Waste-Free Cold Brew on a Budget

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

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If you've been following me recently, you know that I recently left my job as a teacher. This decision has led me to taking a much closer look at some of my habits and routines to see where I can pinch some pennies.

In all honesty, I didn't even drink coffee before I started teaching. I would order the occasional Starbucks drink for pure enjoyment but coffee was not a necessity in my life.

Then came student teaching. By the end of week two, I was drinking my coffee black and needed a second cup around lunch time to make it through the day. If you're not a teacher, you may not know that student teaching is a semester of working a full time job, except instead of getting paid, you are paying several thousand dollars for the opportunity. So once the milk and sugar ran out, I decided black coffee was fine with me.

Fast forward to today. The luxuries of working a full time job allowed me to build the habit of one to two K cups per day. Always with milk. Sometimes with sugar. These Starbucks Plus Blonde Roast are my K cup of choice and at $1.60 each, that's really not too frivolous!

But I also began to consider the waste. Our transition to a more frugal lifestyle has us researching vegetable garden beds and composting which has made me acutely aware of every item I throw in the garbage. Yes, I know that K cups are recyclable now. No, I do not take the time rip the lid off and clean them out in order to recycle them. I know. I know.

So, what you finally came here for. Here is how I make my delicious cold brew that feels like I'm splurging rather than scraping by! Rough calculation at the end.


30 ounce can of coffee grounds

1 cup of sugar

1 cup of water

Vanilla bean (optional)

My first step was to make a simple syrup. All you have to do is put 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar in a pot and bring it to a boil. Once it boils, take it off the heat and let it cool. I decided to make my syrup vanilla flavored only because I happened to have one vanilla bean left over from a previous recipe. At $8.99 for 2 vanilla beans, I would not have bought this item specifically for this recipe. I simply sliced the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and added it to the pot as soon as I took it off the heat. This recipe makes about (you guessed it) 1 cup of syrup. I used an old hot sauce bottle I saved, plus the jar the vanilla bean came it to keep the syrup stored tight in the fridge. I can't really tell you how much I put in my coffee because of the way the hot sauce bottle pours, but I would guess it's somewhere around 1/2 tablespoon. Could be a whole tablespoon on days I'm feeling saucy.

Now, to make the cold brew, you're going to need a pitcher or carafe with a tight fitting lid and a French press. You could definitely make this with a pour over and a filter but I've only read about it and haven't tried it because I don't have a pour over.

Step 1: Put 1 cup of coffee grounds and 3 cups of cold water in a pitcher or carafe with a tight fitting lid. Store this in the fridge for 12-24 hours.

Step 2: After 12-24 hours, filter the cold brew using a French press and pour into another container.

Because we are not spending any money, I have been using Justice's single serve French press and I have to pour my cold brew three times to get it all filtered. Honestly, it only takes about 3 minutes and I only have to do it every 3-4 days so it's fine for now.

Step 3: Add water to your coffee concentrate. With my first batch, I added the water after I poured my cup of coffee. After that I just started adding my water to the carafe. You want about 3/4 coffee concentrate and 1/4 cold water. You can adjust depending on how strong you want your coffee. Keep your cold brew in a the fridge with the lid tightly in place.

Step 4: Pour your cold brew over ice, add a dash of vanilla simple syrup, and top with your dairy of choice. (Whole cows milk in my house because I have a 2-year-old.)

This pitcher serves me 4 cups of coffee which lasts me 3-4 days depending on how much I drink.

Ok, so as far as calculating how much this costs, you need to understand that I was not a math teacher and several minutes of googling did not tell me how many ounces of coffee grounds make a cup so this is gonna be really rough. My calculations say that each glass of served coffee has $.15 of grounds, less than $.01 of sugar, and $.04 of milk. So there you have a 20 cent cup of coffee that taste like it's from a cafe.

Even better, if you have a reusable stainless steel straw and repurpose the coffee canister for storage or crafts when you're done, this is virtually waste free!

I hope you enjoy incorporating this affordable luxury into your coffee routine. Maybe just brew a batch on Friday evenings and enjoy cold brew all weekend. Happy caffeinating!

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