Frugal Living 

Brewing Single-Serve Coffee Pods Beats Buying Anytime

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Mmmmm CoffeeHardly a week goes by when a personal finance writer doesn’t take a swing at Starbucks and buying coffee, so why not put it all to rest and do some math to settle it once and for all? I know it’s almost a no-brainer but let’s do the math and see how far ahead you can be if you were to brew your own coffee, whether from grounds or with a single serving coffee pod machine, rather than buying it in the coffeehouse.

How Many Cups in a Pound of Coffee?

The short answer is thirty. The number of cups you get out of your coffee beans will depend on how strong you make it and what you consider a “cup.” Let’s assume that you use the finest grind (espresso roast grind) and consider a cup to the standard 12 ounce cup you’d find as the smallest cup at Starbucks, the “tall” (an actual cup is 8 ounces, a “cup” as defined by coffee marketers is only six, that way they can boost their “cup counts” in marketing). For a pound of coffee grounds, you can get about thirty 12-oz. cups.

Our math comes close to what the fine scientists at Cockeyed discovered when they brewed a pound of coffee and yielded 25½ 16-oz cups, which equates to 34 8-oz cups. We’ll just go with the 30 cups per pound of coffee going forward.

$30 / Pound Coffee is OK!

Thirty 12-oz cups of coffee at Starbucks would cost you about $52.50, or $1.75 a cup (this is for their most basic coffee, nothing fancy). Let’s say you bought a $20 coffee maker, $2 for a hundred filters, you could still spend $30 on a pound of coffee and still come out ahead in the first month over buying $1.75 cups of coffee at Starbucks, or anywhere. And you’d have 70 filters, a coffee maker, and some nutrient-rich compost for your garden!

$30 a pound coffee is expensive coffee. I’m a fan of Kona coffee and, to buy it outside of Hawaii, you can expect to pay around $30 a pound (in part because of minimum wage laws). If you go to Costco and pick up some Folgers, it will cost you a fraction of that.

Coffee Pod Systems

Let’s say you don’t like the taste of coffee brewed in a pot at home, what would you say to a Keurig B40 Elite Gourmet Single-Cup Home-Brewing System? With these coffee pod systems, you buy individual “pods” filled with enough coffee for a single serving. The base unit costs about $100 and you can pick up replacement “K-Cups” (what they call the pods) at $48.99 for 108 pods. At 45 cents a pod, you make back the cost of the $100 unit in fewer than 77 days (assuming one cup a day). And you have a free single-cup brewing system at home. (I chose the Keurig as my example single-cup brewer because it comes with a reusable coffee filter so you can use grounds rather than the pods if you choose)

Brewing your own coffee from grounds is an automatic win and brewing your own coffee with fancy single serving pods is a win in 77 days, not bad right? The one thing you don’t get when you brew your coffee at home is the ambiance of a coffeehouse. I don’t think you really get that at a Starbucks but if you go to a local (not a chain) coffeehouse, there’s a quaintness and an ambiance worth paying for (at least from time to time) if you stick around to enjoy your coffee.

Do you brew your own coffee or prefer to go to a coffeehouse?

(Photo by ahmedrabea)

{ 38 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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38 Responses to “Brewing Single-Serve Coffee Pods Beats Buying Anytime”

  1. I have never started drinking coffee, and I never plan to. I do not think that drinking coffee is sinful. 🙂 I just do not want the extra caffeine in my body. If I ever do start drinking coffee, though, I will have to come back here for this article! This is the best article on frugal coffee that I have seen in a long time.


    Stumbled and Dugg

  2. Leah says:

    My husband is a consultant in the coffee industry, and has told me several times not to touch those fake pod brewers with a ten foot pole. Stick to the kind that have actual pods. I can highly recommend the Bunn pod brewer. It is used exclusively by most coffee companies who service the food industry, and are excellent for home use. I don’t know the initial cost offhand, but I know the quality will be fantastic and you’ll be less likely to miss that 12oz starbucks.

