Beans vs. Single-Serve Cup: Just How Much More Does K-Cup Coffee Cost?

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We all know how much coffee costs at Starbucks—too much. But it’s hard to get a handle on exactly how much coffee made at home costs, and how the price of a cup from freshly-ground beans compares to a cup from a single-serve pod machine. Before messing with lowest common denominators and figuring out how K-Cup, whole bean, and coffee-making machine prices translate into the cost of an actual cup of coffee, take at look at the homework done by others.

When the New York Times tries its hand at doing the math, it concludes that K-Cup coffee winds up costing roughly $50 per pound. That’s easily more than double what a typical high-end bag of beans or freshly ground coffee costs, and four or five times than Eight O’Clock Coffee drunk by the likes of cheapskates such as yours truly.

In a post published by the Christian Science Monitor, Trent Hamm, who runs The Simple Dollar blog and is a trusted friend of TIME Moneyland, busted out his own calculator last fall to figure out the difference in price between single-service coffee pods and traditional fresh-brewed java. His cost-per-cup price for the latter came to just 13¢, even after factoring in the cost of coffee pots and filters.

(MORE: How Much You Spend Each Year on Coffee, Gas, Christmas, Pets, Beer, and More)

After hunting down the best possible price for coffee pods—bought in bulk via Amazon—and after prorating the price of a single-serve coffeemaker, the cost per cup came to 26¢. The numbers are highly variable based on where one shops, what kind of coffee you’re buying, and whether you purchase in small packages or enormous quantities. Trent and his family are extremely frugal in their approach, and their estimates are probably lower than what the average shopper would pay. Nonetheless, it seems safe to say that coffee is twice as expensive if it comes out of single-serve cups rather than a bag or a can.

Most people would say that fresh-brewed tastes better too, though that’s a matter of opinion. Others might point out that it’s worth paying extra for coffee pods because they’re more convenient and less messy, though also worse for the environment what with all the plastic involved. To which, Keurig would highlight its reusable K-Cup, among other of the company’s environmentally friendly initiatives.

There’s no debating, though, that making coffee at home by whichever means winds up saving a ton of money compared to hitting the coffee shop on a regular basis. After my coffeemaker died a sad death a couple of summers ago, I estimated that it’d helped me save $2,000 over the course of several years of steady use.

(MORE: No Joke: Walmart Coffee Tastes as Good as Starbucks)

Similarly, using a neat tool from Bills.com, MoneyWatch’s Kathy Kristof estimated that her measly $5-a-week latte habit at Starbucks will wind up costing her roughly $60,000 over the course of 30 years, once one factors in that the money being spent would otherwise be invested.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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