Thrifty coffee - maximum taste on a minimal budget

Thrifty coffee - maximum taste on a minimal budget

By Michael Gormley

We’ve been having fun this week making another video for the Steampunk YouTube channel (link at the bottom of this blog), which looks at brewing coffee on the cheap. Having previously offered some tips on using a home espresso machine, which is a pretty expensive piece of technology, we felt it was important to explore the opposite end of the market, and show how it’s possible to make exceptional coffees at home using equipment that costs only a few pounds.

This is a subject close to my heart, not least because I’m addicted to haunting charity and second hand shops where coffee-related treasures can easily be found.

People often complain that a high street filled with charity shops is a sign of decline, but to me it’s a source of joy! It seems baffling that the overwhelmingly positive logic of shopping this way is often overlooked: not only does it support important causes, it keeps useful things in circulation and out of landfill and helps put a brake on our unnecessary consumption of finite resources. It’s also cheap! 

Putting the money where it matters

From a coffee-lover’s perspective, there is another important point to make: enjoying high quality, responsibly sourced coffee doesn't have to be an exclusive, expensive hobby. If you are canny about the way you brew it, you can afford to put the emphasis of your expenditure where it really matters - on the coffee itself.  If you are buying from speciality roasters like Steampunk, you can also be confident that the people who produce your beans are more likely to have been properly and fairly rewarded for their labour and expertise, so you know that your money is well spent.  

I’ve always had a love of vintage cups and saucers, plates and crockery, driven by a probably mis-placed nostalgia for the sixties and seventies in particular. Second-hand shops have been helping me sustain that habit for years (if you watch the new video you might be amused to see some of the things I’ve amassed, which I’m vaguely ashamed to say represents the tip of the iceberg). 

However, over the last couple of years, since I joined the team at Steampunk and my coffee brewing has increased, I have also been able to pick up a lot of stuff that has helped me experiment without breaking the bank. Trying out different brewing methods can change your thinking about how to drink and enjoy coffee. It certainly helped wean me off the notion that espresso is king. I love espresso, but for the home brewer it's a massive commitment in money and time, and it’s limiting too - there is a whole world of coffee out there if you’re not hung up on chasing the perfect flat white!

Useful thrifted finds

So, what are these inexpensive bits of kit that help you make the most of your precious beans?  

You’ll see from the video that I’ve collected a LOT of cafetieres and stove-top Moka pots - two excellent types of brewing device that are very commonly found in secondhand shops for little more than a few pounds. I keep them in a range of sizes and shapes depending on how many people I am brewing for, and having several cafetieres on the go is great for brewing and  tasting different coffee beans at the same time (which massively helps in perceiving and describing different flavours and aromas). 

The style of coffee produced by each of these inexpensive devices is utterly different, which I love (the one long-drinking and elegant, the other full-bodied and intense). If you haven’t used them before, our new video includes a technique demonstration for Moka pot, and we produced a similar little film for cafetiere in 2023, which you can see HERE. I’ve also written a ‘how-to’ blog post for using the Moka pot. [link]. 

In addition to these brewers, my second-hand shop habit has also provided me with a number of beautiful glass flasks for brewing pour-overs into; little Turkish coffee pans; a Cold Brew kit, for making delicious iced coffees in the summer; and a wide selection of hugely useful little scoops, beakers, tools and milk-jugs. 

Stand-out items include a chicken-shaped Moka pot made by Italian designers Guzzini (only £5, who doesn’t want / need such a thing in their life!!??!!); a fancy German-made hand-grinder, which I bought for the miraculous price of £1.50; and a large-capacity stainless steel induction hob Moka pot by the iconic Bialetti company (which at £9 is the most expensive item in the film).

Favourite spot

The last two items were bought at the Reuse Scotland Zero Waste shop in Dunbar, a great initiative which has donation hubs at council recycling facilities in East Lothian, where people can leave items that can easily be re-homed and re-purposed. I was so happy when these guys opened a new shop just up the road from me on Station Hill in North Berwick, at the end of 2023.  I popped in while doing some background work for this blog, and immediately found yet more goodies - a very cute powder-blue moka pot (looks unused, £5) and a large, handsome Sebastian Conran cafetiere for £4. And that’s not counting the things I left behind (6 moka pots is probably enough). Probably.

And grind...

There is one final factor worth noting in the quest to find inexpensive ways of making lovely coffee. 

We often stress the fundamental importance of using a high-quality grinder to produce evenly extracted brews, across all methods. For many coffee enthusiasts, a grinder is the most expensive piece of kit they own, costing even more than a fancy espresso machine, and in truth you really need one if you want to succeed in making espresso at home.

However, for every other brew method, you can easily forgo the expense of a grinder if you are able to buy your beans from a roastery such as Steampunk, where we can confidently grind your coffee to suit your needs. 

Coffee (like everything else) is expensive enough without having to take out another mortgage to be able to brew it.  

Spotlight on the coffee

The fact of the matter is that with little fuss and less expense, using tools like the cafetiere, anyone can brew the best beans at home as effectively as any of the full-timers at Steampunk. Once you have made that discovery, you are likely to want to know more and try more, expanding your knowledge and experience of coffees from around the world, and playing around with the way you brew them. 

We usually have a selection of half a dozen beans on offer at Steampunk, and they all have complex characteristics, with some being suited to specific brew methods, and others revealing subtle changes in flavour or personality when brewed in different ways.

Do please give our new video a look if you are interested in seeing more. 

Of course, having highlighted the second-hand bounty available I now realise I have probably shot myself in the foot and will have competition for the best coffee finds in future. Perhaps it’s time to admit though that I have finally reached capacity.

Still, there’s no harm in looking… is there!? Happy hunting!!


Our next YouTube video will also cover a couple of other cheap coffee brewers which will allow your coffees to shine, but which, to date, I have not found second-hand: the Hario V60 (a pour-over brewer), and the Clever Dripper. Look out for the video next month!

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