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A Student's Guide to Brewing Budget-Friendly Coffee in Dorm

When I started my college journey at Briercrest, I landed as a freshman in Lewis Apartments dorm. On arrival, I found several of my upperclassmen playing with what I thought were chemistry sets in their dorm rooms. It appeared as though they were concocting all sorts of brown ichor. To my surprise, their baubles and gadgets were used for brewing coffee.

A few years later, I sit here with a weight-measured, time-perfected pour over inviting you to take a similar journey through the world of coffee. 

Meet Tyler, a two-time Briercrest alum (College ’05, Youth Ministry and Seminary '19, Christian Ministries) with a passion for helping people brew better coffee. When he isn’t pastoring his church in Calgary, he is the chief coffee drinker and content curator over at www.commonlycoffee.com.

Tyler is a coffee expert! Today, I’ve asked Tyler a few questions to help our students brew better coffee from their dorm room:

First off, what is specialty coffee and why does it matter?

There is so much I could say here, but essentially specialty coffee is one of the many terms given to what is also known as “third-wave coffee.”

If you think of coffee having experienced three waves, the first one would have been the post-WW2 era of coffee percolators and dark roasts. The second wave began with Starbucks and the onset of coffee being embedded into the social fabric of our lives. The third wave began in the early 2000’s. Specialty coffee roasters began to pursue more unique and rare coffees, developed close relationships with coffee-farmers, and began to pay much more than the average company would for green (unroasted) coffee.

This is great, Tyler, but it sounds like a lot of money.

One of the greatest misconceptions when it comes to specialty coffee is that it’s really expensive. Brewing coffee on campus is a much more cost-effective option over the long run than simply purchasing your coffee every single day. 

With the average purchased coffee costing from $2.50 to $5, getting set up with a few key pieces of brewing gear could actually save you money in the long run. An average 340g bag of beans will brew you roughly 14 “330ml cups” of coffee. At $18 per bag, that math ads up to each drink costing $1.28.

Now, that doesn’t factor in the price of brewing gear, but you can see in the long run, once you have all the gear, the cost per cup goes way down.

Nice! What about the regular price of beans? What should students look for?

You may be thinking, “Hey Tyler…how is this cost effective if a bag of beans costs around $18 to $20 dollars?" While it may seem more expensive, this is certainly not the same coffee that you’d get at the grocery store. Let me explain a bit further.

One of main influencing factors in the price of a bag of specialty coffee beans are the costs paid back to the farmers, pickers, and coffee exporters. Cheaper coffee pays MUCH less back to the farmers, whereas specialty coffee roasters have made the conscious choice to embrace more responsible buying habits ensuring the betterment of the lives in the coffee supply chain. And I think we’re all in agreement that we ought to pay fair wages and support farmers—especially since it’s likely that many of us reading this either grew up on the prairies, came from a farm, or at very least know friends or extended family who come from a farm. 

Caronport is not too far from a few great places that I would highly recommend you consider getting your beans from. The Hive in Moose Jaw carries a coffee roaster from my hometown of Calgary called Monogram.

 

Also, if you happen to take a drive into Regina, check out the folks at 33 1/3 Roasters. They’re another great local Sask-owned company worth supporting. If you want to order coffee online, check out proudly Canadian subscription services like Brew Perfect Box or Revii

So, don’t cheap out on beans! Okay. What brewing gear should students buy, and what’s it gonna cost them?

Okay, here’s where the rubber meets the road.

In order to brew better coffee while on campus, you’re going to need to get some gear. Since everyone has different levels of disposable income, I want to break this down into three tiers: BEGINNER, INTERMEDIATE, and PRO. 

Each of these levels has a different price range that will help you to identify what pieces of brewing gear you should start with, and what you can add over time. Or if you haven’t blown all of your money from your summer job, or maybe that scholarship came through and you’ve got a bit of extra cash, you can jump up to a different tier from the get-go!

A couple of creative, cost-saving ideas to consider before we jump into our three tiers: You can always get your coffee pre-ground when you purchase (but I will always say that freshly ground coffee is better). You could also go 50-50 with your roommate on this gear to cut costs even more. Your call.

