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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Coffee: an affordable luxury

What’s a fair price for a cup of coffee? Well, if it’s International Roast at the church fete, then 3.5 cents is about right. But if it’s hotel room-service after a 20 hour flight without a decent cup, then $2000 is probably quite reasonable.

But seriously, for those of us who enjoy the caffeinated bliss that is coffee, it can become an expensive habit. Even a moderate two cappucinos a day from the coffee shop will burn through $25 per week easy – that’s $1250 a year! And if your habit stretches to several cups a day, well, the sky’s the limit.

So, what can you do to save some dollars without missing out on the good stuff?
  • No chain-store espressos. Sorry, but with a floor price of about $3.00 for a standard cup, Starbucks and Gloria Jean’s just don’t offer value. Take the trouble to find a local barista who will get to know you and make you a $2.00 or $2.50 cup just the way you like it. They will remember you and always give you the exact froth, temperature and strength you like. But even then, limit yourself to one take-away a day, and try to have at least one free-day a week. That way, you’ll appreciate your tailor-made treat even more.
  • Don’t buy a home-espresso machine. Look, there’s nothing wrong with these machines generally. Most of them can make a decent cup. But the reality is they just don’t save you money in the long run. For a start, there’s hundreds of dollars to buy the thing. And then, they use a LOT of coffee – at least $1 worth per cup. So you’d have to drink hundreds of cups to save back the price of purchase, and unless you have the skills of a barista, you’re still not going to get the froth, strength and temperature that your local Luigi can provide.
  • Take the plunge. Really, plungers are the best balance for home use. They yield 3 big mugs of strong, hot coffee using about 70c worth of raw materials. They're foolproof, consistent and easier to keep clean than an espresso-maker. Tasty tip: When the kettle’s boiled, wait a minute or two before pouring the water into the plunger. Any barista will tell you the ideal water temperature for coffee-making is around 89-92 degrees celsius – so remember; let the kettle settle before you pour.
  • Store your coffee right: Don’t freeze your fresh coffee! Home freezers evapourate the essential oils that make coffee smell and taste so great. If it’s in the freezer, you’re losing the wonderful aroma and flavour that you’ve paid good money for! Store it in an airtight, light-proof container in a cool, dry place that is protected from high temperature fluctuations. That way, you’ll get the full value of your luxury purchase.
  • Try a local roaster. As a rule of thumb, the closer your coffee is roasted to where you drink it, the fresher it will taste. The big-name coffee brands like Lavazza, Vittoria, Harris and so on are all fine, but the fact is they are roasted at one place and then shipped all over the country.

    If you can find a little roasting-house near you, give them a try. You will probably find they can do a blend that is just right for you, and you can expect to pay about 20% less than the store brands, because a local roaster doesn't have the same distribution and packaging costs.

    Where do you find them? Well, they won't be in your supermarket, but visit your local greengrocer or delicatessen, as you may well find they stock coffees that were roasted in a suburb near you!
  • Junkies need an instant fix. OK, this one is for serious addicts only. There are some decent instant coffees around, and if you drink more than 4 cups a day, they will save you serious money. My suggestion is, after you hit your one-espresso or one-plunger limit, switch to instant for the rest of the day. If you’re buying instant, buy a top-shelf blend such as Moccona’s “Indulgence” range, because it’s near-cafe standard, and you’re saving so much with instant that you can afford the best. They’re about $8-$9 for a 100gm tin, and they yield dozens and dozens of cups.

Gotta go now, my hands are shaking...

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  • At 5:36 am, Blogger Rebecca said…

    Yes! With organic half & half and local raw honey, my morning cup (or pot) costs me around $1 American and is infinitely more satisfying than Starbuck's.

    I was going to suggest that the best coffee is made with a French Press, but I wonder if that is what you call a "plunger" down under?

  • At 12:42 pm, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Exactly! A plunger and a French Press are one and the same, and they do make the best coffee.

  • At 4:06 am, Blogger Rebecca said…

    You do know what we do with a "plunger" here, don't you? Not sure we would ever be able to get the term to stick to making coffee.

    Eeeuwww!! (or however you spell that.)

  • At 2:02 pm, Blogger The Bargain Queen said…

    Yes :)

    We actually call toilet plungers the same thing here, so I guess Australians are strange. We also call flip flops 'thongs' and thongs 'g strings' which leads to some interesting misunderstandings.

    And you don't want to know what 'fanny' means here!


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