Introduction: One Cup Coffee Brewing, Cheap (Free!) and Easy!

Picture of One Cup Coffee Brewing, Cheap (Free!) and Easy!

At my work we have a Mr Coffee, and it works great. We've also got a $5,000 espresso machine, it too, works great. Sometimes though, I just want one damn cup of drop brew coffee. Late in the afternoon, when the Mr Coffee has gotten to the scary 6 hour mark, or like these past two weeks, when I've been the only coffee drinker around, it's just not worth brewing a whole pot.

Sure sure, they make single cup brewers, as well as over the mug doodads that do exactly this. This, however, was FREE, made of stuff sitting around. Figured I would share. This is my first instructable, be gentle with me.

Coffee Mug
Two toss-away coffee cups
Paper coffee filter (basket type is probably easier to use than the "wedge" style ones
Coffee (whatever sort you'd use to brew drip coffee, in my case, Folgers is what we keep in the cupboard, and since this is all about being cheap, it'll do)
Rubber band or paperclips
HOT water (a little more water than you want of a final volume of coffee)
Knife or other cutting instrument

Step 1: Step One:

Picture of Step One:

Enter the empty coffee mug. So sad. So lonely. So without purpose. Not to mention you, also without coffee!

Step 2: Step Two:

Picture of Step Two:

Here we see ye olde toss away coffee cup. We keep these around for when people stop by the office so we don't have to wash up after them. Flip it upside down and cut out the bottom. I used a folding box cutter, you use whatever works for you.

Step 3: Step Three:

Picture of Step Three:

Take the filter, and poke into a vaguely cone shape. Stuff that into the bottom of the toss-away cup, and fold about 1/4 to 1/2 of an inch over the lip. Use a rubber band, or paperclips, or whatever, to secure this in place. You HAVE to secure it in place, or you'll just make a mess later. Also, the slight point in the filter is important, otherwise the brewing coffee will run down the side of the toss-away cup, and generally all over the counter as it flows over the edge of the mug instead of /into/ the mug. Found this out the hard way.

Step 4: Step Four:

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Put in whatever quantity of coffee grounds you would use for a single cup. This might take some experimentation. I use about two tablespoons. If it's a little strong you can always dilute a little.

Step 5: Step Five:

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Carefully prop the loaded toss-away cup / filter on top of your empty mug. Our toss-away cups are spot on for my mug. You mileage my vary. I've tried to come up with a good way to secure this more, but nothing great's come to mind yet. Honestly. I only had one wipeout using this method, and I sneezed as I was pouring. Just try not to be an oaf on the next step and you should be fine.

Step 6: Step Six:

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CAREFUL! BOILING WATER! I use water from the espresso machine (it's got a button and a spout for just water. Comes out screaming hot). You could nuke water, use a kettle, whatever. It's important that you have a bit more water than you want coffee and it should be pretty hot. Slowly and carefully pour the hot water into the top of the device, until it's just about to the rim. It should drip brew pretty quickly, actually. As it empties out, add more of the water until you've added it all. Revel in the lovely smell of fresh brewing coffee.

Step 7: Step Seven:

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Voila! Coffee! Fresh brewed, and only enough for you, so no sharing necessary! Be careful! Since this brews so fast it'll likely be quite a bit hotter than you're normally used to (depending, of course, on the water you used). Cream and sugar as you like (or don't) and enjoy!

All told, I can fire up a cuppa like this in a minute or two. Beats the heck out of waiting for the machine, plus this way I don't throw away most of a pot of coffee.


pcooper2 (author)2016-12-05

Although I commend you for your ingenuity, Melitta makes a Pour-Over 1-Cup Brew Cone, designed to be set on top of a mug or cup. They use Melitta #1 disposable paper filters, into which one would put a tablespoon or two of ground coffee and then slowly pour boiling water over it. These gadgets have been around for decades, but the improved version has a cut-away section near the bottom, so one can see into the mug to prevent over-filling. If I were working in an office, I'd keep one of these in my desk drawer.

Not being much of a coffee connoisseur, in the absence of proper paper coffee filters, I would risk using a piece of paper towel. One can also buy "permanent" filters in various sizes, although I'm not sure if anyone makes one equivalent to the Melitta #1 paper filter. Cleaning permanent coffee filters can be a messy undertaking, so, for convenience at work, disposable paper filters that contain the wet grounds is the best way to go.

malkie13 (author)pcooper22016-12-05

Thanks for the comment! And definitely. While I didn't specifically call out the brand, I did mention the existence of such things in my introductory remarks, too. This had the advantage of being made for free from on-hand materials at the time. The added bonus being that it also killed a few minutes of mid-afternoon boredom at work.