*Note: Prices for each item fluctuate and may not be the same as when this article was first published. Also, it is Tyler's goal to help support Canadian retail companies such as Eight Ounce Coffee whenever possible, but he recognizes also the convenience of online retailers such as Amazon. Below, you'll find links to both retailers.

For BEGINNER brewers

In order to reduce costs, this tier does not include a kettle for hot water, so you’ll have to figure that out on your own. If you don't already have one, you can find something cheap at Walmart or used on a buy-sell site.

BREWER: Aeropress | $42 at Eight Ounce Coffee

 

 
GRINDER: Hario Mini Slim Plus | $44 at Eight Ounce Coffee

 

 

Total cost: $86 CAD

Tyler's thoughts: My deciding factor in selecting these two items are that they are two of the most versatile items you can own. You really don’t NEED much more than this. It’s really remarkable how you can brew great coffee with just these two pieces of brew-gear!

For INTERMEDIATE brewers

 

KETTLE: Bodum Gooseneck Kettle | $55 on Amazon 

 

SCALE: Hario Coffee Drip Scale/Timer | $83 on Amazon
 
BREWER: Hario V60–02 Pourover | $10 at Eight Ounce Coffee 
+ FILTERS: Hario V60 White | $9 at Eight Ounce Coffee (filter pack not pictured)

 

 
GRINDER: Hario Skerton Plus | $55 at Eight Ounce Coffee

 

 

Total cost: $212 CAD

Tyler's thoughts: For the intermediate level, I was intentional about adding a few key pieces of gear that will serve you well in your journey to brewing great coffee. A scale is such a critical piece to ensure each time you brew your coffee you’re using the same amount of beans. Think of it like a recipe where you always want to replicate the same results. The V60 pour-over is pretty much the go-to brewer that will, again, last you a lifetime. Couple that with a kettle so you can boil your water and pour it evenly over your fresh-ground coffee and you’re all set. 

For PRO brewers

The PRO level includes everything from INTERMEDIATE, but substitutes two items: the Bonavita PourOver kettle (instead of the Bodum kettle), and the Baratza Encore electric grinder (instead of the Hario grinder).

KETTLE: Bonavita PourOver | $104 on Amazon

 

GRINDER: Baratza Encore | $199 at Eight Ounce Coffee

 

 

Total cost: $411

Tyler's thoughts: Like any other product, there are always makes and models of every type of gadget. The key is finding what you’re comfortable using and paying for. These two additions (the Bonavita kettle and Baratza Encore grinder) are solid investments that I have used for many years. I wouldn’t have included them otherwise.

BONUS: Want to make espresso?

 

ESPRESSO MACHINE: Breville Barista Express | $799 on Amazon

Tyler's thoughts:  This is my go-to recommendation for an espresso machine for anyone who wants to begin down the road of brewing espresso-based beverages. It has a built-in grinder, and everything you need. You can usually find this on sale even for closer to $500 on Black Friday/Boxing Day. 

Some final thoughts from Tyler:

I hope that whatever you end up deciding when it comes to brewing coffee while you’re on campus at Briercrest that this article has been helpful. I truly loved all my years I spent on campus and know how instrumental they were in shaping the trajectory of my life. When you think about all the significant experiences (that first mentoring meeting, that first all-nighter, even that first date), they were likely spent with a cup of coffee in hand. It’s why I love coffee. It always seems to be a part of life’s most memorable moments. 

I want to thank Adam, and the incredible people at Briercrest, for giving me the chance to put this feature together!

To connect with Tyler, and for more great coffee insights, check out his blog at https://commonlycoffee.com or on Instagram at @commonlycoffee.

Adam McNeil

Graduating from Briercrest College in 2019 as Student Body President with his B.A. in Business, Adam now works alongside students across Canada to help them find life at Briercrest. Alongside his passion for Briercrest, Adam McNeil internationally competes at catching a ball on a cup (not even a joke), consumes copious amounts of hipster coffee, and loves to share the Gospel at summer camps across Canada.

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