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Can You Afford To Make Specialty Coffee At Home?

Pile of coins and coffee beans cost of specialty coffee

Many people are under the impression that drinking specialty coffee at home is out of reach. With bags of specialty coffee ranging from R100-R200 (and upwards for the really exotic stuff), and the initial cost of the setup being quite substantial a lot of people struggle to justify the costs of brewing specialty coffee at home.

The Economics Of Home Brewing

We've looked at the numbers and we disagree; after doing the maths, it actually turns out to be significantly cheaper. In fact, compared to drinking coffee at your local cafe or drinking capsule coffee, you can pay off an entry level home brewing setup in as little as a few months with just the money you save. If you would like to punch your own numbers in and do some of your own calculations, you can access our spreadsheet with all of our formulae here. Feel free to enter the details into your own version of the spreadsheet and see what your numbers deliver!

Below we have a number of specific scenarios that we have looked at. To start off, let's just look at a few assumptions we have made on the costs of coffee.  Most of this is based on averages, but if these numbers look way off from yours, try put yours into your own copy of the spreadsheet.

Coffee brewing assumptions

Basic Manual Brewing At Home vs Filter Coffee Out

What you need:

Given that this is the starting point, we looked at this scenario with a minimal, budget-friendly setup in mind. With the typical type of entry-level gear available, you can get a brewer, a grinder and a scale for just shy of R3000. Let's assume you would usually drink two cups of coffee a day, bought from a local cafe. The money spent on your home brew set-up will be made back in only three months! 

Home brewing cost calculation

Obviously we understand that it's not just about the money, you might have a great relationship with your local cafe, and we think that's a great thing. It's actually still worth it if you want to split the difference and have one coffee at the cafe and and brew one at home. We adjusted the number of cups to one and the figures below show that if you do this, you will have the setup paid off within 5 months.

Cost of home brewing vs drinking coffee at the cafe

Although we looked at milk in our calculations, it made a negligible difference. The figures above were calculated using 18g of coffee per brew and drinking it black.


Batch Brew At Home vs Filter Coffee Out

What you need:

This option makes particular sense if there are a lot of people that need coffee! If you are feeding a family of coffee fanatics, or maybe live in a house share of coffee nerds, this is definitely a good option for you. A batch brewer, grinder and scale will set you back about R8000. The table below is based on 2 cups a day and shows that this setup will pay for itself in as little as 6 months.

Batch brew cost per cup calculation

Given that this setup is a great option for lots of coffee, we also looked at a scenario for a couple. If we double the number of cups per day, you suddenly have a really great setup that has been paid for in 3 months.

How much money you can save by brewing batch brew for a couple
Batch brew works great with slightly less coffee that manual brewing. We did these calculations based on 15g dose per cup. We also incorporated the cost of the filter by dividing it by the number of cups per day.

Basic Espresso Setup vs Espresso Coffee Out

What You Need:

This is where we start to get to the big hitters and things start to get a little more interesting. The cost of milk in lattes and flat whites begin to make a big difference in the operating costs; they really do add up! Our assumptions here are based on a Rancilio Home Espresso Bundle which, at the time of writing this, will set you back in the region of R22000. We know it might seem like quite a chunk of change but based on 2 flat whites a day (using a standard 18g dose), this will be completely recouped in as little as 18 months. Given that this type of equipment can last many years if well cared for, this makes it a good investment!

How much you save by making espresso at home

High-End Espresso Setup vs Espresso Coffee Out

What You Need:

The ultra premium domestic espresso setup really is a labour of love. Even with the savings you will make brewing at home, it is a long journey to pay off. This sort of set-up is for the real espresso enthusiast who is willing to dedicate time and energy into making the best coffee possible. It's tricky to put numbers to this setup; what we would consider a "high-end" domestic espresso setup ranges from in the region of R30,000 all the way up to R250,000 for the BEST everything. For argument's sake, let's use a ~R60,000 setup. Based on 2 x 18g flat whites a day, this espresso machine will pay itself off in 43 months. It's hard work, but if you love espresso, it is definitely worth it!

Cost of high end espresso setup
It's worth mentioning that the equipment in this category can easily last many years, if not more than a decade, if well cared for. That's part of the premium you're paying, so the economics still pan out. Needless to say, if you're making 5 cups of coffee or more, you will actually recoup the cost of this setup very fast.

The Capsule Argument

We also included capsule coffee in our calculations. There are a few points about capsule coffee that you should be aware of. On the surface, it seems that capsule coffee is quite affordable, and in some cases, even more affordable than manual brewing. The graph below shows the cost of capsules (based on the price of a popular brand), compared to the cost of brewing a cup at home, however this cost is an illusion.

Cost of brewing capsule coffee vs manual brewing

Most capsules only contain about 5g-7g of ground coffee; this is quite a vast difference to the 17g-20g used to brew most filter or espresso-based drinks. The calculation above shows the cost difference based on a one-to-one ratio. It treats one 15g manual brew as the same thing as one 5g capsule. Of course, not all coffees are created equal. The reality is that one capsule does not contain the same amount of coffee (or caffeine for that matter) as one manual brew. In the table below, we have included a calculation which adjusts the capsule cost to the same quantity of coffee. In other words, 1 x 15g cup coffee = 3 x 5g capsules.

