June 25, 2015

Surviving College: A Cost Effective Brew Kit for Students


So you’ve just started your tertiary studies, moved out of home and suddenly you realise that coffee is not so much an occasional treat but, rather, a requirement second only to things like oxygen, water and going home once a week for laundry and a meal that isn’t instant noodles.

SEE ALSO: Chemex – The History & Brewing Guide

On a student budget, things like a Kees Van der Westen Speedster and that new Mythos are just ever so slightly out of reach (got a spare US$11k?) – so how are you going to survive? Here are a few recommendations that will ensure you can make brews in your dorm/flatshare/bedsit/squalid shoebox that won’t send you to back to the Federal Bank of Mum (or Mom if you’re in the States).

The Absolute Essentials

1. The Aerobie AeroPress

Retailing online and in every specialty cafe and roastery from London to Kampala, the AeroPress is how many “third wave” baristas learned to love filter-roasted coffee. It’ll set you back US$50-60 and is indestructible. And I mean it when I say that. I’ve had mine in temperatures ranging from -25c to +45c and the first pack of filters lasted me I don’t know how long. Your drunk mate Jim can knock it off your “coffee table” made of *ahem* liberated cinder blocks and planks of wood night after night and it will bounce around on that 45th hand Persian rug you found by the side of the road like it ain’t even a thing. It’s by far the simplest brewing device to use without any experience, there are thousands of tutorials online (search for the inverted method) and it’s easy to clean.

The AeroPress kit

The unpacked AeroPress kit: filters and holster, loading funnel, bean scoop, stirrer and the AeroPress. Nifty little cupping book (not included)—but worth a look if you want to keep track of your brews!

2. A quality hand grinder

An AeroPress brew uses between 10-20 grams of coffee, depending on things like what sort of coffee you have, how it was roasted and how long you need to stay awake the night before finals. A hand grinder will make sure whatever amount of coffee you use will always be fresh and pack the punch you need it to. They all have grind adjustments so, once you’re comfortable brewing, you can play around with those and see how it changes the coffee. The most popular grinders are the Hario Skerton (avoid the slim as it has trouble handling lighter roasts), the Porlex Mini and Porlex tall. There are many more out there and depending on what sort of deal you get, you can expect to pay between US$50-$80. Not cheap, sure, but mine’s lasted me five years. Too much? I guess you could buy pre-ground coffee…and break my heart.

hario skerton grinder

I’ve taken this a Hario Skerton across the world and it’s still working as it should after four years.

The (Not Quite so) Absolute Essentials – Buy These After the Two Above If Your Account Balance Is Looking Lean

1. A thermometer

This one might seem a bit nerdy to start with, but as you brew more and more you’ll discover that coffee tastes remarkably different if you use water that’s just boiled compared to water that’s a little cooler. Folks in specialty coffee will use temperatures ranging from 90-96c. You can’t check that without a thermometer.

There are a vast array of these out there and luckily, they’re cheap and the battery life is usually longer than the average undergraduate programme. A quick Google search of ‘coffee brewing thermometer’ will get you some specific results, but candy or meat thermometers from kitchen stores will work too and go for around US$10-20. If you really get into your coffee, upgrade it then. Your local specialty cafe may have some too. Oh, but don’t use a glass thermometer— they break way too easily.


Is it at the forefront of third wave technology? No. Did I order it from a Japanese wedding gift catalog for around US$8? You bet I did!

2. A Set of digital scales

The AeroPress comes with a scoop that supposedly measures 10g of coffee so if you can’t afford scales to start with, it’s better than nothing. But why scales? Well, making a good cup of coffee is all about making the experience repeatable. It’s impossible to avoid the word “consistency” if you read online reviews (100% accurate and authoritative no doubt) or go to cafes. If one morning you make an AeroPress that tastes better than any other you’ve had before, how will you recreate that coffee again? This is where a thermometer and scales become necessary. If you know that you used 15g of coffee, the water was at 94c and you brewed it for 1:45m then you can be confident that you can make it taste just like that amazing cup again and again.

handgrinder, scale and a bag of coffee

Another purchase from that Japanese wedding catalogue—US$15—cutting edge stuff right here.

Got rich parents or are a champion that works their way through school? Have a look at the Acaia or Bonavita scales at approximately US$80-$200. Not quite so flush? Maybe the Hario Brew Scales for around US$60-70…Need to eat this week? Google ‘buy digital scales’, find a website, sort by price and you’ll get something for US$20-40. Or check kitchen stores and the appliance section of your nearest cheap department store.

Kalita Wave coffee being brewed

The Acaia Pearl brewing scales: gorgeous, accurate, fast and priced accordingly

Things You Already Have

A spoon – to scoop out ground coffee from your grinder, to stir it after the water hits the coffee to make sure it brews evenly, and if you’re really cool, to open crown sealed bottles when you can’t find an opener! I opted not to photograph this item. I know, so slack, right?

A smartphone, or even a non-smart phone – they all have timers. This is about repeatability again. Set a countdown timer for your brew, go back to studying/reading the latest Buzzfeed article on tattoo fails and wait for it to beep at you.

Why Do All This?

Practically speaking, getting a latte every day is going to cost you. Buying coffee beans, even high-grade beans, will still be cheaper than going to your local cafe. You’ll learn how different origin coffees like Yirgacheffe, Sidamo, Ka’u, Mocha Mattari and honey processed Central American coffees taste. Socially speaking you’ll be a true hero providing coffee and information about exotic coffee origins, flavours and brewing methods to that friends, new acquaintances and maybe even that special someone you awkwardly tried talking to after that seminar on Proust.

There are many other options out there too so don’t consider this a definitive guide so much as a good place to start. Happy brewing!

Article edited by N. Bhatt.

Perfect Daily Grind.