that Megan and I find ourselves in today: are we net-up or down on our coffee addiction?

Materials We Considered In Our Cost

Basically, I’m assuming that if you’re reading our site and analysis, you’re rather new to the whole idea of brewing coffee at home. The primary things that we (or any) home-brewer of coffee will spend money on that are substantial are:

  • The coffee beans. I mention this first because if (like us) you’ve decided to turn your nose (slightly) up at most grocery-store and price-club coffee, this can easily dwarf most costs over time.
  • The grinder. Fussy coffee starts with being fussy about the beans and only buying whole-bean coffee. The hard things about whole-beans is that you can’t brew good coffee with them. So you must buy a grinder to pulverize them into brewable bits.
  • The hot-water-maker. There are alternatives to a temperature-setting electric gooseneck kettle, but having gone there I’ll never go back. But these can easily approach $100 US in cost.
  • The brew method(s). We for a long time have used the AeroPress and Kalita Wave and home. We briefly had a beautiful 8-cup Chemex, but that sadly passed in a inadvertent knock from the counter. These are also sometimes substantial in cost, but mostly any brew method you pick will be under $100 US.
  • A kitchen scale. A lot of kitchen scales are affordable. Mine is comically overkill, especially for simply dosing coffee. But they can be a substantial cost.

Why We Chose What We Did For Coffee Cost Calculations

I omitted a few things that people might consider vital for coffee. Chiefly, mugs, cups, water, and add-ins like sweeteners and creamers. Mostly I think I captures the solidly expensive parts of making coffee well here. But there are a few other things one could add in for sure. It does turn out that a cafe has free half-and-half, and I don’t include it here. But half-and-half is pretty cheap.

This Isn’t An Espresso Calculation

The other big wrinkle to add is that our recommended coffee kits here at Low Key Coffee Snobs don’t really cover espresso. Our favorite grinder isn’t super good for that, and the brewing devices one uses for espresso are much more expensive. So while I do think you could make an analysis like this for espresso-lovers, this will not shade into that territory. I don’t like espresso nearly enough for that.

You can use my calculations pretty easily on an espresso scenario. It’s just rather than spending about $40 on an AeroPress, you’re probably spending a few hundred on a good espresso machine.

The Basic Calculus: How I Did my Coffee-Cost Math

What I built into my calculations is one last complicated assumption: that you’re drinking the same amount of coffee if you buy it at a coffee shop vs making it at home. While I think this logic is defensible, I must admit that it doesn’t strictly fit my experience. That is: now that we can have delicious coffee at home, both Megan and I drink more coffee.

This factors into my calculus, because I factored in the cost of “expensive” coffee beans, which are most of what we drink. We buy a lot of beans from local roasters. And some are online. And we’re generally happy to pay right around $20 for a 12oz bag. Those prices vary, but that’s the high end of what I don’t hesitate on.

So to factor that in, I compared it with the same coffee brewed by a barista in a local coffee shop. And then I calculate the payoff-time for our capital costs (on a grinder, brewer, kettle, etc) from that starting point. There are many ways one could run a calculation like this, that’s the one I chose.

Hard ROI Answers: Some Possible Coffee Scenarios

Here’s the heart of the analysis, where I used my spreadsheet to actually figure the cost of each cup of coffee we make at home and how that compares to a coffee shop.

Low Startup Costs, $3.50 Local Coffee: You’ll Break Even in Days

When I started home-brewing coffee, I did the following:

  • Heated water using the microwave I had
  • Checked the temperature with a kitchen thermometer I already had
  • Bought a cheap manual burr grinder on Amazon (around $20)
  • Used an AeroPress I got for $40
  • Used an already-owned kitchen scale

I even (horrifyingly 🙃) started with cheap grocery store coffee beans. I’m leaving that off of this calculation, as I now see that that coffee was not living up to the potential.

Assuming you have that cost structure, your hard-investment into getting into coffee is something around $70. And assuming you make coffee the way we suggest in an AeroPress (make your own style, but I need to know an approximate grams/brew to do the math), you’ll have made-back your cost of hard items in just 26.3 brews. That means that you’d easily be saving money within a month.

Now, at the end that month, you’d probably want some equipment upgrades, as I did. But maybe you won’t, if you do with this you’ll quickly be saving money.

Assuming a Cheap Local Coffee Shop You Visit Daily and our Recommended Kit

I’d price our recommended home-brew setup at just about $300 dollars. That’s assuming you lack a good kitchen scale, a good kettle, a good grinder, and a good brewer. So to get our recommended kettle, you’re out about $70. Our grinder recommendation is $140. Our brew system recommendations (an AeroPress, or Kalita Wave) are both easily obtained for under $50. And a good kitchen scale can easily be had for $40.

That gives you a upfront hard-materials cost of $300. Assuming an optimistic brew cost locally (you’re fine with batch brew from a good shop) of $3, it’ll take you 143 brews to break even. Let’s round that up to six months of coffee, at one-cup-per-day. Not bad. As none of our recommended kit will wear out in that time, you’ll be saving money quickly.

Our Rough Costs: We were saving money after two months

Just out of curiosity, I calculated out for Megan and I the fully-loaded cost we’ve spent on coffee kit. So I put in our real estimate. With the disappointing JavaPresse, and the great Bonavita, and the Baratza Encore, and the kitchen scale I replaced. I came up with $500 on materials. It’s a pessimistic number, on purpose. Because I also said that we’re making three brews per day.

Given all that, we recouped our costs in under two months, 52 days, to be precise. So we’ve been saving real money the whole time we’ve had this site 🙌

Saving Money is Not the Reason to Home-brew Coffee. But You Will Save Money

In all of these above scenarios (and more), I think you’ll see that if you plan to drink regularly home-brewed coffee, most of your upfront material cost are quickly made up as compared to a barista-brewed coffee experience. That doesn’t mean that you’re totally set and can completely spend with abandon on coffee stuff. I’m not suggesting that (though a little I am ;p).

Instead I just think this all points to the understanding that if you like nice coffee, you can easily justify anything. I mean you easily come out ahead financially from even a substantial investment in making good coffee at home.

BTW, if anyone is interested I’ve made a publicly-accessible version of my spreadsheet on Google Sheets. Please be nice 🙂

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