Starbucks Shmarbucks – 2009, the Year of Coffee on the Cheap

empty coffee mug

From subqns at Flickr under a Creative Commons License

As the mercury drops this winter season, the Grande Latte is in vogue again – but will set you back almost $4.  Here are 5 tips for how to have your cup o’ Joe without breaking the bank.[social_buttons]

While I sat sipping my Grande Latte on a cold December day, I was taken aback by how much lighter my wallet felt as a result.  In between sips I managed to calculate that at the rate of 20 sips per cup, each sip  was costing me $0.20!  The realization that I could just as easily down a gallon of crude oil instead and still have some left over for a biscotti, made me vow to do whatever it took to ween myself from my addiction – here’s my story:

1. Bring your own mug

At first I went easy, and brought my own travel mug to the store.  At Starbucks this will save you a paltry $0.10 a visit, but I figured it was better than nothing.  Besides, I found my spiffy Starbucks Mug made me feel ultra cool since I was saving trees by not using paper cups.  I also discovered that I wasn’t re-heating my coffee in the microwave, an extra boon in my book.

2. Skip the milk

I next decided that I should forgo the “latte” part of my daily addiction.  When I thought about it, I couldn’t remember ever needing so much milk in my coffee before the onslaught of Starbucks, Peets and the like, and switched back to the hard stuff.  It took awhile to adjust to the taste, but my wallet immediately felt the difference: at an average of $1.50 a cup, I could go more than twice the distance for as much money as before (with increased jitters, however, since brewed coffee has up to 4 times more caffeine in it than espresso-based drinks).

3. Coffee at work

Once I had conditioned my palate to accept filtered coffee, I took a different tack and decided to make my coffee at work.  This turned out to be easier than I thought since my office has a “community coffee” bin that we can all pilfer from.  It took me awhile to get the French press working just right, but after a few tries, some great coffee from my favorite sustainable roaster crew, Barefoot Coffee, and a nice mug, I was all set.

4. Take the path less traveled

As much as I started loving my self-brewed work concoctions, I still found that my morning walk took me past too many coffee shops, often leading me to give in to temptation (especially with the slew of holiday drink specials available).  I then made a conscious decision to take a different route to work, bypassing all known coffee joints, and now have three or four paths that keep me far from temptation.  As an added bonus, I now see much more of my neighborhood than I ever did before, all with nary a sip.

5. Bid the bean farewell

In the final phase of my battle against coffee, I am attempting to switch to what some say is a healthier alternative: tea.  While I find the taste of tea to be weaker than coffee on the whole, there is much to be said about the astounding range of tea flavors available – one for every season, and then some.  I am especially taken with Lipton (ever since they started sourcing only sustainable tea leaves), and Numi’s organic teas, both of which I can brew both at home and at work – multiple times with the same bag (or infuser), saving even more money as a result.

This is my journey thus far from a latte-centric, expensive world to a slightly healthier, cheaper and more sustainable (albeit more watery) one, and it wasn’t nearly as hard as I had feared.

Any thoughts?  Suggestions?  Your own anti-latte journey?

About the Author

A self-described "surferpreneur" working at the intersection of business, philanthropy and government. Based in San Francisco, an impressively fantastic place that is only eclipsed by the amazing people that live in it.
  • zombiesgirl

    I went through all that, finally got to tea in November ’06, yes! But now I find myself only drinking certain brands of loose leaf, and the cost is going up again 🙁 though, happily still no where near the old starbucks days.

  • Well, you definitely beat me to it! Tea certainly has gone up in price (here’s one reason why) – I’m even considering sourcing those Japanese reusable tea balls, though must admit it feels a bit ridiculous. I wonder if coffee grounds are reusable?

  • Sharon

    If you find tea “weak” , stop making multiple cups from one teabag. That only worked for English POW’s in “The Great Escape”. Feed the planet more by drying your used teabags – just leave them on a saucer exposed to the air – and ripping them apart over your compost. Free dirt.
    By the way, this also works for coffee.

  • Allison

    I’ve been drinking tea as well, preferring loose leaves in a tea strainer to those lipton bags. My favorite tea comes from Aveda- expensive, but yummy!

  • inebriated

    With this anti-coffee diatribe, I guess that my $100-a-week liquor-and-beer habit in 2009 is safe then.

  • Tea is an excellent change of pace. It’s one I had to take myself, and I’ve found it addictive.

    Switch to loose leaf – you can find decent ones in bags for work from Two Leaves & a Bud and MightyLeaf. For fantastic single origin teas, I HIGHLY recommend The Simple Leaf. Teatulia and Ocean of Tea are also wonderful companies – Teatulia offers bags as well. Very good teas, but VERY pricey – mainly because they actually *gasp* support their workers.