Adjusted cost of capsule coffee vs manual brewing

As you can see, when you take into account the difference in the amount of coffee and the fact that you will not be satisfied with a 1:1 comparison of cups of coffee to capsules of coffee, it quickly becomes apparent that capsules are quite astronomically expensive. We included the cost of the capsule machine in our break even point calculation.

The Major Players

This has proven an interesting experiment for us. It helped us to realise that things are not quite as black and white as we thought they were. For example, we were convinced that milk would be a big deal, it turns out that while it has an substantial impact in the cost of flat whites and lattes, we were surprised that a drop of milk in your filter coffee is pretty much negligible, but we're still going to encourage you to drink it black.

Another surprising factor was that the cost of your coffee makes very little difference in the bigger picture. Using R120 coffee vs using R150 coffee has a difference of 27 to 29 months to pay off a R60,000 setup and makes no discernible difference in the time taken to pay off smaller setups. Brewing your own coffee will actually allow you to purchase more expensive specialty coffees. Isn't that a fantastic thing to realise?!

Another factor that proved to be far more significant than we'd initially thought was the adjusted cost of capsule coffee. At the same cost as a coffee in a cafe, capsule coffee just is not worth the money! If you're happy drinking just 5g of coffee a time (and don't mind it stale), then capsules might be for you, but if you want a proper cup, you're going to need another solution.

At the end of the day, the biggest factor that impacts how long it would take to pay off your setup was the number of cups you drink per day. The more coffee you drink, the bigger the incentive to make at least some of your coffees at home (and the fancier the coffee gear that you can justify buying)!

Final Thoughts

With all the numbers in front of us, we think that specialty coffee in the comfort of your own home is accessible to most of us, at least those that regularly drink coffee out. We kept the setup costs to the bare minimum here, but if you have been bitten by the coffee bug, you can keep going and upgrade your setup to include fancy carafes, pouring kettles and multiple types of brew methods. It seems that the economics of home brewing can easily justify it.

With that being said, we don't want this to be all about the money. While there are obvious benefits to your wallet when it comes to home brewing, there are also other benefits that are a little more difficult to quantify. Home brewing offers you the opportunity to learn a new skill and explore coffee brewing with newfound fervour. It will allow you to try different coffees of different processing methods, origins and roasters more easily. It will also get you involved in the sometimes frustrating but often rewarding process of getting those wonderful flavours out of those little beans. Our hopes are that it will take your appreciation of this wonderful beverage to a whole new level.

Comments

We will keep on using our hand grinder and our French press along with your amazing coffee for our daily use.

Posted by Maureen on October 01, 2020

Interesting test, but for espresso this makes a fatal assumption. That the espresso is never dialed in properly, and that it has a “set it and forget it” setting. It obviously doesn’t.
You have to assume that each time a different bag of beans is purchased it can take between 2 and 6 shots to dial in the espresso. Each time you change the grind setting you have to purge it.
Each day you should pull an extra shot to make sure the grind setting is where it needs to be, as it changes with bean age.
So, on a daily basis, you should assume 54-72 grams of bean use with purging and your 2 flat whites. That is up to R40.32 per day for beans for 2 flat whites, with a minimum of R30.24. [assuming the bean you buy stays the same, and it’s already dialed in.]

This doesn’t include the beans used to dial in, which can be 36-108 grams per bag of coffee. (Assuming that the home user would want to change their beans and use different ones each time they buy. Using the same bean reduces the need for this.)
Now if you take that from the yield, each gram of beans after the grinder has been dialed in only leaves you with about 178g or usable coffee (assuming 72g to dial in, which is on the low side).

This takes the price per 18g dose (after dialing in) to R14.16. Assuming between 3-4 doses per day, (2 coffees and 1-2 dial in shots,) it will cost R42.47 – R57.63 for 2 flat whites. That’s R21-R28 per cup.

It will become more economical if you buy cheaper beans, bulk order beans, or never change the bean you use.

Posted by Naeem on October 02, 2020

Very interesting observation Naeem. I think that there are some valid points here, but a lot of them can be taken with a pinch of salt. During lockdown, I had two espresso machines and two grinders with me at home, and I definitely did not need to waste near that much coffee on a daily basis.

The way I worked with my espresso was to dial it in when I first got it, generally looking to get 27-32 second extractions on the lighter roasts and 20-25 seconds on the darker roasts (fairly standard). I could usually get there within one shot, and as I got more familiar with the Sette grinder that I was using, I could usually predict what grind setting to use it on and nail it without wasting a shot.

Now, I am not keen on a “one-shot fits all” mentality towards coffee, but I did not want to throw a good shot “that could be better” away. My solution was to pull my shot, drink it, and make a tiny tweak for the next time I used the grinder. This way I was always steering towards better, enjoying being involved with my coffee, and not wasting huge amounts. While there was definitely a small amount of waste it was nowhere near 4-6 shots per bag of coffee.

As for purging, that largely depends on your grinder. The Sette I was using has a standard retention < 1g. You can get away with not purging, but if you want to go the extra mile, a single bean will be enough to purge the Sette.

I think there is definitely an argument here for buying a grinder that is geared towards home espresso, easy to adjust and reproduce grind settings and has low retention. Overall, I think your adjustments are definitely valid, but there are ways to get around this and mitigate the waste. Very fair observation though.

- Matt

Posted by Cape Coffee Beans on October 02, 2020

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