    • Joe says:

      What do you mean by fake pod brewers? I have a Keurig that uses K-Cups. Bunn has the same basic machine but they use pods. The difference is just in the way the “pod” is made. I have had my Keurig for almost a year now and am very satisfied with it.

  3. I brew my own. I buy a 12 oz bag of Starbucks coffee (I know, what a sell out) and it usually last me a month or so (it’s about $8). My wife doesn’t drink coffee, so that makes it last longer. I don’t regularly go to coffee shops, but I think it’s a fun thing to do for entertainment purposes. Thanks for running the numbers. I had no doubt brewing your own was cheaper;)

  4. Fairy Dust says:

    Like the above poster, I buy Starbucks coffee to brew at home – I actually like my homebrewed Starbucks a LOT better than anything I get at the Starbucks store because they make it SO strong! Usually when I do go in and buy a pound bag, I’m offered a free cup of whatever they have brewed, so I can even get the ambiance (if I want to stick around for it) at no extra cost 🙂

    • Jim says:

      And the best part is that you’re still getting a better deal and get to drink coffee at a strength you prefer.

  5. I’m sort of a coffee newbie. I’ve drank random crap from Starbucks in the past, but have not really gotten into coffee as a whole. I don’t like the idea of have multiple cups a day, but wouldn’t mind having a cup on the weekends, etc…

    Does anyone have any tips for a good place to start. Possibly a cheaper brand that still has some quality for a beginner to try?

  6. Andrew says:

    Brewing your own is definitely cheaper, but getting 30 12-ounce cups out of a pound is going to mean some awfully weak coffee. I probably get more like 15 out of a pound. My local Peet’s shop brews it so strong they probably only get 12.

  7. Yana says:

    We rarely drink coffee away from home, but brew 2-3 pots at home daily. I can count on both hands how many times combined I’ve been to Starbucks and another local bakery/internet cafe. I’ve never gone to Starbucks on my own, but when I was with someone who likes the place. Actually, coffee has never been the reason to go to either of those places.

  8. I work from home two days a week. On the weekends and my work from home days, I make my own coffee using regular grounds. On the days that I go into the office, I get a 20oz cup of coffee at Wawa for $1.45, which sounds like it is still only slightly more than half the price of the same amount at Starbucks.

    Every once in a while I’ll wake up early enough to make my own when I have to drive in to the office, but for under $4.50 a week, I usually just stop at Wawa on my way.

  9. Monkey Monk says:

    I can go both ways. During the winter we nearly always brew our own coffee at home (Trader Joe’s Coffee, Cuisinart Grind N’ Brew). We get excellent results and it’s very affordable.

    During the warmer months though I start to develop a craving for a Starbuck’s venti iced Americano. I enjoy the walking into town with the dog and/or family to get one and then enjoy it on the walk home. We’ll do this 3-4 days a week and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

    I’ve tried to replicate the taste of an iced Americano at home with poor results (and two mostly unused expresso machines that were a pain in the ass to use and gave mixed results).

    • Jim says:

      I think coffeehouses are great experiences, including the walk into town with the dog and family, so I didn’t want to discount that; but many simply run in for the coffee and run out, having never enjoyed the ambiance you’re really paying for.

  10. Rob O. says:

    My wife & I bought each other a Cuisinart Grind & Brew coffeemaker for Christmas and really love it – aside from the cleanup & prep being a bit more of a hassle than a standard drip coffeemaker. But the flavor that you get from the machine freshly-grounding beans just before brewing is awesome!

    We usually buy Starbucks beans (either the Yujon or Cafe Verona blends) or sometimes venture out with some other brands like Caribou or 8 O’Clock.

