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Have you ever been to a hotel or guest house with delicious coffee? Me neither. Usually, the stuff you get served at the morning buffet tastes like a peculiar mix of charcoal juice and leftover dishwater. A few years back I decided that enough was enough. From now on I was done with hotel coffee, airline coffee – and well – any lousy coffee.
I made the decision that I was going to brew my own Joe on the road with a travel coffee maker, no matter how inconvenient it might be. Since then I have discovered that it’s not that difficult to become a travel barista. In fact, there are many benefits to traveling with a portable coffee maker:
- It’s way cheaper compared to the typically overpriced airport Americano
- It tastes better – unless you compare to a legit third wave coffee shop
- It’s fun. For me, it’s always an exciting challenge to brew a new place
- It connects people. Your sideman on the plane will see your travel coffee maker and will surely try to strike up a conversation with you, after seeing your impressive brewing skills.
What kind of equipment do you need?
Before we get into how you should go about brewing on the road, let’s briefly talk about equipment. The chances are that you’ll need to make some small investments before you can become a real coffee traveler.
A decent hand grinder is a foundation when you want to make coffee on the go. Grinding fresh is always way better, so this is a step you don’t want to skip. Today, you can get all kinds of manual grinders. The cheapest will only set you back around $15 while the most expensive one can cost up to $300.
If the manual grinder isn’t going to be your everyday go-to, then you can save some money here and go for something simple like the Porlex Mini. It’s lightweight and as an added bonus it fits inside the Aeropress.
Travel Coffee Maker
Next up, you’ll need something to brew your coffee in. Here’s where it gets interesting because you have many options in this day and age. Most importantly, I’d choose something portable and durable. Here are the best travel coffee makers:
The Aeropress is the de facto standard among traveling baristas at the moment, making it a top choice when it comes to the best travel coffee makers. It’s a contraption that is relatively fuss-free compared to most of the other brewing methods.
Since it’s made of plastic, it’s both sturdy and portable. The Aeropress weighs in at 7.98 oz, which is pretty respectable. Size wise, it doesn’t take up more space in the suitcase than a firmly rolled shirt.
Munieq Tetra Drip
Munieq Tetra Drip is a pour over-device that has been created with the traveler in mind. It consists of three pieces of either plastic or steel that can easily be assembled to a triangle shaped pour over cone. The main advantage is that this brewer virtually doesn’t take up any space in the luggage at all. Depending on the size and material it weighs between 12 and 25 grams, which is around the same as an average toothbrush.
Compared to the Aeropress, however, this brewer requires a kettle with a bit more precision and a sturdy surface to brew on, which makes it a bit more challenging to use in extreme conditions.
The Cafflano Kompresso is worth considering if you are a real espresso lover. This travel coffee maker is indeed a game changer. In spite of its modest look, it can make a very delicious espresso with true crema. Getting espresso when you’re hiking in remote wilderness is a magnificent experience!
The biggest downside with the Kompresso is that you need an extremely fine grind to be able to create the required 9 bars of pressure. When you rely on a hand grinder, this usually necessitates two to three minutes of rigorous bicep exercise.
Of course you need some beans, too. I won’t go into too much detail here. You probably already have some favorite roasters. Try to calculate in advance how long you’re going to be away for and bring enough beforehand if you’re going off the grid.
How to brew coffee in different settings
People always assume that it’s a hassle to brew coffee outside your home, but it very rarely is. Bring your favourite travel coffee maker, beans, and you can enjoy coffee in many common situations.
Since many people prefer to get their shot of caffeine in the morning, this is probably also going to be the case for you. That means that you’ll likely end up brewing much coffee at different hotels. I will say that at least 90% of all hotels have an electric kettle as well as coffee cups and spoons in the room. It has become the universal standard of hotels, just like the minibar and ‘do not disturb sign.’
Once in a while, if you travel to faraway countries, you might end up in a hotel with no electric kettle. However, even in those situations, you can usually call room service or go to the kitchen or lobby and get hot water for your coffee.
Airports and transit areas
It’s afternoon, you’re craving caffeine, and you’re stuck in an airport or some other similar place. What do you do? Well, of course, you brew coffee! Notably, in Asia, where I have traveled a lot, it’s common to have free hot water available in public places. This is where having a portable coffee maker for travel comes in handy.
However, in my experience, most cafes and convenience stores will give you a cup of hot water if you ask politely. Sometimes they will charge you a few cents for the takeaway cup, but it’s usually only a few cents. It’s worth pointing out that it can be difficult to brew pour over when you get the water served in a cup, while the Aeropress can be brewed ‘inverted’ and handle it without any problems.
Coffee on a plane
There is one club that all coffee lovers must join at one point in their life, and that is the Mile High Aeropress Club. You might have heard about another club by a similar name, but you can become a member of this one without doing anything embarrassing. It’s surprisingly simple. Just bring your Aeropress, manual grinder, and beans in your carry on luggage next time you’re going to fly. Ask the cabin crew for a cup of hot water, and brew using your travel coffee maker in the inverted position.
If you have a penchant for good coffee and nature, you can easily combine the two if you bring a thermos with hot water. However, there is an easier way to ensure proper caffeination on the hiking trail. Not only is the Cafflano Kompresso amazing for being lightweight, but it can also brew something that coffee geeks nowadays call ice-presso or cold brewed espresso.
Instead, of using near-boiling water, you use cold water. The only difference in brewing compared to a regular espresso is that you tamp extra hard and let the coffee pre-infuse for 1 minute before pressing. Cold brewed espresso sounds crazy but it’s incredibly rich and tasty, and even has a little bit of crema.
How to find great water for coffee while traveling
As you might have figured out by now, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to coffee on the road. For that reason, I have also experimented with traveling with different minerals to add to my brew water. This isn’t something I’d recommend since you might run into trouble with airport officials if you go with small bags of white powder.
Instead, I’d recommend that you go for brands such as Volvic, Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser when you’re traveling. Water can make a staggering difference, so it’s worth getting right. Aim for water that has a TDS of 75 to 150 ppm. If you’re abroad and don’t know the brands, then look for bottled water that’s NOT mineral or spring water. These kinds of water will have too high a mineral content. It would be best if you also avoided anything that’s low on minerals such as reverse osmosis water.
Making great coffee on the road isn’t difficult after you’ve gotten used to packing the right equipment. Sure, you might get the occasional odd look from strangers watching you grinding and brewing in public, but more often than not people either don’t care or are curious in a positive way. Using your travel coffee maker, there’s no better way to break the ice and turn a stranger into a friend by brewing them a proper cup of Joe. Cheers in good coffee!
Asser Christensen is a journalist, digital nomad, and certified Q Arabica Grader with the Coffee Quality Institute. His work has been published in a range of newspapers and magazines in his native country, Denmark, as well as internationally.