Since time immemorial, there has been a debate fuelled in recent years by the emergence of capsule coffee machines on the market. It is a question of the actual price of a cup of coffee and what we save when we prepare a coffee at home with a specific coffee maker. What type of coffee maker is more profitable? Are capsule coffee makers as expensive as they say? Does the type of coffee I am going to drink have any influence?
Well, let’s try to shed some light on this mystery by doing a complete study on what it costs us to make a cup of coffee at home and finding out which coffee makers (or extraction methods, as it would be correct to say) are more economical and why. We will also know an approximation of how many cups come out of 1kg of coffee, an essential measure for our calculations.
NOTE: All prices shown in this study are indicative and are based on actual averages when writing this post.
Preliminary price study
Before we begin to do the math, we must be clear about what elements we need to prepare a coffee.
- On the one hand, there is the price of water, which we will consider negligible because both its quantity and price are the same no matter which coffee maker we use.
- On the other hand, there is the cost of the energy needed to start up the coffee machine. Whether it is electricity or gas, we understand that its cost for a single cup of coffee is minimal, and we will not take this into account in our study either. Even piston coffee machines, which are not heated directly, need hot water to brew the coffee. So we assume the cost to be mainly the same for all coffee machines.
- Milk is not always necessary, but if we are going to use it, we can determine an approximate amount of 10 ml of milk for each cup of coffee.
- And finally, we have the coffee, the raw material to prepare our cup. It is where there are differences. To determine its price per cup, we will consider that each cup of coffee has a standard dose of 7 grams.
Cost according to the extraction method
And in addition to coffee, we need a machine to extract it and prepare our drink. That’s it: a coffee maker.
Coffee makers mainly use three types of coffee: ground coffee and coffee beans -which must be ground later or coffee in capsules.
To know the price of coffee in capsules, we have to distinguish between different systems and brands since each one has its format, and prices also vary among them. In any case, we can establish a very valid range that would go from 15 cents (the cheapest capsules) to 35 cents (the most expensive capsules, which are usually those of Nespresso.
As we must inevitably choose a reference for our study, we will consider the average price to be above 25 cents (£0.25). You know that capsules are single-dose, so 1 cup = 1 capsule.
For more information on the cost of the capsules according to each brand, you can consult this article where the subject is discussed in more detail: How much does it cost to have a capsule coffee maker?
Ground coffee and coffee beans also differ in the type of roasting: naturally, roasted coffee is more expensive than blended coffee. Similarly, coffee beans are more expensive than coffee that has already been ground.
Studying various brands and ranges on the market, we have considered that coffee beans have an average price of £9 per kilo if blended and £12 per kilo if it is natural roast.
Similarly, pre-ground coffee packs have an average price of £6 if blended and £9 if naturally roasted.
Of course, you can find much cheaper products and also more expensive ones, keep in mind that we try to find the average only for comparison.
Once we have these prices per kilo, as we are going to use 7 grams for each cup of coffee, we have that the price of each cup (7 grams) is:
- Coffee beans (1kg): mix £0.063 per cup, and natural £0.084 per cup.
- Ground coffee (1kg): mix £0.042 per cup and natural £0.063 per cup.
Summary of prices of a cup of coffee (espresso) according to the method of preparation:
- With capsules: 25 cents.
- With coffee beans: 6.3 cents or 8.4 cents, depending on the type of roasting.
- With pre-ground coffee: 4.2 cents or 6.3 cents, depending on the type of roast.
We may need or wish to add milk to our preparation in any of these three cases. To do this, we will take an average price of 75 cents for each litre of milk, and therefore a cost of approximately 7 cents for each cup (let’s assume that we add no more than 100 ml of milk to each cup, although this is logically overrated).
Please note that there are exceptions; some capsule systems, for example, already include milky coffee or cut coffee preparations within a single dose. Others, however, only make Espresso neat, and you must add the milk yourself.
Given these prices, and considering an average consumption of 2 cups of coffee per day (i.e. 730 per year), the annual expenditure on coffee according to the raw material we use would be as follows.
|Capsules||Blend Bean||Natural Bean||Blend Ground||Natural Ground|
|Espresso + Milk||0.32£||0.13£||0.15£||0.11£||0.13£|
|Annual Espresso +|
Milk (730 Cups)
As we can see, milk alone can be much more expensive than coffee, depending on the amount of milk we add to the coffee and the type of product we use.
Besides, you have to consider that in some capsule systems, the preparation of mixed drinks with foam (cappuccinos, lattes and others) requires the use of two capsules, so the cost of these cups is twice as high. We have not taken them into account to prepare this table, in any case. We have limited ourselves only to espressos or to usual coffees to which we add a little milk.
How many grams of coffee does a cup have?
It depends a lot on the method of preparation and the consumer’s taste. As a reference, the traditional Italian Espresso must be made with 7 grams of coffee, and the single-dose capsules usually have between 5 and 7 grams of ground coffee inside.
How many cups of coffee come out of one kilo?
