How to Make a Single Cup of Coffee Without a Machine or Pods

The cheapest alternative to a single cup coffee maker without pods is a tea strainer that looks like a small version of a regular strainer, but with a finer mesh. These cost $3 – $5. You can brew the coffee in a saucepan.

You can use it as-is, but its easier to use a coffee filter or paper towel filter, because it traps some oils, and makes clean-up easier.

Brewing is simple:

  1. Fill your cup or glass with water, and then pour it into the pan. This assures you will get the right amount of water.
  2. Bring the water to where it just starts to boil, with tiny bubbles. The ideal temperature is 85C/185F. Water boils at 100C/212F, so you don’t want it boiling.
  3. Add coffee. For a pint, I use three heaping teaspoons of dark roast. Adjust to taste.
  4. Stir or swish it around a minute or two.
  5. Pour it into the filter on the strainer. It’s good to have a towel around for spills. I lay the towel down on the counter, because I always spill.
  6. Some of the grounds will stay in the pan. I shove them into the filter for easier cleanup.
  7. The coffee will filter out in a minute or so.
  8. Remove the filter and coffee waste, and put it into the trash or compost. They say coffee grounds help compost out – it might act a bit like biochar.

Places to Buy Coffee Filters Cheap

The key to “lifehacking” the coffee filter part is to understand the basic fact: people often quit drinking coffee because it’s not the healthiest habit. Also, different restaurants are always going out of business – and they get rid of the filters. So the usual disposals end up with filters:

  • Thrift stores: I got around half of an industrial sized stack of filters for $4. There must be 600 filters in there.
  • Estate sales: people pass away or move, and often have left behind coffee filters.
  • Online, Craigslist, Freecycle, FB Marketplace, OfferUp: just look for them. Maybe they’re selling below cost just to get rid of them.
  • Coffee quitters: if someone you know quit drinking coffee, ask if they have filters they can give you. Nothing is cheaper than free.

You can also use a paper towel instead of a filter.

With this strainer, you can also just use it without a filter. It’ll work okay, but the cleanup is a hassle.

How to Brew Without a Strainer, but with a Filter

You can fold coffee up into a little filter bag. Then, steep it like a teabag.

How to Brew Without a Strainer or Filter: Cowboy Style

You can also just pour off the coffee, trying to leave the grounds in the pan.

The trick to this is to simmer the coffee a bit until the grounds settle. The air and oils in the coffee grounds come out, and the heavy parts sink to the bottom. You let it settle for a couple minutes, then pour off the liquid.

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