    • Silver Surfer says:

      My wife bought me a Cuisinart about 10 years ago, before they had the Grinder built in. I grind the beans (trying different ones but our favorite is the same as your’s, Café Verona). The coffee taste from the Cuisinart is excellent, as good as Starbucks makes. We love it and it has lasted through kids somehow spilling the grinds everywhere into the maker, but it cleaned up and still worked fine. I use filter water and once in a while I run vinegar through to clean it up. And I only have to change the Cuisinart water filter about every 6 or more months, since water is filter. We love this maker and think it is the best one we ever owned. And it keeps working after 10 years. We have a Keurig machine also, for fast coffee when running out the door. It is great also, but I think the fresh coffee beans make for the best tasting coffee. Also if I know someone is getting up early to leave I set the Cuisinart to brew coffee at a set time in the morning so it is all ready to use. Thanks for your comment.

  11. MinnesotaSaver says:

    Aren’t pods bad for the environment? All that packaging? Then again, some people don’t drink coffee since they say it oppresses the workers who grow and pick it. Is shade grown fair trade really better?

    • Jim says:

      I chose the idea of pods only because they’re the most expensive home example of a single serving of coffee (short of buying expensive coffee or an expensive machine), I’m personally not a fan of single serving coffee machines because of the waste they generate. All that plastic is bad for the environment, but I wanted to give people as close to an apples to apples comparison (yes, I recognize Starbucks uses an expensive machine) as I could.

  12. Yana says:

    Speaking of coffeemakers with timers, I bought this one – Cuisinart DCC-1100 12-Cup Programmable Coffeemakers – a couple of months ago at Amazon after buying a Mr. Coffee at Target. The Mr. Coffee made a lot of noise after the coffee was done and I didn’t like it at all. Having mostly used Gevalia coffeemakers over the years, I had never bought one that cost over $15, so it was a big deal to me to get this Cuisinart. I love it. I set it every night to have coffee made in the morning, and make coffee one or two more times daily. I’d say it’s the best machine I’ve ever had. A+++ would buy again. 😉

  13. Victoria says:

    Boy, you guys really take this coffee thing seriously. Okay, I have the Pod coffee maker
    by Nespresso. I looovvveee it. It cost $175 and the pods are $.52 each. I’m not a serious coffee drinkerrarely drinking more than one cup/day and that’s if I remember I want a cup of coffee before I head out the door. I also travel so the
    pods I leave behind are fresh when I get back home no matter how long I’m gone. Hooray for Pods!

  14. katy says:

    How do you know how fresh the pods are?

    Just brew Bustelo!

  15. TTFK says:

    Pods: $48.99 for 108 pods = $0.454 per serving.

    Folgers Singles from $5.99 for 19 bags = $0.315 per serving.

    Buy at 12 box discount level: $69.00 for 228 bags = $0.303 per serving.

    Gave the web site example only because it is most easily verifiable. There are some places local to me that sell a box of 19 bags of generic coffee (which still tastes fine) for under $3/box.

  16. Patrick says:

    I don’t drink coffee at all and that’s how I save 🙂 But I do agree that in almost all situations, you will save by brewing coffee on your own, even when using expensive beans. I just can’t imagine paying $5 for some coffee just so I can go to starbucks and have the ambiance.

  17. TStrump says:

    I’ve used these pod brewers before and they do save a lot of time in the morning.
    I just find I’m always in a hurry.
    The pods make it very easy and they’re cheaper than stopping at Starbucks.

  18. Jonathan says:

    Ditch all the drip-grind and pod brewers for a simple French Press. You can buy anything from a single-serve up to a 12-cup. Grind your coffee, add hot (or boiling, depending on the coffee) water, and wait 3-4 minutes.

    • Jim says:

      I’ve thought about getting a French press because it reduces the waste of paper coffee filters, one of those things that I just keep forgetting to do!

      • Jonathan says:

        I did a bit of very rough math and came up with the following:

        avg. coffeemaker = 900 watts
        2 hours running (brew+warmer) = 1.8kWh

        avg. range eye = 1400 watts
        6 minutes to boil = 0.14kWh

        Depending on what the electric company charges per kWh, that’s quite a difference in electricity savings.