If you consider buying coffee beans to make your coffee at home, this scale of how many coffees come out of a kilo will be useful for calculating costs.
Assuming an ideal development of the process (that is, that no coffee is wasted in the grinding and that you always use the fair and standard doses of 7 grams for each cup), we can calculate that from one kilogram of coffee (1000 grams) we could get about 142 cups. Let’s round up to 140 cups of coffee per kilo for not being in the most optimistic case.
And now that you know how many coffees come out of 1 kg of raw material, I’m sure you’ll be able to do your math more easily.
How many cups of coffee come out of a pound of weight?
Well, applying the same count, and considering that a pound is 453 grams, the result is 453/7 = 64 cups of coffee per pound. Although around 60 would be a much more realistic figure, in our opinion.
Cost according to the type of coffee machine
Very well, once we know what the raw material (ingredients) of our coffee will cost us at the end of the year, or after 730 cups, we will see what the tools (coffee makers and grinders) cost us and how long it can take to pay them back.
We have to determine that if we use coffee beans, we will need to grind them ourselves at home (or have an automatic coffee machine with a grinder, which is much better but also more expensive). We will opt for the economical alternative and consider a mid-range grinder which can be around £40.
The grinder, as we say, is not necessary for an automatic coffee machine (it is already built-in) nor in a capsule coffee machine. Nor do we consider it essential if we are going to use a drip coffee maker because as it needs a medium thickness grinder, the one sold pre-packaged usually works.
In a manual or Italian espresso machine, we can use pre-ground coffee or grind the grain ourselves; it is always more advisable the second one. Still, we will consider both options because many users do not notice the difference between using their Italian coffee machine or their espresso machine with a thicker grind than average.
We consider it mandatory to have a grinder if we use a French press. The method of preparation with these coffee machines requires that the powder or ground beans are very thick, much thicker than the standard grind sold on the packets. So to obtain a coffee in good condition, we must grind it ourselves and make sure we apply a coarse grind.
Finally, we only need to know the average price of each of these coffee machines to determine our initial investment. As we said when we determined the average price of coffee, there are many different types of coffee machines, and to make this comparison, we have no choice but to estimate the fairest price.
We are going to consider the following average prices:
- Capsule coffee maker: £80.
- Italian coffee maker: £25.
- Drip coffee maker: £40.
- Manual espresso machine: £80.
- Automatic coffee maker: £200.
- French coffee maker: £20
We insist: this is just an average! If you’re curious, you can do the math yourself by applying the actual price of the particular coffee maker you’re thinking of buying.
NOTE: we have not considered the maintenance cost – cleaning, rinsing, decalcifying – as they vary very little between each coffee maker and affect the final cats we will get here.
In summary, and considering the convenience or not of having a grinder to grind the coffee, we obtain the following table:
|Total Initial |
The ultimate decision on whether or not to purchase a grinder to grind the coffee beans rests with you. It is only a general recommendation according to the most common customs for each coffee maker.
If you want to know more about this topic, read the following article: Types of grinding: a thickness for each coffee maker.
Conclusions about the cost of a cup of coffee
If we combine both tables, we can quickly see how much we will spend on coffee at the end of the year according to the type of coffee maker we buy. Let’s consider only the preparations with Espresso (without adding milk) and with a natural roast (the one with the mixture would be a little cheaper) so that we can fit everything on a table and understand it at a glance.
|amortization of coffee machines||Capsule||Italian|
|Total Year 1 |
|Total Year 2|
|Total Year 3|
|Total Year 4|
|Total Year 5|
As we can see, the cost of the initial investment (coffee maker plus grinder) has been diluted over the years and is not as important. If you want to do the real test with the exact price of your coffee maker, all you have to do is copy the same table and do the math by substituting the green figure – initial investment – with the price you are interested in. And if you want to know the figures using milk in each cup, you only have to substitute the cost of the coffee for its corresponding one (you can get it from the red table).
The conclusions are obvious: the cost of making coffee in our house is much higher in capsule coffee machines than in any other type of coffee machine. However, users must be equally clear that the reason for buying a capsule coffee maker is never the economic one, but to enjoy other advantages that have nothing to do with the price. Here, you can read more about six reasons to buy a capsule coffee maker.
In the same way, we can see that the differences in expenditure between the rest of the coffee machines are much more significant at the beginning when the price of the machines has a higher weight over the total than after several years when most of the expenditure has been taken by the product (the coffee).
For example, automatic coffee machines, which are much more expensive than any other, produce practically the same expenditure as capsule machines during the first year. Still, after five years the expenditure of the latter almost doubles that on automatic machines. All this depends, of course, on the price of our automatic coffee machine being reasonable.
What do we get out of it?
Well, in our humble opinion, several things. First of all, before buying a coffee machine, we must do the math and think about what kind of coffee we will consume and how often.
Secondly, the price of coffee machines is not that important in the long run (unless we go to extremes, coffee machines over £600 and so on).
And finally, by way of summary, if we are concerned about our pockets, we should try hard to purchase a coffee machine a rational rather than an emotional act.