LisaY1 (author)2015-07-22

I just use something called t-Saks made for loose leaf tea. I just put in 1 tablespoon per 6 oz water. You can buy them online.

pcooper2 (author)LisaY12016-12-05

Thanks for the tip, but it would help if you'd spell the name of the
product correctly to give us a fighting chance of finding it with a
search engine. Search for "T Sac Tea Filter Bags". These single-use
natural paper filter bags are made in Germany and distributed in the
U.S. by Harold Import Company, Inc. According to the description at, they're made in four sizes, although only the
#1 and #2 size are shown on their site.

EcoExpatMike (author)2016-04-25

Very nice. I love when someone puts up a real world hack. Since I'm not addicted to Ardino or 3D printing.

johnpombrio (author)2015-12-20

I have a hot water tank and tap for my kitchen sink. Something like this will work good enough to make a cup of brewed coffee. You have given me ideas. If I make something, I will put it here. Thanks!

JohnB287 (author)2015-11-08

Great idea, I was bored and wanted to search and see if anyone was brewing the same, cheap way I was. After my coffee pot broke, then my french press which I freaking enjoyed until it also broke when banging out the coffee grounds and tapped the canister too hard. Couldn't stand being without coffee for a morning and didn't want to go make another purchase. My solution... had a bunch of coffee filters left over from my coffee machine days and I drink coffee from a Einstien's coffee mug (~2 cups). My steps 1) Boil water. 2) Prep mug by slightly tucking in filter into the mug and add 4-tablespoons of choice coffee (mine is currently italian roast). Adjust the filter in/out of the mug so the top of the coffee grounds sits ~1/4" below the rim of the mug. Flourish the filter out and over the edge of the mug. I didn't have any rubber bands handy for a collar to hold the filter around the mug so I ended up cutting a strip of velcro that acts as a collar to secure the filter. 3) Pour boiling water into either another mug or measuring cup so your not pouring directly from a hot pot. 4) slowly pour water over coffee grounds. You'll know when to stop because the water will stop settling through the grounds where you can't add anymore. Simply and carefully remove filter collar, remove filter with grounds in it and DONE!. Great tasting coffee. No grounds wasted, no brewing a full pot for a mug of coffee, and no cleanup. Seems like alot of work but it really is simple and in lament terms. Boil water, add filter over mug and secure, add grounds and pour hot water over it.

jlking3 (author)2014-07-25

This is very clever. Just be sure that the cup you use is designed for hot liquids and is not wax-coated, otherwise it will melt and you will have waxy coffee.

MollyNYC (author)2013-11-14

Not that anyone asked, but if you see that ceramic coffee mug? If you fill it with boiling water right after Step 1, then do Steps 2-4, and pour the water out just before Step 5, you will be brewing your coffee into a nice hot coffee mug, which will keep your coffee warm for that much longer.
(I actually use this method every morning, except that I lay the basket from an old coffee machine [with a filter in it] on top of my mug rather than this clever disposable cup rig.)

malkie13 (author)MollyNYC2013-11-14

Great tip, actually. At the place where I made this instrucable the espresso machine had a heating / drying rack for cups, so the mugs were nice and toasty, though I also tend to drink my coffee fast enough that cool down never was an issue, hehe.

MollyNYC (author)malkie132013-11-14

Wait . . . there's such a thing as a heating rack for coffee mugs? And nobody told me?
Thank you, good sir.

malkie13 (author)MollyNYC2013-11-14

Well, it /was/ a $6000+ fancy pants espresso machine. The heating / drying rack was just a metal rack over top of the boiler. Ever notice how some coffee shops stack the teeny espresso cups on top of the machine?

MollyNYC (author)2013-11-14

Not that anyone asked, but if you see that ceramic coffee mug? If you fill it with boiling water right after Step 1, then do Steps 2-4, and pour the water out just before Step 5, you will be brewing your coffee into a nice hot coffee mug, which will keep your coffee warm for that much longer.
(I actually use this method every morning, except that I lay the basket from an old coffee machine [with a filter in it] on top of my mug rather than this clever disposable cup rig.)

studiogrynn (author)2012-09-13

Great ible. I'll have to give this a spin. One question though: Do the words "$5000 Espresso Machine" and "Folgers" really belong in the same environment? Sacrilegious I say. Just down right sacrilegious.

malkie13 (author)studiogrynn2012-09-13

Thanks! And yeah, I know. The best part being that there's a high end conical grinder right next to the espresso machine that was used for locally roasted beans, so it's not like we couldn't wrangle something decent for the non-espresso coffee. But hey, it wasn't my dime paying for it.