    Anyway, good luck. If you still want a caffeine kick, I’d recommend a good Chai – they often have a similar body to coffee which helps, I think.

    (Full disclosure – I own a tea blending business. The teas I’ve recommended are from companies I like and drink tea from.)

  • Sharon: my English mother imbued in me a healthy appreciation for watery English Breakfast, so I am more than happy to keep it weak! Thanks for the heads up on tea compost (or compos-teaing).

    inebriated: My next post? “Bathtub gin: putting the home back in ‘home brew'”

  • Mark

    I really have to take issue with the concept that tea is more or less healthy. There are quite a few studies in support of the health benefits of coffee – i think citizen bean’s blog ( has published quite a few of them over the years from very credible sources.

  • I’ve started brewing Teechino -its a coffee alternative that has a similar smoothness as coffee, but without the caffeine. I love the hazelnut flavor with a little soy milk. It’s $7.99 per bag a Whole Foods and one bag last about month. Because its caffeine-free I can drink it in the evening for a nice warm and toasty treat.

  • Summer: loose leaf sounds like the way to go, though if it took me this long to figure out the best amount of coffee for a French Press, I can only imagine having real trouble with tea! (Full disclosure: I was actually a quick study in coffee since I spent a short stint as a Barista. And I love Oregon Chai).

    Mark: I had heard that coffee could suppress cancer, but had no idea there was this much research being done in the area. Definitely interesting stuff.

    Adeeba: I will definitely check out the local WholeFoods!

  • mooooo

    Tea and coffee are both irrelevant to health. People have to give up this micronutrient approach to health b.s. and move on. It’s an artifact of protest from the beef industry, and it really should be buried for good.

    The next person who tells me an açai berry cleans will polish my bowels to a 30-lb-slimmer me is getting my foot up their ass.

  • I’m starting to wonder if Starbucks is what’s giving coffee a bad rep 🙂

    Also, there are numerous health benefits to drinking coffee… save the caffeine, they say its loaded with all sorts of valuable chemicals (which will remain unnamed).

    And let’s not forget the lessons learned from “inebriated”, if you empty your wallet on coffee, that’s less money spent on more severe substance abuse… such as crack and xbox 360.

  • I’m usually a (i’m sitting in Peets) sencha tea drinker, but for some reason this fall i’ve been enamoured with iced coffee.

    I ordered tea today but it’s a struggle; it’s also odd that in cold weather i no longer want to drink hot coffee (sets my stomach off for some reason).


  • There goes my açai fetish… ::removes foot from ass::

    But seriously, the amount of time we put into disassembling our diet is staggering. I loved one of the lessons from Omnivore’s Dilemma, namely, that the macro diets of different societies (the French, Italians, Greek, etc.) and the way the food is consumed are designed to keep us healthy. Hence, Americans eat French food (incorrectly) and are obese, while Parisians eat and drink a boatload but have lower rates of heart disease.

    In any case, my wallet remains fuller, and given the cold weather I now want to head to Peets…

  • Mark

    Now being revered to as ‘the third wave” of coffee roasters/buyers that barefoot and other very notable independents are being labeled are producing a different kind of coffee; complex, sustainable, rich and without the bitter aftertaste often attributed to other coffees.

    Their products also deliver a whole new ‘fresh coffee experience that cannot be compared to store bought coffees – i would support then locally or by coffee of the month mail order.

    All at a price that are still a significant savings wen you compare it to purchasing per cup at your local hangout.

  • It’s crazy how far people will drive to a coffee shop for a jolt of caffeine. Invest in your own coffee machine or electric kettle for both the home and office. You’ll save time AND gas. The initial investment is well worth the money in the short and long term.

  • I sometimes do what Sharon says. A lot of tea bags are too strong so I take them out after a few seconds and then use it for the next cup. 😉

  • Hope

    Wow I never relized just how expensive my lattes where per sip. I have also made the switch back to reg coffee. As for tea i consume alot of that as well but its just not as strong a pickup as a cup of joe.

    Loose leaf does taste better but do you ever find how annoying it is when you get some that falls through the holes in the tea ball. Try four o clock tea its organic but so yummy.. White tea chai currently drinking. Thanks for the article

  • Hope: In terms of a pick-me-up, regular coffee is far better than an espresso drink (with up to 4 times as much caffeine). Not sure how tea measures up, but I’m currently on some mint concoction from Numi.

    I haven’t tried loose leaf yet, but it’s definitely next on the list – in fact, I might even try it right now… Thanks!

  • Hi Felix,
    Switching to tea is the way to go. More anti-oxidants, more variety, and green tea could help maintain a healthy weight too!

  • Johnny Droidel

    Two Words: Maxwell House

    Two More Words: Travel Mug

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