        • Brian says:


          There’s a call from a Mr. Orange… he’s asking why you are comparing him to the Apples?

          I doubt your french press is still warm after 2 hours…

          You included the “keep warm” along with the “make” functions.

  19. jessica says:

    I traveled in East Africa last year and learned how to hand-roast coffee in small batches in the Ethiopian tradition. It’s very simple and produces deliscious coffee. Since there is a large Ethiopian community here in Seattle and the coffee ceremony is an important hospitality rite in that culutre, I was able to find the green coffee beans for about $2 a pound. I roast them at home in a dry skillet now and have some of the best coffee I’ve experienced thus far in North America (I too am a Kona fan, but I do think pure Ethiopian beans roasted the same day or week as they’re brewed are best).


  20. RandomPasser-by says:

    Now here’s a topic I can get behind… with the exception of … pods. Whales belong in pods. Peas belong in pods. Even body-snatchers belong in pods (until, you know, they eat the host body). Coffee does not.

    Pods? Seriously? OK, a year from now, maybe two, Pod company “A” has gone out of business. Pod company “B” only makes pods for CoffeeMachineCompany “2”. Which has also gone out of business or is now making their machines of sanitized lead-cadmium bindings, in China. Your CoffeePodEatingMachine only takes Size 43b (metric). This is BS.

    If you want to go Single Serve, just do:
    a) pour over. Easy, cheap, full control. Just get good coffee.
    b) get a coffee-rocket ™ — an Aeropress. Not quite as convenient, but gives the best danged coffee outside of the International Barrista Championships (w/out a $3000 machine).

    I recommend the Aeropress. You use coffee a scoop, two, three, or four at a time, and you get one, two, three, or four “shots” out of it. Yeah, it looks like I’m saying SHOTS, like espresso, but you know the purists would be at my door w/ torches, pitchforks, and those little hard rock-candy swizzle sticks that wussies and women use.

    You get a couple of shots in a mug, add some additional hot water to taste (technically, an “americano”), and fix to your heart’s content. I won’t tell if you use honey or fat-free “creamer”.

    How’s the milage? Let me see… one Aero, w/ 300 filters, is about $28.95. A little more or less online or locally. 300 filters sounds like a lot to me — supposedly a YEAR’S worth, but maybe not — but you can re-use your filters until you start freaking out your friends who have taken microbiology, but dang it, you can sterilize them or just get a new filter. I usually get 10-12 pressings from a single filter, unless my queasy friend is watching, then I get 20 pressings.

    A pound of REAL coffee (fresh roasted, thank’s local coffee shop) runs me $11. I get about 32 shots out of that. Normally, that’s about 35 cents per, but I drink double-shot mugs, and usually have a couple of mugs per day. That puts me at about 70 cents per mug, before real cream and sugar. Ok, I lied. I use Splenda.

    I can make a fantastic cup, any time, day or night (works great w/ decaf). You can “git ‘r done” in less than 5, w/ the clean up. Less than 3, if you practice. You can shoot over ice, shoot into cake batter/dessert, etc. You can drink it straight, if yer a man (like me), or mix it w/ flavorings, if you’re smooth and sophisticated (er, like me). Amazingly smooth.

    One more thing… read up a little on coffee, self-serve. Hit the forums. There’s lots of info on coffee, making, drinking, roasting, etc. If you think your Mr Coffee is doing you right, then you’re in for a whole new world of awesome. You’ll get so good, you’ll have the Starbucks clerks stopping by on their way to work for a quickie. Or something like that.

  21. ts13209 says:

    I consider myself very frugal, and never really considered a pod type as I brew my own at home with a standard coffeemaker. One day lo and behold a pod type coffee maker with a large supply of pods was offered for about $10. I was tempted but held back until I read some of the comments by other members who had either purchased one or owned one. One comment linked to a website that showed you how to make your own pods for these types of machines. Wal Mart had carried a DIY kit (don’t know if they still do,) but this process to make your own was fairly easy and very inexpensive since you selected what coffee to use.

