9 Low-Tech Ways to Brew Great Coffee With Minimal Waste

Looking to kick those K-Cups to the curb? These methods ensure a lovely cup without the waste.

Coffee grounds in a stove top coffee maker

Rama / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 FR

While the bitty K-Cup that contains the coffee to make a Keurig do its thing may not seem like that much waste on any single given day, they add up. A lot. "In 2014, enough K-Cups were sold that if placed end-to-end, they would circle the globe 10.5 times,” reports Lloyd Alter in a story on the pesky cups. “Almost all of them end up in landfills. They are not recyclable." And indeed, the Atlantic notes that 13 billion of them went into landfills last year.

Your K-Cup coffee is taking its toll. Yes, the method may seem convenient, but are a few minutes saved really worth covering the globe in non-recyclable, non-compostable plastic? And what about ritual? While a full-fledged traditional Japanese tea ceremony may be a bit much for your morning routine, the simple act of making coffee, when done with love (and seriously, that first cup of coffee deserves some adoration) can be a wonderfully affirming way to greet the day.

So with that in mind, here are some of the best options for dropping the push-button mentality of making coffee; these are all simple yet add a bit of ritual to your morning. None of them take that long. And best of all, they don’t involve little plastic cups. (And note, we are just focusing on the low-tech methods here, a nice espresso machine will provide you with a lovely coffee, minus the K-Cups or filters as well.)

1. Moka Pot

Designed by Luigi di Ponti in 1933, the Moka Pot is produced by Bialetti and is of such classic design and style that it might make you happy just to see it on your stove. The aluminum, pressure-driven stove-top coffee brewer is one of the most popular in the world, and with good reason. It is simple, stylish, requires nothing but water, coffee and heat, and makes a fine cup of coffee with a nice kick.

2. Turkish Pot

waist shot of person preparing Turkish coffee with ceramic cup and brass Turkish coffee pot

Treehugger / Ali Elshabrawi

Turkish coffee is not for the weak of heart. It's strong, it's thick ... and it's delicious.

3. Chemex

Part laboratory chic, part old-school simplicity, the Chemex Coffeemaker was invented in 1941 by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm and consists of a simple non-porous, borosilicate glass necklaced with with a wood collar and tie. It's classic, it's beautiful, and it makes stellar coffee. It requires coffee filters (which are compostable) but can also be used with a reusable filter (see below).

4. Single Cone Pour-Over

Also employing the pour-over method required by a Chemex, using a single cone is perfect for making one cup of jo at a time.

(Bonus: Check out the Canadiano, a very beautiful, minimal wooden coffee maker for single cup pour-over as well.)

5. Reusable Filter

Reusable coffee filter being used in a pour over coffee maker
Roland Tanglao / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

While paper coffee filters and their contents are great for your compost, they still require money to purchase and actual purchasing – and few things in life are worse to us first-worlders than groggily discovering that there are no coffee filters at 6:00 a.m. Reusable coffee filters can be used in automatic drip machines, as well as for the pour-over method. There are mesh ones, or my favorite, the Kone perforated stainless steel filter. It's pricey, but you never have to buy paper filters again.

6. Aeropress

This total-immersion brewing method is quick and easy, and its advocates swear that it produces coffee and espresso that has rich flavor with lower acidity and no bitterness. It requires paper filters, but they are nothing more than small discs of paper; while not waste-free, the waste is minimal. The whole set-up looks high-tech and fancy, but you can get it at Amazon (if that's how you roll) for $35.

7. French Press

Also known as a press pot, coffee press, coffee plunger, cafetière, сafetière à piston, or Cafeteria, the elegant and simple French press is a brewing device patented by Italian designer Attilio Calimani in 1929. It was one of the first go-to coffee brewing methods used for the new millennium coffee revolution, and remains a strong, solid option for home-brewed coffee.

8. Vacuum Pot

This super old-school method – dating back to the early 19th century – relies on two chambers in which vapor pressure and vacuum produce coffee. It is elegant and slightly fussy, but it makes great coffee and is an undeniably beautiful contraption.

9. Stovetop Percolator

Old-fashioned, stove-top, non-electric percolator coffee is so 1950s housewife. Yet here we give you Quaker Anne in the Quaker Kitchen to show you – with her perfect Quaker manner – how to make the quintessential cup of perfect Quaker coffee. Sold!

And about those coffee grounds? See: 20 Ways to reuse coffee grounds and tea leaves