mphillips13 (author)2012-06-04

I just made this at home. Being single I didnt want a brewer. I want a small cup of coffee that doesn't taste like acid. Which a lot of instant coffees do. This was so smooth!! The coffee and the simple away to make it. Thanks.

malkie13 (author)mphillips132012-06-04

Thanks! Glad to see that this 'able is still helping folks out. I eventually just ended up getting a small french press, but I've revisited this method a few times when away from home. It's quick, easy, and cheap.

ozwingchun (author)2011-08-11

was looking around and came across this. my question is why bother wasting a cup and cutting and all that when you can just put the filter over the mug itself and secure with the rubber bands.
i think youll save the time cutting and wont waste a cup either

poikiloid (author)2010-09-24

Nice! Worked well. Thanks.

I made 2 improvements:

1. Avoid the balancing act: cut the end of the paper cup that sits on the mug shorter, until the diameter is small enough so it acutally goes a little INSIDE the mug. This works probably on most coffee mugs, especially if it flares open a little wider at the top.

2. instead of rubber bands, try 2 small binder clips - faster and easier.

I've heard Tea is better for the environment (less water to produce), than coffee. I inherited to canister of coffee, so this is how I'll use it up. But if you're sticking with coffee, why not use a bit of reusable cloth, like a handkerchief, like some people have suggested, and skip the filters.

Tea may be better for the environment, but for those who live for coffee, the environment and all the humans on it are most likely safer if we stick to coffee...

I've made my own 'coffee bags' ahead of time, and they work alright, although I don't ever know how much extra room to allow for grounds expansion. It's a guessing game. A cloth that would work well would have to be tight enough weave to prevent the grounds/fine powdery residue from seeping through, and it should be a dark color - visual aesthetics.

ubcfrenchie (author)2011-08-07

Just flip the disposable. Because it's tapered, the bottom will fit into your mug just fine and the lip on the top of the cup will make it easier to secure the filter with an elastic. If you want to save some time, you don't really even need to cut off the bottom of the cup. Just poke a big hole in the bottom, or cut an X to open it out. If you're really pressed for supplies, just bunch the coffee grounds in the filter and close it up with elastics, then dunk it like a bid tea bag into your mug. Good for days when you've had a run of guests and the disposables are all gone.

sridhara (author)2010-06-07

A handkerchief would do better than the filter paper as it would be tear proof as you pour hot water . Also a piece of scotch tape stuck on the side of paper cup and the coffee mug should prevent an accidental tilt. s uppala

passerby06 (author)2009-07-07

My understanding is that the Melita coffee maker (the original one-cup coffee brewer (?)) was originated by a German lady who, wanting a cup of coffee but not wanting to brew a whole pot, punched some holes in an empty tin can, lined it w/ a handkerchief and did what you've just described. Human ingenuity can be amazing, sometimes.

sierrabravo (author)2009-07-07

lol my coffee cup is sad too when it's empty

RedSnertz (author)2009-06-29

Great idea, and one that I'll keep in mind for when I'm away from my Coffee Press. What's a Coffee Press? Glad you asked. I'll let the illustrious Dan answer.

knightsparkle (author)2009-06-28

Great idea - those little coffee "tea bags" taste nasty. One question though - can you use the paper cup small side down nesting in the mug and avoid the oaf issue or does this somehow screw up the brew process? Guess I could have tried it, but its past my caffeine curfew.

malkie13 (author)knightsparkle2009-06-28

Well, at least with my particular cups, if I just tucked it narrow end down into the mug, it would go nearly to the bottom. Kinda hard to drip brew when there's nowhere to drip to.

xerxesx20 (author)2009-06-26

Nice little, fast, cheap (or free if your lucky) solution to the worlds oldest and possibly most frustrating issue. I have used the single in-mug cafetierre's, proper cafetierre's and expensive instant coffee. This is a good way to circumvent the cruddy old morgue-cold coffee left in the pot -- because some git has switched off the heater. Not to mention the fact that you only need to make the apparatus once (hardly complicated to redo if you sit on it or have another super-massive-scale industrial accident), just replace the filter paper, ground go-go beans, give it all a rinse and your away for the second time in the day. :-)

lil jon168 (author)2009-06-26

i just mad sum and mmmm it was so good

jp_pianoguy (author)2009-06-26

you can cut the rim off the disposable, that way it fits down into your mug.

jp_pianoguy (author)2009-06-26

Right on! It's better to make the coffee strong and dilute it with hot water afterwards. When you use more water than necessary, it begins to extract (wash) bitter compounds from the coffee grounds. 2 T per 6 oz water is about the right strength. I usually dilute this with about 1 oz afterward (I used to work at a Starbucks, so I like it a little strong). When I make it for my family, I dilute the coffee 100% afterwards (6oz water/ 6oz coffee).

mudgecko (author)2009-06-25

All good, and easy. Except for the "try not to be an oaf" bit!