    It works well for me but I don’t use my pod machine as much as I drink a lot of coffee in the morning and any leftover gets put in the fridge and freezer for chilled coffee drinks, so it’s more efficient to brew larger quantities.( plus my coffee cup is a mega sized dollar store one that holds about 16 oz.) But when I’m in the mood for one cup then I use the pod machine. ( I also own a Bodum Santos Vacuum coffee maker. If you’ve never seen coffee made with one of these, check out their site.)

  22. Kay says:

    If you dislike supporting Starbucks or just prefer supporting a good cause – order Mystic Monk Coffee online from the Carmelite Monks in Wyoming. The monks there support the monastery by roasting and selling coffees. It is better than Starbucks and the monks are wonderful to deal with.

  23. markG says:

    Buying an espresso or cappuccino at a Starbucks, or any other chain or single coffee house, is the stupidest thing I can think of if you drink one a day, have a mate who also has one and, especially, if you (or you and your mate) have more than one.
    I bought a 2000 dollar espresso maker and, on our one a day, it paid for itself in just about a year. Forget about the coffee cost, that’s nothing at 7 (wholesale) to 14 a pound (retail) from great fresh espresso roasters. It’s the 6 bucks a day for the two of us, the gas to get to the local coffee masters and what about the lost time of actually going there and getting it home hot and not spilled (plus you have to a least dress and look ‘presentable’-although from what I notice, that varies greatly in the morning from what I’ve seen) and avoiding the occasional parking ticket(s).
    Unless you really like hanging out, I really don’t get it. Nothing like brewing your own in the privacy of your home. If you really like paying rent to hang out, please do. Otherwise, you can’t give me a good reason to pay those prices for ,generally, mediocre stuff.

  24. Mercedes says:

    I have a Nespresson Krups system at home which is great. Initial price ofr the machine is expensive( but it was a gift) and each pod is jsut 50 I save a lot of money for premium coffee. Oh, Starbucks can never be compared to premium coffee..


    I also have a K-Cups system at work. My co-workers and I bought one together and we buy our own pods (we store our own share in our lockers). We never have to worry about coming in to the office and tehres no more community coffee and dealing with who will go get the next can of Folgers and whether so and so has paid or not. In month, i noticed I saved tons of money. I was dishing out 150 nearly twice a month on coffee (that includes the pastries and other enticing options on the drive-thru menu). Now I enjoy my decaf coffee, tea, and decaf cappucinos at work. You can also purchase a reusable pod and fill it with your favorite coffee (I cheat- I fill it with Starbucks – which is still cheaper than buying the cup). I sometimes even find new roast at WholeFoods and try it on here.

    About Pod Freshness
    I couldn’t find any info about the K-cups, but Nespresso coffee are vacuum sealed straight from roasting. That means the coffee is as fresh as you can ever get. The concept, if true for the other companies, means that unlike the bags or cans of coffee that spoil because air gets in, each pod is guaranteed to be fresh.

    My son worked for Nespresso and when i visited him in Switzerland i got a tour of the plant. I got to see how fresh and taste the difference to other. No one can compare to them. But that is because they are top.
    But guess what, I only serve Nespresso at home. I drink coffee mostly at work and with my girfriends. Starbucks has become the “Top” US market coffee, but it becomes expensive on a daily commute. That is why, although Starbucks coffee blends are my go-to coffees, I brew it myself rather than buying a five dollar cup each morning.

    Use a percolator, French press..they all have advantages. I saved a lot of money with the pod system and it works for me. I was wasting money at the drive=thru, but with my savings, I can still endulge in a hassle free pod system without going back to the burnt coffee percoaltor system. The French press is delicious, but the pod system is easy, easy to maintain, and efficient!

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