Archergal52 (author)2009-06-25

I use one of the commercially available single-cup drip coffee makers (like this:, but I occasionally end up somewhere where I just want one cup and don't have my filter-holder.

This is a great idea for those times! I've tried other methods, but didn't have much success. I'll definitely use this in the future.

malkie13 (author)Archergal522009-06-25

Thanks! Those one cup doodads are handy indeed, and at only $3 you can't really whine about price. This was just a "Hey, I want coffee, no one else is here today, and I've got some time to tinker" things. I've actually made a different one by inverting the cup (narrow side down, gets rid of edge flow-out) and using a lid from a spent tub-o-grounds to make a collar to rest it on top of the mug with. It's the hobo version of the thing you linked, really. I'm planning on messing with a few different sorts of plastic bottles that are always floating around the office to see if I can make something less likely to wear out. That said, the cup in this instructable is the same one I used for the revised version, and has probably had a good 20+ cups brewed through it and is still going strong.

laptop_geek (author)2009-06-25

Why don't you just get a french press and not have to deal with the all the mess? or put the $5000 espresso machine to good use and make an americano?

malkie13 (author)laptop_geek2009-06-25

Well, this was A) Free and B) There. I have a little French Press pot at home. I don't really want to buy another just for work, and transporting back and forth is headache (especially when I've got evening classes, it's just more stuff to tote). As for making an Americano, I do, on occasion, though it's really not the same fish. Espresso roast and ye olde tub of drip coffee are drastically different tastes. Sometimes you just want the Folger's.

SniperInTheDarkness (author)2009-05-30

Quite ingenious I must say. looks simple enough, now if only you could do the same thing with an espresso machine. =]

Thanks! I'd love to come up with something for espresso. Unfortunately, espresso needs pressure to brew nicely. Even the little stovetop pots build up a good bit of pressure in them. I've seen a handheld espresso brewer that uses little CO2 cartridges to brew. I'd buy one to try it out, but at $130 or so, it's a bit much.

temp (author)malkie132009-06-15

What? A handeld espresso maker that uses CO2 catridges? That's amazing! What next, CO2 BB gun and espresso maker all in a handheld package? Create a refreshing cup of coffee while dueling with your friends!

malkie13 (author)temp2009-06-15

Yup, see: Seems pricey at $150.

RugbySteve (author)malkie132009-06-25

I look at this and think, "I bet someone on here could made that"

temp (author)malkie132009-06-18

Holy crap that's cool.

pineapplenewton (author)malkie132009-06-15

Ive seen things that you put over a camping stove and its a small container holding water and espresso bean stuff and the water heats up and expands pushing it up a pipe about the container part and then down into the cup.

makya (author)malkie132009-06-18

there are a couple of instructables out there for handheld espresso makers

jiniz (author)2009-06-25

Love the action shot! And this is really a cool idea. I'm going to try this one day when I'm the only one drinking coffee. I think I might use binder clips to secure the filter, though. Those might be a little more stable than trying to figure out how not to mangle the cup with the rubber band.

stephenniall (author)2009-06-23

this is a excellent idea i was bored and made one of these from a old curry sauce Polystyrene cup ibnstead of filters used a Hand tissue (thick ones) and it works perfecty im actually drinking it now !

grimjoey (author)2009-06-21

This is one of those awkward "why the hell didn't I think of that" moments. Pure genius.

RoBear613 (author)2009-06-19

You could just use a tea ball.

malkie13 (author)RoBear6132009-06-19

Tried that. To get it strong enough the steep time was long enough for the water to go cold. Coffee (non espresso, which relies on pressure to brew) needs a large surface area for the grinds to contact water. Short of a teaball the size of a raquet ball (or bigger) that's only 1/3rd or less full, it won't get it. French press pots work because you just dump grounds in, pour water over, and let it sit, using the plunger to push the grounds to the bottom once it's steeped enough.

RoBear613 (author)malkie132009-06-21

I like the french press method, myself; I think the coffee tastes better than when it's filtered through a paper filter; more of the natural oils get through, i guess. I've seen plastic tea "balls" in the grocery that you put in a cup of water while you nuke it in the micro. Not sure I'd like it.

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